Fathers and Horsehide

Father’s Day.

A father trying to reach a young son. With all in which he had believed.

For my family, Father’s Day and baseball were and still are synonymous. In the house I grew up in there was a spot in the basement where my father kept at least a dozen Reach baseballs. Okay maybe two or three dozen.

So differently, those generations? From one generation to the next, kids have always wondered what’s inside the ball. Whether it was about the inert game of golf or baseball, most kids had a curiosity about the insides of the ball. There was a sense of wonder about what was inside, and what was inside the ball was part of the attraction to the game.

What was inside the ball? Reach was the manufacturer of these baseballs kept in our basement. With Joe Cronin’s signature on them. Made in Haiti. In the late 19th century, Spalding acquired Reach and operated the company as a subsidiary, leaving the Reach name on these balls used in the American League. Our supply was always replenished.

That childhood sense of wonder – of what was inside the ball – was the first of the various real life mysteries in our lives. For my father’s kids, anyway.

Baseball is an art form, in one of the mysterious celebrations of life. Baseball which all seemed to start in our basement. At my house. Chaim Potok wrote, “Art happens when what is seen becomes mixed with the inside of the person who is seeing it.”

When I was fourteen, I got my first job. It was at a ball park. I worked there over 9 seasons. Something happened to a person when you went to a ballpark everyday of the summer, even when the team was on the road. The ballpark was like a church. Something was absorbed each day. A relationship developed – an invisible bond – with the past to the present. A invisible bond which seemed too often missing from many who played the game professionally today.

The lunchroom. When an original American League franchise had moved to my hometown. Where the tradition was carried on from the days of the Great Depression to have a lunchroom when the full-time employees ate for free (though noting the union employees on the ground crew did not have the privilege). Remembering the days of hunger from the 1930s as well as recognizing the fierceness of people who come out of revolution and great upheaval, which the players after the time of the 1976 expansion through today would never comprehend. When there had been a reserve clause in the contract.

When you had to uproot your family to survive in a ballpark on the other side of the Mississippi, in these twin cities. When your sister had married Joe Cronin and most of the people in the lunchroom had met him a few times.

Perhaps there are too few things which I care about, as much as I cared about baseball, no mattter how bothered I was on the surface about the state of the present game.

Today is the major league draft. The quality is down again this year. If you read the views stated yesterday in the Chicago papers. As it seems to be so often. It was not only the African-Americans who were no longer playing the game in great number. It seemed to be the entire generation. In a world with a booming population, with expansions which had taken the baseball world which I grew up immersed around from twenty teams to thirty, the quality at the big league level would never be the same. Because no one could throw strikes, the announcers told you of all these great at-bats. When no one hit the ball. And the games kept getting longer. Though it would never be admitted during the inning brought to you by the snake oil salesmen, with belief in liniment rubs, now employed by the team.

Since the time when everyone ate what is now called an organic banana, the days of awe have been replaced. I have a hard time being at the ballpark any more, with not enough players exhibiting that spirit within. Hustle. The tenacity shown on the diamond. When pitchers seldom threw complete games. And when too many players with a missing reserve charged the mound too fast. After an inside hard one.

The conceits. The movement in the story: the time of game. Speaking of spiritual borders between generations, when a past-time become a different kind of pursuit. Taking action. Or taking pitches, as the players became spectators. There was a difference between responding and reacting, maybe from the influence of television. With the fear as seen on a young performer’s face, dealing with greatness? Like something once started like a parent walking a child to the bus stop, the over-protection of pitch counts.

Timeless. The timeless pursuits. The waiting. Having to measure up to greatness. The challenge to the next generation to measure up. To try and measure up. To people like Charles Gardner “Old Hoss” Radbourn who in 1884 set a record for pitching 678 innings.

Children in their innocence had a reverence for things that too many jaded adults lost along the way. About baseball, about life. From the institutional voice of a parent who was always there from the beginning, as the seat of authority. In the humanness of a father. The mystery and reality of life, until one day any child had to answer the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

It was a Father’s Day in the last 1980s. I lived in Chicago, with a real job, and my dad was in town on a trip that had him for professional reasons at Comiskey Park on that Sunday. Afterward I took him to five o’clock Mass at old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. It was one of the few buildings that had survived the Great Chicago Fire. Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church then was being revitalized by a priest named Jack Wall. And I think that was the day he delivered his Holy of Holies homily. It had to do with Roman centurions storming into the Jewish temple which must have been in Jerusalem in search of the Holy of Holies about which they had heard so much. It was the secret to what inspired the passions of the people of Israel. After much destruction around the location inside the the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where Holy of Holies was kept, the Roman centurions left. They were unable to resolve the mystery of what was behind the thick curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place drawing such reverence from the people.

With the theme of recognition, I had my difiiculty with baseball in the age of expansion. Trying to pass on what was here before, not necessarily what baseball is now. And so the conflict between generations. And THAT I think is the story of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Over issues of belief, talent and fertility. When the game seems so much more artificial – though it is the same game, only the new generation of broadcasters relied on artificial intelligence throwing around statistics – and what is my grandson using?

It is not irreverence to compare my feeling to what is inside the ball — how the ball gripped me — to the same mystery that Jack Wall talked about that Sunday. It was not so hard believing in everything a father taught you, as the beliefs became so very real. About an excitement at a ballpark. In the bonds. Over the identity, like that of a catcher from the Pitcher, when a child was born. Just a different version of spirit seen in the excitement on display from that of a Saint Patrick’s Day.

When your father introduced you to greatness, with a certain reserve. The control artists before expansion. The progressive movement as the world expands, with an awareness of the old level before the accumulative affect of twenty years upon the standard of care. During the same time, the multiplication of image and sound, and meaningless noise, in a growing population. So what happens to the old level of play, after sixteen teams grow to thirty? So beyond just the packaging, what was left inside?

The baseballs are no longer made in Haiti. Pitchers no longer can throw strikes. A good at-bat now constitutes a walk. With no assurance by leaders of quality control, with no assurance of either the baseball or the baseball player, as one game lasts forever.

So as a father and grandfathers still try to reach their sons and grandsons through the love of the game — with a sense of excitement about the world — I do wonder about what inspires the passions now of these present day people who had missed out on the real Holy of Holies. Whereas I used to wonder what was inside the ball, currently with Bud Selig’s autograph, I wonder now, in the age of steroids, from about 1992 through the present day, what is inside the athlete.

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1 comment so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    Happy Father’s Day, Ervin Santana. And to Zack Hample.

    Read the link. http://www.twincities.com/sports/ci_28345283/twins-ervin-santana-answers-first-round-post-suspension

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