I weep like a lost child every time I watch the scene from “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner playing catch with his deceased father. This may read incredibly cliché, but baseball has forged the single strongest bond between my father and I. At age 5, he taught me how to read the box scores in the sports section of the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. I remember anxiously going outside to get the paper on those mornings when my Dad didn’t do it, aching to find out what my favorite players had done the night before. The day couldn’t properly start without reading the sports while I ate breakfast.
I attended my first Yankee game in 1977, the first of two consecutive championship seasons. At that age, there did not exist a more awe-inspiring structure than Yankee Stadium; the history of the building, the dominance of the ’77 team, and the electricity of the New York crowd… I was The Golden Child. I remember getting very upset that the crowd was booing Lou Pinella, but my mother and grandmother explained they weren’t booing, they were yelling “Lou… Lou…” And of course the Yankees won. I still lived in New York for the first half of my kindergarten year, and in my individual picture, although I’m looking a little femme, I’m wearing the classic navy blue Yankee hat.
My father was an assistant coach of mine during several little league seasons. Back then, I don’t think he had the free time or the energy to devote to the head coaching position, but I know he wanted it. He took great interest in my development as a ball player, helping me constantly, but not pushing me too hard. The results were mixed, as I eventually had the talent to make a very competitive high school team, but ultimately wasn’t good enough to start at my position. My father made a career change that seemed to coincide with me moving out of little league and into high school. From then on, he was the head coach of every single one of my brother’s teams. And he took it very seriously. He was the type of father who would substitute my brother if wasn’t one of the best players on the team. Other fathers didn’t do that. He would yell at his kids to motivate them, but he could also take them aside and talk to them individually in soft tones if necessary. He was well-prepared for tryouts and the draft, even trying to select players he liked over and over again. He argued with umpires, he threw his hat, and he gave inspired pep talks in the dugout between innings, all clear-cut evidence of how much he cared. At the end of one season, during the team party, the parents of the kids presented my Dad with a scroll full of sayings he had quoted or coined over the course of the season, called “Ira’s Idioms.” Some of the more memorable ones included “Always use two hands,” “You gotta think out there,” “Hustle in, hustle out,” and “When you stink, you stink, but tonight you were great.” The man loved coaching so much, he was the head coach of our family friend Michael’s team after my brother stopped playing. And he was so devoted to the PAL (Plantation Athletic League) he became Commissioner of divisions he wasn’t coaching in. That’s how much he loves baseball.
My father’s association with PAL ended with him not getting the recognition he deserved for his commitment to the organization. He lost a close race for Commissioner of the entire league, to a guy who campaigned for the job a great deal more than my Dad did. Since that time, my father has been playing Rotisserie Baseball with the same group of guys for thirteen or fourteen years. The league has been its share of personnel changes, but the core group remains. And you can just imagine, my father takes his fantasy baseball pretty seriously. He watches as many games as he can, he makes certain not to miss Baseball Tonight, and he roots for the players on his team even if they are facing the Yankees. It’s a way for him to stay connected to the game and it’s one of the few social things he does with a group. I’ve had to make a conscious decision in my early adult life to attempt to watch less sports. Therefore, I have not participated in a fantasy baseball league for over ten years. But this year, I decided to get back into the game. I co-own a team with one of my lifelong friends -- we’ll call him Yoz – who has been in this particular league for a bunch of years. In the past, he has co-owned a team with a third lifelong friend -- let’s call him Laz -- and he has owned teams on his own, always competing against my father. And now I’m competing against my father too. In fact, my father just emailed me the other day, proposing a trade. We talk baseball more now than in previous years and it seems like old times. A recent anecdote from my personal journal illustrates my point:
Today's running storyline featured a fantasy baseball league controversy. Last night, Laz was in town on business and called Yoz from my apartment after realizing that our two teams were the only ones who didn't get to participate in the first round of voluntary moves. In all honesty, I have been wrapped up in My Girl and My Writing lately and haven't been paying that much attention to baseball. However, the key issue centered on whether or not everyone in the league had been notified that the voluntary move period was beginning. The Commissioner of the league should have sent out an email newsletter to at least one member of each team thereby ensuring there would be no miscommunication. But, The Commissioner assumed that everyone would read the newsletter on the website that tracks our statistics. I haven't visited the website in weeks, Yoz missed it, and Laz missed it. Laz’s Dad, a league member who doesn't even use a computer, failed to notice the newsletter on the stat sheets he receives via fax. So, the first round of moves went by with Laz’s team and our team as the only ones not to make any moves. Laz and I seemed to have similar reactions, both feeling slighted and agreeing that what transpired was certainly not fair, but neither one of us was truly angry. Yoz and Laz’s Dad reacted more violently. Laz’s Dad apparently called The Commissioner this morning and let him have it in no uncertain terms. As I don't have a transcript of the conversation, I can't be sure exactly what was said, but I know Laz’s Dad was livid. This inspired The Commissioner to call my cell phone at 8:30 am this morning Pacific time. Barely awake, I'm listening to The Commissioner, already in the middle of his East Coast day, prattle on about the controversy and quote previous phone conversations with me, when suddenly I achieved clarity… I don't really care that much about fantasy baseball. But I heard The Commissioner out and got my two cents in and figured I'd email Yoz about it and see what he was planning to do. Later on in the day, before I talked to Yoz, my father calls to see if I've read Yoz's email to The Commissioner. I hadn't checked my email yet, so I had La Ira Bonita read it to me. In the letter, Yoz made some valid arguments citing the miscommunication, but ended it by taking an unfair stab at The Commissioner, implying that The Commissioner may have done this on purpose. My father commented that he didn't think that was a very nice thing to say and I agreed. We talked about the issue for awhile and then caught up on other things and then right before we hung up, unsolicited, my father said "I Love You." I said it back and he told me to give my best to My Girl and we hung up. A shocking breakthrough. Many times, we'll talk on the phone and I'll say "I Love You" and he'll just say goodbye, even though I know that he loves me back. I don't even really need him to say it. But this was initiated by him. Baseball has always been our bond and once again baseball brought us closer together. It's insane to think this fantasy baseball league controversy was a trigger for my father and I to further our relationship, but it was. That's the single greatest thing that could possibly have come out of playing this game.