Reposting this weekend in honor of Father’s Day, and all the dads who taught us about the best game ever.
I was lucky to have had a Baseball Dad. He wasn’t the kind of father who coached or ran a team — although he was a Cub Scout leader, so we called him Leader of the Pack for a while. Instead, he made sure that my brother and I learned about the game and played it whenever we could.
Dad was the youngest of 5 brothers who grew up in San Francisco. Back then, baseball was America’s sport and the brothers spent many hours playing it in the streets. Major League baseball hadn’t reached the West Coast yet, so they ardently followed the SF Seals of the Pacific Coast League. My cousins and I grew up hearing stories about San Francisco’s DiMaggio brothers, all center fielders, who were good enough to play in the majors. We also heard about SF native Lefty O’Doul, another prominent player and manager who has a bridge named for him next to AT&T Park.
I remember playing little-kids baseball in the backyard. Dad pitched to us, helped us hit, and showed us how to run the bases. Under his tutelage, I learned enough about the game to kind of keep up with my older cousins whenever we played at our annual family picnic. Even now, my cousins are passionate Giants fans and talk always turns to baseball at family gatherings. Our fathers taught us well, and we’ve passed that passion down to our offspring.
Growing up, Dad and I spent many hours playing catch. We would talk for hours tossing the ball back and forth, and he passed on his Dad-wisdom in a way that didn’t feel preachy. He taught me some of the finer techniques of playing, including how to hit fungoes. I spent many hours after school hitting small green apricots over the fence — sorry if I hit your car! — and because of that, I was one of the best hitters in the pick-up game the girls in my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade class played during recess and lunch. Back then, there was no organized way for girls to play baseball so learning from your Dad and kicking the boys off the field during recess was our only alternative.
Around that time, magic happened: San Francisco got its own Major League team! Suddenly, those inconsequential backyard games had meaning. We could pretend we were Mays, McCovey or Marichal, or any one of those great players from the early SF Giants teams. We heard baseball on the radio every weekend while working or playing in the yard. Every neighbor had the game on, so we listened in stereo.
But most importantly, it increased the deep bond I already had with Dad. Every morning during the season, after listening to the game the night before when I was supposed to be asleep, I’d bound downstairs to discuss the results with him. “Hey Dad, the Dodgers lost! We’re a game ahead of them!’ Or, ‘Did you hear that Mays home run? Wow!’ Or one morning, ‘Dad, that new pitcher — what’s his name? Juan something? He hardly speaks English, but he threw a one-hitter. What a game!’
I learned statistics and how to figure out the standings before I read the Chronicle Sporting Green at breakfast. I could figure out batting averages and who had the most home runs. And I got to spend time with Dad. It was our thing since my brother didn’t care much for the game that Dad and I loved.
Years later, when all my uncles were gone and the Giants finally won the World Series, I got word that we could buy a commemorative brick in front of the stadium. I just happened to go to the game that night with cousin Frank, who agreed that we should get a brick to honor our fathers. It was easy to get all the first generation cousins to chip in for a memorial next to Willie’s statue.
We dedicated the brick before a family picnic where we played a rousing game of baseball in honor of our fathers. I often stop by on the way in to games, looking just to the left of Willie’s back foot for our brick, tipping my hat to my Dad and uncles. And every time I’m at the park, I wish that they could join me for one more game at the most beautiful park in the world, watching the amazing game that they taught me and my cousins.
Thanks Dad. You gave me baseball, and so much more.