Sunday, July 30, 2006

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.

When my Granddad died, my father sold his box seats at Dodger Stadium. My father had four daughters, and he probably thought his girls wouldn't be able to appreciate the joys of baseball. He was wrong.

Sometime in the early-80s, my dad and I started going to Dodger games together. Our family life was unstable, but my dad and I found that we could have some semblance of a relationship by sharing baseball. On warm summer nights he'd come home from work, pick me up, and we'd make the short drive to Dodger Stadium. I loved driving the last stretch up the hill, where a sheer cliff flanked the right side of the road. Maybe my excitement was partially fear of a rockslide, but I did love the drive.

When we got to the Stadium, we'd get a couple of Dodger Dogs before finding our seats. (Dodger Dogs are the only hot dogs worth eating, by the way.) I'd get a Diet Coke, my dad would get a beer, and we'd take our seats, which were usually along the first baseline. The sun was always blinding, at first, but eventually the sun would dip behind the scoreboard and the round, orange Union 76 gasoline sign that stood on top. From that vantage we would watch the game and catch glimpses of the celebrities who were in attendance that day.

My dad taught me how to read the box scores. I learned all the terminology. I listened to the legendary Vin Scully announce the games. I ate Cracker Jack and ice cream and joyfully sang during the seventh inning stretch. I became a huge fan of Steve Sax, Orel Herschiser, and even Fernando Valenzuela. Mostly, though, I learned how to sit still during the very long stretches where nothing seemed to happen. I learned to appreciate the steady, slow rhythms of baseball. And occasionally, my dad and I would have a good conversation about something other than the game itself.

One of my clearest father/daughter childhood memories was in 1988. My parents were on the verge of divorce, and my mom and I had already moved into an apartment. I was a senior in high school and acted like my dad barely existed. He reached out, though, and invited me to Game 1 of the World Series against the Oakland A's. We had incredible seats between homeplate and first base. We were four rows behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The governor was there. The whole stadium was buzzing with excitement, yet my father and I barely spoke during the game. There was an enormous, unspoken tension between us that baseball could not heal. By the ninth inning I couldn't wait to go home.

But then an ailing Kirk Gibson emerged from the dugout, took the plate, and made an amazing, miraculous three-run homer that brought the Dodgers from behind and gave us the win. I remember watching the crowd go nuts and seeing my dad's face. He was happy for the win, but his face showed the strain of our broken family and fractured relationship. It remained one of the many unspoken moments between us, but I think I understood a bit more about my dad that night. He had screwed up our family, but he was aware of his mistakes. He didn't know how to express it, but I think he was sorry about his inability to fix things. I probably didn't express enough appreciation at the time, but I was honored that my dad chose to invite me to the game as opposed to any of his friends.

My dad lives alone now, and I only see him once a year. When I visited him last summer, he enormous television was showing a Dodger game. The screen looked off-color, though, and after a few minutes I realized that Steve Garvey was playing. My dad was watching a replay of an old Dodgers game on ESPN Classic. I don't understand why he'd want to watch a game from 30 years ago, but maybe he was trying to come to terms with his own life, too. Baseball just happens to be his medium.

And now, for sheer love of the game, here's a link to my favorite speech from one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams. James Earl Jones could never have given this speech about any other sport.


nickg said...

Though I am a Giants fan and have an ingrained repulsion to all things Dodgers, that was a great story, thanks for sharing.

I too had a difficult relationship with my dad growing up, but sports, and particularly baseball, was one bridge that maintained our relationship. It was and is a constant through all the years.

togidget said...

You really should print this out and send it to Dad. I'm not sure he'd "get it" but if he did, it would certainly touch heartstrings, as it did with me.