Hey Dad, Wanna Have a Catch?

Before I begin, this writing has been prompted by a couple different things. First, it is Opening Day for baseball and the Yankees. They won, CC went a solid 6, the bullpen was dominant and timely hitting won the day. I skipped two classes and rushed through a math exam I very likely failed. I watched the game with my friends Chao Jie and Ray, we ordered pizza. It was a tremendous day.

A second source of inspiration: I am writing a paper on Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, in which the Roman Emperor told how he believed a virtuous and intellectual man should live. One of the many, many things he lists is the discarding of trivial pursuits, especially those that cause you stress and grief. As I read, my mind immediately flew to sports. What else has caused me more grief than that? The Nets perennially suck, Syracuse and the Jets are the kings of mid-season success and post-season disappointment and the Rangers are horribly inconsistent. The Yankees are amazingly successful but their high expectations make anything less a world championship a failure. How many days and nights have I spent brooding because my team failed me?

Why haven’t I given up sports? Logically, (and I pride myself on, when appropriate, behaving as logically as possible) it would make sense to drop it. When they win I feel temporary joy and when they lose I feel endless pain. This is also inspired by a piece I just read by Joel Sherman. Not a baseball piece, but a family piece. It is an amazing read and I encourage you to find it. Within, he details his relationship with his father, and how integral baseball was to that relationship. This, as many things do, got me thinking about my father. I have gone in to great detail on this forum about my dad, and our relationship. Or should I say our lack of a relationship. To reiterate: my parents divorced when I was six and since then, my dad and I have grown apart.

Sherman said that one of the ways he bonded with his father was in learning the game of baseball. That their relationship now is built on the foundation that those late games of catch created. This is the part of my story where I say that the best times I spent with my father were over baseball. That the brief bits of light were caused by a ball and a bat and a backyard.

Except we didn’t. My dad didn’t teach me baseball. The Yankees did. I learned how to throw by watching Andy Pettitte, a fellow lefty. I learned how to catch a ball by watching Derek Jeter – I close my glove by touching my thumb to the middle of my index finger, rather than by touching my thumb to my ring finger or pinky. I perfected my imaginary cutoff throws by watching Derek Jeter’s hop-step. Tino Martinez gave me daily lessons in fielding ground balls and scooping low throws at first base. My batting stance is an odd combination of Jeter’s bat wiggle, Bernie Williams’ smooth hip rotation and, later, Alex Rodriguez’ foot tap.

I missed out on this little slice of Americana. Father and son bonding over a game of catch, perhaps evening creeping along. The lights are on in the house in the background. The only sound is the ball hitting the mitt. Field of Dreams, an incredible movie in its own right, was elevated to legendary status by this scene alone.

Even before the divorce, I rarely played with my dad because he was older and frankly not that athletic. I played catch with my brother Emile when I was younger, until he became more interested in girls than in his younger brother. Then I joined my high school baseball team, playing first base all four years. Now I throw with Chao Jie every couple days up when the weather permits. Sadly, in Syracuse the weather rarely permits.

When I talk with my dad now, the conversation often turns to baseball. He was a fan when he was younger but has grown disenfranchised with the modern game. He bemoans the steroids and big-money contracts. I’m sure if he knew about the introduction of advanced statistical analysis like sabermetrics, he would rant about the loss of the heart of the game and human element and the rest. These discussions often end in arguments where I am forced to defend the game I love while my dad praises Duke Snider.

Two weeks ago I was home for spring break and I spent Friday evening with my dad. We were watching a documentary he bought on Jews and baseball. A very interesting documentary in itself, it told the story of Jews in baseball, obviously highlighted by Tigers’ first baseman Hank Greenberg and Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax. The piece pinnacled with the story of Koufax skipping his start in game one of the World Series to observe the high holiday of Yom Kippur. The entire time we watched the two-hour piece, my dad would interject about how awesome it was, how Jews and baseball are so linked, and more. Whenever I would try to say anything that didn’t connect directly to Judaism, I felt as if it was unwelcome. This was Jews and baseball, not just baseball!

Later that night, before I went home, my dad sat me down. With my graduation approaching, he wanted us both to make a concerted effort to become closer. As part of this, my dad wants me to come to him when I have questions about things. Life, jobs, girls, work. He asked me who I went to with questions about life when I was younger.

I thought about it. Did I go to my mom? Perhaps, about some things. I consulted her about going to college. My older brothers? I had one awkward conversation about picking up girls when I was 13 and my brother was 18. I realized that I didn’t go to anyone. I figured things out for myself. I taught myself how to shave, one annoying red splotch of blood at a time. I kissed my first girl, and I have almost no recollection of it. Who did I go to when I wanted to learn how to throw a ball? When I wanted to learn how to catch? I went to the Yankees. Sorry Marcus Aurelius, I can’t give that up.

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