I love Opening Day. …It’s just a special day in our American culture. It’s weaved into the fabric of what we are, and I think it’s a great day. – Padres manager Bud Black
I’m not a poet so maybe I never understood TS Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland, when he says that April is the cruelest month. It has always been one of the liveliest months for me.
Yesterday was Opening Day in San Francisco. San Francisco is not a sports crazy town and I didn’t grow up in a family where baseball and professional sports were considered anything but one of the many choices of entertainment. That said, I cherished those days when I got to go see a baseball game, a football game, etc. Moreso, I really enjoyed sharing the time and history with those I love. I remember the many games I saw at Candlestick Park with my dad (mostly football games during the 49er dynasty). In fact I remember having to look through binoculars to see everything and that is how my dad noticed I needed glasses.
They say Football is America’s Passion and Baseball is America’s Pasttime. I don’t know if my dad knew that those moments he spent with me on those cold windy nights (at the ‘Stick) were making such an impression on me. They were times where I sat there with my dad and talked between pitches and your dad casually passed on his knowledge of baseball and life in general (along with the hot dog, peanuts, popcorn and watered down hot chocolate). I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was about laughing and cheering for a cause and just sitting next to each other shelling peanuts for 3 hours. Going to those games with my dad stopped in my teens as my dad spent more time working to pay for our education and to enjoy his time on the golf course. Maybe he didn’t enjoy it as a dad, or life did get that busy.
When I got older and San Francisco opened what is now called “AT&T Park” (formerly Pac Bell and SBC and more affectionately, “the Phone Booth”) , I bought a couple tickets and was able to share “Opening Day”. I think it was the 2 years I spent in Chicago where the nostalgia really started coming to me and made me not just love the game on the field but everything that surrounds it. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I had the chance to take my dad to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs on a warm Summer day, share in a Giants victory, and help the Cubs fans drown their sorrow at Murphy’s Bleachers in a plastic cup of Old Style before showing my dad some of the better watering holes and blues clubs that Chicago had to offer. Although by this time I was well into my 20s, it was the first time I felt like I was able to relate to my dad on an adult to adult relationship. I was well free of his financial backing, we talked about my pending marriage, my future, our family, and of course baseball. It was the beginning of a new course in our relationship , the adult-adult rather than the parent-child relationship, and from there I knew that baseball was more than just a game for me.
I have to give credit to the minister who did my pre-marital testing with the recommendations for the adult-adult relationship suggestion. He was very adamant that my wife start establishing that relationship with her parents as he could see that it would be a harder struggle for them to “let go”. Truth is, that it is harder to gain that respect of a parent. 15 years later, my wife still goes through that struggle. Ironically, yesterday my wife was handed a book by a family friend who heard about my wife’s illness. It is amazing how the “sisterhood” finds each other. The book is called “The Middle Place”. more appropriately it talks about the sandwich generation we are in where we are now adults looking after our sick parents, our children and ourselves and the author comes to realize she is no longer her dad’s little girl as she deals with her diagnosis of breast cancer. My wife read the cover and said she wasn’t sure if she could read it and I offered to read it for her, but told her it is something she will have to read because she needs this example. Another example of an adult-adult relationship – and defintiely very relevant. I know my wife doesn’t want to listen to me about this subject so I’ll sit tight.
Back to the subject of Opening Day, since the park had opened in 2000 I have been able to share the festivities with some of the more important people in my life on a one-on one basis (My dad, my mom, my brother, my wife, my best friend, my daughter, and my son). There is nothing like it. The pomp and circumstance, the hopes, the memories, the patriotism can be quite overwhelming. So on this Opening Day, it was a little different as I missed it for the first time in 9 years, as I listened in my office. My office though is located only blocks from the ballpark so at lunch I wandered over, grabbed a hot dog and a soda and watched through the “Archways” in right field. A great feature of the park is that for FREE you can watch the game from behind the righfielder. It is the best way to catch a Big League Opening Day in this economy. I stared across the way between innings to where I shared so many memories with my dad and others I’ve attended games with. Its not just the Opening Days but the hundreds of other games and conversations.
The walk back to my office was one of solitude. I had gotten my fill (yes the Giants won), but more importantly I had taken the people I cared for ( not physically) to the game with me and I shared those conversations again. It hadn’t been my intention to reminisce, but it just happened in the moment. Perhaps it was the text I got on the way to the game from my mom about her friend, “Mrs. E”, who had passed. “Mrs. E” had her own connection to me with baseball. Back in high school she picked me, this gawky geeky kid to entertain her granddaughter who was visiting from Kansas. She told me not to do anything “romantic” and that the girl’s dad was the police chief in their small town. Well 9 innings later we were dating and I was scared sh–less about the midwestern Sheriff who was going to kill me for corrupting his daughter. Truth be told I think she corrupted me but I can’t remember. What I do remember though is telling her about the art of hitting a baseball and showing her the smooth swing of Will Clark as she grabbed and held my hand. Amazingly she got what I was saying, or at least she pretended to. From there I knew I had to marry a girl who could hang with me at a baseball game.
Yes baseball and life have a fabric that is woven tightly in the American hearts of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and friends. I grew up on baseball and baseball grew up in me. While a full-blown adult, I can still go to the game like a kid and imagine I’m there with my dad or sit with my son next to me and my daughter on my lap and teach them about how to appreciate the game of baseball (because it is about appreciating life as well).