Reach Baseballs


Father’s Day.

In the house I grew up in there was a spot in the basement where my father kept at least a dozen Reach baseballs. Maybe two or three dozen.

Those different generations…. for my family, Father’s Day and baseball were and still are synonymous. In the age of television, Father’s Day and the U. S. Open are now synonymous, at least with fathers who grew up with television as a foster relative.

What is inside the ball? 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 have a curiosity about the insides of the ball.  There is a sense of wonder about what is inside, and what is inside the ball is part of the attraction to the game.

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 had acquired Reach and then 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.

It was a Father’s Day in the last 1980s. I lived in Chicago 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 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.

That Holy of Holies. It is not irreverence to compare my feeling to what is inside the ball, to the same mystery that Jack Wall talked about that Sunday. Have you ever been overcome with the smell of horsehide?

The spirit within. Exhibiting that spirit within. Hustle. The tenacity shown on the diamond. Or the gentleness at home.

Children in their innocence had a reverence for things that too many jaded adults lost along the way. About baseball. About life. 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?

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

There were always the questions. The bad hops. The mysterious bad hops, in the game of inches. On the playing field. The subtleness of the mystery. On diamonds. In churches. Until you eventually figured some things out. With the help of a father. Like the indicator before the steal sign. From one generation to the next. Those sacraments that produced Grace. Baseball was one of the sacraments that produced Grace. Like the sacrifice fly. God in His incredible subtleness, day in and day out. With the squeeze play. Baseball was one of the outward signs, believed by me anyway, believed by some American Irish Catholics anyway, over time, which produced INWARD signs. When the outward signs over time produced INWARD signs. And Grace.

What was the attraction? When I grew to be a man there was still a sense of the Holy of Holies around the game of baseball. The spirit within. At an outdoor ballpark. We had had this 28 year gap in Minnesota, with real baseball.

Generations were more adept now at using the new technology. My brother subscribed to the “bigger, stronger, faster” philosophy in sports that you heard promoted on television. That new technology. In car commercials and sports. Wherever that had taken us. With Chrysler and General Motors.

Baseball, in the horsehide, was one language of creation. Not many spoke the language like I had heard it. Like in poetry, here were places for pauses. For silence. Like in church. With the background noises, in the relationships which developed.

When I was fourteen, I got my first job. It was at a ball park. I worked there over 9 seasons. At an outdoor ballpark. 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. With the smell of resin and horsehide. A relationship developed, an invisible bond, with the past to the present. An invisible bond which was too often missing from too many who played the game professionally today.

Whereas I used to wonder what was now inside the ball, now with Bud Selig’s autograph I wonder in the age of steroids, from about 1992 through the present day, what is inside the athlete. I wonder about what inspired the passions of these present day people who had missed out on the real Holy of Holies.

Though my father died eleven years ago, Father’s Day and baseball still for my family are synonymous. I had come to learn baseball was about relationships, that a ballpark was more than a holy place where the Holy of Holies was kept, but a place to share something deep inside, from a craftsman who was connecting the past to the present, very much the case by my own father. With a reverence for the game, through Sport involved with Time and Place and Distance, baseball had become a part of me, through this father-son relationship passing on the power in bonds between people, passing on the Spirit.

 

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