This is a revision of the first post I did. It wasn’t quite accurate, so here is an up-dated version.
“Yeah, sooo, why did you quit playing baseball?”
I must admit my dad caught me a little off guard when he asked me that the other day. We had been working in the hay field when my youngest brother came out and began telling us how he had been bragging about me to his friends. Apparently, he told them that I could run faster, throw further, and hit more home runs than any of their brothers.
Although, it made me laugh to think of a group of guys in their twenties arguing about who had the toughest brother, I liked what he was saying. As he related word for word how the conversation went, even I got carried away by my own imaginary awesomeness, and began fantasizing about what might have been; high school championships, scholarships, my striped Yankee uniform, more money than I would ever be able to spend. Then, quite unexpectedly, memories and emotions that had long since been forgotten came flooding back. Suddenly, I was a kid again…
The image of a clear blue summer evening sky, and the grass in front of my childhood home flashed before my minds eye. The sun was sitting close to the horizon and I could see dad and me playing catch in the shade of the house. It was one of my favorite pass times. Every time I played catch with dad, I would be filled with a sense of contentment and pride. I loved that I had a dad who would spend time with his sons teaching them how to catch, hit and throw. I loved that he came to just about every game I had. Sometimes, he would show up to games in his police uniform, just say hi, and then be off on his next call. I thought my dad was funny and I liked him.
Dad was a very good ball player, and we spent many summer evenings at the ballpark watching him pitch in the city fast pitch softball league. It was his dream that someday one of his sons would play pro-ball. It was my dream too. I would often lay awake in bed imagining myself throwing nine pitches an inning, and hitting a grand slam every at bat.
It was in the middle of all this reminiscing that my brother asked, “What position did you play in high school?”
“Well,” cough “I didn’t play in high school.”
“Huh?!” He looked at me wide eyed, and I could tell a little worried that fact might somehow get back to his friends. “I thought you did.”
That is when my dad, who up to this point hadn’t said much asked “Yeah, sooo, why did you quit playing baseball?”
I just looked at him dumbfounded. Weird, I thought, that after all these years, the subject had never come up. I had no idea what to say. I just stammered for a second until my brother stepped in and changed the subject. But I couldn’t stop wondering: why did I stop playing?
I remember hating practice, but I don’t think that was it. I was batting clean up the last year I played, and got hit with a pitch, which scared me enough that my little league coach moved me to the end of the batting order. But I don’t think that was it either. I liked the kids I was playing with, I liked my coaches, and I liked the father son time. Despite all that, I remember pressure, and the fear that I would be unable to live up to my dads’ expectations. Silly, I know. Today I wish I could go back and do it for myself, but as a kid I felt trapped and obligated to perform to gain dad’s approval. I was playing for him.
I remember the day we were supposed to sign up for the next baseball season, and how knotted up inside I was. Dread had filled my existence for weeks before. The day came and went, and I wondered why we hadn’t gone to sign up. The paperwork sat blank on the counter, and I assumed dad had just signed me up himself at the parks and recreation office. Days passed, and no one said anything about what team I was on, or when the first practice was going to be. Days turned to weeks, and friends talked of when they were going to start practices. I would go home and resent the announcement that never came.
A year passed, and again I was filled with dread as the deadline for sign-ups approached. Just like the year before, baseball was never mentioned.
One day, my dad and I were returning from an errand in his patrol car and as we pulled into the driveway he asked if I was ready to play ball again. I was afraid of what his reaction was going to be, but I answered “no”. Now that I’m a father, I appreciate the conversation we had so much more than I did then. It had to be incredibly disappointing for him to see whatever talent he thought I had going to waste. Yet, there was no hint of anger or sadness on his part. We had a pleasant talk about life in general, and then he expressed his love and support and let me know that I didn’t need to play baseball for him to be proud of me. I don’t know if he saw it, but a million pounds lifted from my shoulders.
I will forever be grateful to a father who, despite his own wishes, was man enough to allow his son to follow his own. His unconditional support and encouragement have bolstered my self esteem and empowered my faith in myself. Right or wrong, he always allowed me the freedom to choose my own destiny. I have been able to live life unburdened by his expectations, for which he has my undying gratitude. Thanks, dad. I love you.