Originally posted on March 27, 2016, “‘The Father Son Baseball Game” comes just in time for Father’s Day. A happy and a healthy to all the fathers out there. This piece recounts how I came to realize that my father, the man I warred with through my teenage years, actually is not only my inspiration, but he’s also a reflection of me as I am of him.
Scary how that works out.
Roughly 15 years ago, my Father and I went to Port St. Lucia, Florida, to see the New York Mets in spring training. My memories are scattered of the actual events, but I can recall the clunker of a rental car that didn’t have power windows, the 10 bean burritos we had because it was Good Friday when he landed, the pizza place where we grabbed a quick bite later that first night, the terrible movie Exit Wounds that I watched on HBO after my father conked out, the flaming fields in the distance where methane gas was being burned off of the landfills, the steaks we ate that night – none of which has anything to do with baseball.
However, I will never forget that human bouncy castle plopping and plodding toward second base. Bearing down on the second baseman who looked like a minute child in comparison to the monolithic man and the Mets marquee acquisition that 2001-2002 offseason, Mo Vaughn was safe, bouncing off the dirt, thump! thump!
“You’re outtttttt!” the umpire bellowed from the middle infield. The crowd, still in shock that the Fat Man attempted to swipe the bag, didn’t respond immediately, for they were trying to process the anomaly they had just witnessed. Then came the serenading of boos from the Tradition Field crowd. As my father explained, the ump just wanted to go home. It had been a long day in the Florida humidity. For all of us.
That was when I was a freshman in high school rebelling against my parents’ decision to send me to a Catholic high school after being a public school student my entire life. I was leaving behind my friends in Bellmore, people I had known nearly my whole life, and going to a place where I knew absolutely no one, and if you’ve ever met me in person, I’m pretty awful with first impressions.
Since I didn’t want any part of the school or the required uniform, I spent a lot of mornings figuring out new ways to fake sick – whether it be throwing up while brushing my teeth, taking an uncomfortably hot shower to become feverish, or developing a phantom cough. My mother certainly placated me by calling me out of school whenever I had a sniffle or a stomach ache or honestly probably just an itch. It was the same appeasing behavior I shake my head at now as a teacher.
I’ve always said and I truly do believe that my high school years for me were the most formative years of my life. I discovered myself after a depressing freshman campaign spent avoiding my peers and plotting my exit. These were also the years where I ferociously fought with my parents about every facet of life probably down to breathing, years where I discovered the dangers of drinking excessively and of trusting people who are untrustworthy and of finding genuine friends. For a long time, I felt as so many of my students do; that is, they’re the only ones who have ever experienced the pain of growing up, that their parents have absolutely no idea what they’re going through, that they just want to control them and not allow them the freedom to mature on their own.
And, as I tell my students, looking back on those tumultuous years, I know they will eventually realize their parents were right about a lot of those senseless quarrels they had with them. Moreover, they’ll begin to see their parents in themselves. That was never more evident than when my father and I made our triumphant return to Port St. Lucie, which I’m pretty sure is the gateway to the River Styx, last weekend with President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in the background of our trip.
Sharing a room, we enjoyed a couple glasses of scotch in the afternoon that first day there. He did his crossword puzzle, and I read a collection of short stories about the 50 states. Fast forward till nighttime when he’s passed out sitting up in his tighty-whiteys that might as well have been a G-string on his man trunks and I saw myself in the same position on my couch in Manhattan so many nights before; while disturbing, the image cemented what I’ve known since I graduated college: The man I had fought with throughout my teenage years over drinking and smoking and coming home late, my father, was me.
Sure, my father and I don’t talk every day as my mother and I do. Even growing up, I could’ve sworn he didn’t like me sometimes because we had very short conversations and I never felt as if my work was good enough for him. Really, I did not feel much warmth even though I never questioned if he loved me. There were standards he held me to, and I had boundaries unlike other friends whose parents I thought were the best for promoting underage drinking and other sophomoric mischief. Physically and intellectually intimidating, he was my father, not my friend, and I always respected him that much more for it. As busy and adult-like as he was, my father always had time for baseball and our Mets (even during the 90s).
However, the Bill and Andrew Chapin show hit a baseball moratorium in 2008 when the Mets blew another big divisional lead and did not make the playoffs for the second year in a row, a streak that would endure until last year, I had not watched much baseball. After that year, I think my father got rid of our Sunday ticket plan in the green mezzanine section at Shea, and we stopped talking about the Mets unless it was to make a joke about how cheap they were or how badly they’d been taken in the Madoff scandal.
Summers grew longer.
Mets seasons grew shorter.
And as much as I hated the overrated cartoon Family Guy, they so aptly summarized the Mets with something like, “Here’s the first pitch…and the season’s over.”
Then, the Mets, boasting the best young pitching staff in baseball, the best since the 90s Braves trio of Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine, decided it was time to contend. Getting mercurial slugger Yoenis Cespedes, the reported chain-smoking, hot-dogging prima-donna from the Detroit Tigers (formerly of the Boston Red Sox and prior to that the Oakland Athletics). And my father and I started talking baseball again as if we hadn’t stopped.
Baseball is a father-son game, always has been. However, as prices continue to rise and the classic baseball game has become more of a corporate picnic than a family event, the ordinary fan with a kids oftentimes gets priced out. Fewer dads and moms are taking their kids to the ballpark. America’s “national pastime” is getting older, according to Brandongaille.com, where “MLB has 50% of their fan base in the 55+ age category.”
Moreover, while “Major League Soccer has the most young viewers in their demographics, with 14% of fans being in the 2-17 age demographic,” the MLB is lagging behind. In Marc Fisher’s April 15, 2015 Washington Post piece “Baseball is struggling to hook kids – and risks losing fans to other sports,” he writes of the aging game:
Adults 55 and older are 11 percent more likely than the overall population to say they have a strong interest in baseball, whereas those in the 18 to 34 age group are 14 percent less likely to report such interest, according to a study by Nielsen Scarborough. Kids ages 6-17 made up 7 percent of the TV audience for postseason games a decade ago; in the past couple of years, that figure is down to 4 percent.
The lack of the next generation of fan is what Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan believes is the death knell of the sport, alarming since the MLB conversely has never seen higher attendance or revenues. And he’s right, I think as I reflect on my childhood and juxtapose them against images of childhood today, I no longer see baseballs being tossed around in the street or pick-up games being played on local fields; I don’t see my students bringing gloves in for recess. I don’t see baseball cards anymore. I hate to admit it, but I have a hard time sitting through an entire baseball game with the bevy of food and drink offerings at modern stadiums and the allure of my smartphone.
Still, I recall tossing the ball around in the backyard with my father, working on my backhand stabs, spraining my ankle since I wasn’t the best athlete. I remember the hotdogs and peanuts at the game. I remember all the cursing and steering wheel banging after we watched the Mets lose to the Yankees at Shea Stadium. My fondest memories are the ones in our Sunday seats and the playoff games, whether it be the play-in when they beat the Diamondbacks on a Todd Pratt walk-off or a close one they squeaked out against the San Francisco Giants with the fan next to us who kept screaming out “J.T., let it snow! [a pun since the light-hitting former major leaguer’s name is J.T. Snow].”
When I was growing up, in my eyes I could never measure up to him. Sitting under the overhang at Tradition Field last weekend and sharing a double Jamison and some peanuts with him, however, I felt the warmth and love a father has for his son and the validation of being an equal, an adult – him and me, he and I, a father and son, watching some baseball.
Just like it should be.
Copyright ã 2017 Andrew Chapin
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