My Father is October Baseball
It's been 3 years since my father died. Three short years on the calendar that stretch for lifetimes in my memory. There are days where I forget what it's like to have him around. It's one of the cruelties of losing someone that no one can warn you of. But there are times when I remember what I've lost. Something will trigger a sensation, then a memory, and slow time as I try to hold onto the moment.
And this year, for whatever it's worth, it was the closing run of the season that brought us close again.
I had been going through the little routines of life,--that cycle of trying to move forward while carrying the usual weight of stress and doubt--when I noticed the Giants playing the Cardinals in the NLCS.
I'm a Dodgers fan by birth. Like religion, I took it from my father--who would spend cool evenings in Spring telling me of what is like to watch them win the world series the year I was born. But there was something I never had the chance to admit to him: I had become a Giants fan.
When the Giants made their improbable run in 2010, I wasn't one of those bitter Dodgers fans waiting anxiously for their downfall. I was cheering for them, yelling at radio broadcasts as their pitching pushed them closer to the summit. I loved that about the Giants. The fundamentals of their game were sound. Pitching, defense, chemistry, timely hitting, and more pitching. I had grown to admire these qualities after so many days of reading the stats column to my father.
"Who's leading in ERA? Who's hitting right now?" he would ask. I would flip through the sports section to call off the numbers and names while he sat across from me at the breakfast table. I so loved that he trusted me with that task, and he loved to learn whenever a Dodger was contending for the top spot.
"If he keeps that up, just you watch."
But the Dodgers were getting away from that. It was no longer about how many games they were behind or whether or not the team gelled. It was about the owner and big stars. I hated when Manny Ramirez came to the team. The crazed cheer that would spin around Dodgers Stadium when he came to bat only shoved me closer to the margins.
"Where's the hitting? Where's the pitching?" No one seemed to care. I felt so alone in that noise. My father, ever the complete Dodgers fan, kept pouring his loyalty into the team. And me, ever the son trying to create something outside my father, moved away from the team. I just stopped following, stopped reading the stats sheet.
That all changed when I went to watch a Giants home game in 2010. It was the first time I'd ventured into another park, and I was admittedly ashamed when I bought a Giants hat to hide my Dodgers roots.
My father had been laid to rest months earlier, and a trip to San Francisco was just one of those things you do to keep your feet moving.
They were playing the Reds, a team I knew through my uncle, my father's brother. They would fight over me when I was younger. My uncle would buy me a Reds hat every now and then, and my father would "lose it" whenever I went looking for it.
Fidgeting in my cheap seat, I began to ease when I started listening to the crowd. Gone were the mindless shouts for players who could care less who they played for, gone were the marketing gimmicks that reminded me you of the desperate PR arm of the front office. Here were fans.
Every pitch was watched, every
stance criticized, every base-runner cautioned. I was home in that simple cheer for the fundamentals. And the team was a team. I had a brief glimpse of the same in 2004, before the moronic trading of Paul DePodesta, when the Dodgers were flying through the season.
When they capped their first playoff birth in years, I was there, with my father, as Steve Finely sent the Giants home with a grand slam. It was good year. The defense of Alexa Cora and Cesar Izturis, the murderous sinker of Odalis Perez, the untouchable bullpen, a team of bats, minds, and hearts. I was there to cheer against the Giants, crying as the stadium erupted and watched happily as Giants fans were booted from the celebration.
But that team faded and gave way to years of foundering. When I heard Jose Lima, who recorded the only playoff win for the Dodgers that year, didn't even receive phone call from the Dodgers, it was the first letdown baseball ever delivered.
In that hot summer of 2010, staring out over the field as the Giants defeated the Reds that night, I found again the pieces of that team I loved (that my father taught me were the finest qualities in baseball) in the team I was supposed to hate. When they won the World Series that year, it was vindication. They won because of their chemistry and soundness. I was saddened only to know that the Dodgers could have easily been the same team, and that I couldn't tell my father how I cheered for them because of him.
And so a few weeks ago I noticed the Giants playing the Cardinals. I had lost track of the season while busily trying to finish school and was startled to see the season already at the League Championship Series.
I was reminded that it was October baseball. The night I crumbled on top of my father as he lay on the ground was a baseball night. The Angels were playing the Yankees in October. The thought ran through my mind to join him and watch the game. I knew there would be no distractions. "No one talk to me in October," he would say, warning all of us not to bother him with anything short of who's hitting well or who's pitching that night. I decided to wait until mid-game to drive down and visit. It was a wait I will always regret.
Every day since then has been easier to live. I'm now Dodgers and Giants fan, and am proud the Giants ran the table again after the Dodgers lost momentum (despite big ticket acquisitions). They're easier because everyday I forget a little more of what it's like to have him around. I forget the stats sheet, walking into the stadium to save on parking, listening to Vin Scully with a radio tucked under our bleacher seats--gathering peanut shells--, and watching the game be won with mastery over the little things.
But there are times when I remember. That immeasurable draw of October baseball, where the world stops to gaze and forget their own trials of life, is enough to bring me a happiness that I cannot express to justice. That ring of terrific sport comes with it the great sadness when all is settled, however, and I look to the long winter ahead, bereft of it's counsel with tremendous longing. October baseball is where my father lives, it's what he is now. In eleven months, after I've bored through the misgivings of my own life, I'll return to it, hoping again to remember. Rick commented:
Rodrigo, thank you for sharing your story with everyone at theoleballgame. I enjoyed reading it!
Baseball touches our lives in so many ways. The memories are forever.
Yours in baseball,