My dad used to wear a tie to work. It’s funny for me to think about now because I don’t think high school teachers do that anymore. Not the ones I know at least.
I remember my dad wearing a tie because I used to wait for him after school so we could play baseball in the backyard. He’d come home and say, ‘I just have to change my clothes.’ I would stand in the kitchen holding both our gloves.
Down the hall, I could hear him take the change out of his pocket and drop it on his dresser before sliding on a pair of grass-stained jeans. When he came out, he might as well have been wearing a big league uniform. It felt that way to me.
The backyard is where baseball really began. He taught me to throw and how to catch. There were ground balls and pop flies. He’d pitch to me and I’d take swings with a long, yellow plastic bat.
When it was time for supper, I’d beg for just one more grounder, one I could dive for like they do on TV. I always wanted to be like the ball players on TV.
One afternoon I was on a walk in the park with my pre-school class, holding hands and walking two by two. Across the giant lawn, I could see my dad coming towards us. I could tell he was in a hurry. His tie was flapping behind him in the wind.
“I signed you up for T-ball,” he told me.
“When do I start?” I asked.
It wasn’t long before I was running the bases just like Mookie Wilson from my favourite Blue Jays baseball card.
T-ball turned into Little League and my dad turned into my coach. The backyard soon got too small for baseball, so we moved to the front of the house instead. On one side of the driveway, he’d sit on an old, red milk crate. On the other side, I learned how to pitch. He’d show me how to hold my fingers on the seams of the ball.
“Curve balls come when you’re older,” he’d say.
We would stay out there on the front lawn until it got dark or until I got frustrated, but he rarely let me quit.
I was a teenager when I outgrew my dad on the baseball field. I was playing competitively both for my home team and for Team Saskatchewan. My coach went back to just being my dad. He couldn’t teach me anymore.
That’s when I figured out that my dad was not a ball player like me. He actually never was. He didn’t grow up in the game like I did. He’s probably never worn a uniform. Everything he knew about baseball he read in a book or heard on television.
I was 18 when I moved to California with a scholarship in my pocket. The school is tucked in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Oakland and it doesn’t even have a team anymore. But it was perfect for me. I needed just two things: to play baseball and to do it as far away from home as possible.
I was still 18 when I called my dad from a hotel in Anaheim, blinded by tears. The game I loved didn’t love me back. I wasn’t frustrated. I was furious. I wanted to quit.
But he rarely let me quit.
He asked me to wipe the tears out of my eyes. He asked me to tell him about the palm trees, asked about the February sunshine and if I could smell the ocean.
“You know, once you stop playing you can never really start again,” he said.
That summer, when I came home, I got my first real job. My dad got it for me. I ran the T-ball league. Actually, we ran it together. He let me keep all the money, but it was a lot more valuable than the pay.
I went back for one more year in California. Things got better, but not good enough to keep me there. Love isn’t as easy as you think it is when you’re little. In my last semester, my family came to visit. They followed our team bus down the coast for a Saturday double header near Santa Cruz. My dad watched both games from the top of the stands. I watched both games from the bench.
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I spent the next winter forgetting about baseball. Journalism school was my new ambition. My final entrance interview came in the spring. When it was over, I drove home to tell my dad.
He was waiting for me in the backyard.
“I nailed it, dad,” I said.
“I know you did, son,” he said.
I don’t remember if we played catch that day, but damn it, I like to think we did.
I’m the one who wears a tie to work now. Sometimes I think it’s funny when it flaps behind me in the wind. You won’t catch my dad wearing one though. In the summer, he takes care of the field I used to play on in high school. Other people’s kids play there now. Grass-stained jeans are still his uniform. We talk on the phone a few times a week and I do my best to bring up baseball. We’ll always be able to talk about that.
I didn’t learn about this wonderful game in a book. I didn’t have to just watch it on television. My dad did that for me. All I did was have the time of my life. I still play too, just not like the guys on TV.
I love baseball.
But, I guess it’s never really been about baseball, has it?