Baseball and Father’s Day are as American as apple pie. Yes, baseball is meant to be enjoyed on Father’s Day unless of course your Papa was an avid soccer fan. I was born with the love of baseball in my blood, thanks Mom; but I never got to play organized baseball until I was 14. Not even t-ball!! I almost played Little League one year when I was eight. I remember well going to the meeting after school to grab our medical release forms that needed to be signed. I was so excited to play but when I got home, Papa took the wind out of my sails. I was crushed and my get up and go had gone out and went. I must have been about eight when all of this happened because it was that Summer in which I began to play futbol. I spent the next five years miserably playing the game of soccer, or maybe better yet, I played soccer miserably. Those years gave me a ton of memories, good times, and friends with whom I still keep in contact with nearly 40 years later. My passion for baseball only grew stronger over those five years, and I even started to collect baseball cards during this time, a hobby that continues to this day, but I digress.
I played soccer for five years and it wasn’t until toward the end of that fifth year that my father finally came to see me play. We lost that game, and I remember him leaving early. My best friend’s Dad came over sometime shortly after that to have a few beers with Papa, and as they talked life, a miracle of God happened. Mr. B. had gotten mi Papa to agree to let me play baseball!! Papa would never go to one of my soccer or baseball games ever again. Maybe it was not so much a miracle of God as it was that Papa suddenly realized that his “baby boy” didn’t have a future in soccer like his brother, my Tio Gabriel, who played collegiately and semi-professionally into his 40’s.
Over the years Papa saw my love of baseball continue to grow and began to open up about his own memories about baseball. Papa told me that during the 60’s and 70’s he and a friend of his used to go to many San Francisco Giants, and Oakland A’s games. Mi Papa loved the fire that Marichal played with and was also a big fan of the Swingin’ A’s and Sal Bando. My biggest surprise was that mi Papa didn’t even remember the name of his all-time favorite player as all he ever called him was “El Penguino”. He loved the hustle of Penguino’s style of play but found his run endearing. It would be years before I learned that “El Penguino” was the one and only “Penguin”, Ron Cey of the Dodgers. Through the years Papa would continue to surprise me. I never saw him watch or listen to a game on the radio but every once in a while, he would talk to me about the standings, or someone’s hot bat, or someone’s dominant pitching performance. There were times that Papa would know more about what was going on in the season than I would.
I never spent a Father’s Day at a ballgame with Papa; as a matter of fact I’ve never watched a ballgame with Papa. The only “in the moment” memory I have with him about baseball was during the 1989 World Series and the Loma Prieta earthquake. Mi Papa and I were standing next to an irrigation canal just after 5pm on that fateful day, and while I was waiting for the work day to be over so that I could go watch the game, Papa said, “There’s an earthquake, look at the water”. We lived 90 miles from San Francisco so the waves weren’t violent, but there was enough of a disturbance in the water that it was clearly noticeable. Although Papa never attended any of my games, there was something he did for me that he never did for my older brothers.
The greatest gift that Papa ever gave me was the freedom and encouragement to chase my dreams. I was allowed to put in as much time and effort needed to become a better player. That may seem trivial to some, but it really made a difference in the father I am today in my own right. Yes, I still had chores to do down on the farm, but I wasn’t assigned extra duties which allowed me to work more on my game during my free time. I would spend my afternoons with a sawed-off broom handle hitting small rocks or playing wallball using a tennis ball off of the barn and taking hops off of the gravel driveway. In games I could hit, but I didn’t have any power, and I was a slow runner. My fielding was superb, and my feet and hands were quick. The fact that I practiced making plays on gravel taught me how to have good range without having to dive after balls, but my arm was weak. I played third, but I was a second baseman like my favorite player Steve Sax; as luck would have it the best player in our high school also played second. My baseball career ended headed into my freshman year of college when I tried to walk on at American River College. Unfortunately, during that summer, I tore the infraspinatus in my right shoulder; my throwing arm. My own poor discipline ended my career right there and then as I failed to rehab properly which left a reminder that I can still feel to this day. Not all was lost, I just wasn’t meant to play baseball as a way of life.
I’m 45 years old, Papa died 14 years ago, eight months after Mom, I have two daughters of my own and I went to my FIRST baseball game on Father’s Day last year. Unfortunately, my daughters were not there with me as I went as a journalist and not a Dad. I vowed to make 2020 different. When the Sacramento River Cats released their 2020 schedule, I decided then and there that I would go to my first Father’s Day game with my family and my partner’s father. Herman is a baseball loving Canadian who grew up in Southern California and spent many a summer playing with the Ventura All Stars baseball team that included some guy who starred in Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For the Love of the Game. Yes, it was going to be a hot summer day and the sun would beat down unmercifully on us; everyone would be miserable and bored except for me and Herman. Dinger Dogs in one hand, and a cold drink in the other, we would watch the River Cats take on the Wichita Wind Surge. Yes, this Father’s Day would finally be special. Well, I can dream, can’t I? Maybe next year.