Happy Father's Day (weekend) to all the dads out there. I hope you enjoy your traditional gifts of ties/power tools/grilling equipment. I got my dad the most amazing t-shirt in the history of the world. Shopping for my dad is always easy for me, because I always manage to find just the right baseball thing to get him. Looking for his gift of course got me thinking about my dad and baseball. Specifically, how I came to love baseball, and how my dad's attitude about baseball has taught me how to just let go and love the Phillies, even when they're unimaginably atrocious.
I'm the oldest of three daughters, and my family moved from Havertown, PA to Maine when I was seven. Growing up, sports weren't a huge part of my life. I dated a football player in high school, and he encouraged me to spend Father's Day in 2000 watching the US Open golf tournament with my dad. My dad is a huge fan of golf (Jack Nickalus forever!), but no one else in the house was interested. I asked him a million questions about what was going on, and he patiently answered each and every one of them. At the end of that day, I had discovered that I enjoyed watching golf on TV (I hear all of you scoffing and you can just shut it) and I loved watching it with my dad.
Fast forward about six years to September 2006. I had just moved to a town in southern Wisconsin after graduating from college, about a mile from the Wisconsin-Illinois border. I lived about an hour from Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee -- close, but not close enough to really be part of those fine cities. I was very far from home, depressed, miserable, and desperately looking for anything that would connect me back to my family and my home from almost 1000 miles away. Flipping channels, I came across a baseball game on one of the Chicago networks. The Phillies were playing the Cubs at CBP. I sat and watched the entire game, the first time I had watched any baseball for about two years, and the first time I had ever really paid attention to everything that was happening. I was completely fascinated.
I took a different approach with baseball than I did with golf. I scoured the internet to learn more about the game, but I used my dad to tell me more about the Phillies teams from the days of yore. He loved Steve Carlton, and particularly enjoyed telling me about the 1972 Phillies -- a season in which Carlton's 27 wins made up almost half of the team's 59 wins. (And that doesn't count the losses and no decisions he received because the team around him was so irredeemably shitty.) He told me about his love of Pete Rose, always very simply saying "He should be in the Hall of Fame, and that's it", and he taught me to be an evangelist for the Pete Rose cause. A few years ago, he dug up several old programs from the early 70s, and I completely devoured them. When I started playing fantasy baseball, he compared it to All-Star Baseball, a board game type thing he played when he was a kid. I found one of the old games on eBay and gave it to him as a gift. He has it set up in the basement.
I'm like my dad in many ways. We share a similar sense of humor and the ability to ease tension with a well-timed joke. He also happens to be one of the most optimistic people on earth. This is one of the areas in which we are not alike. I tend to assume the worst at all times about pretty much everything. Take the Phillies for example. The 2012 Phillies haven't exactly been an overwhelming joy to watch, and looking into the immediate future of the franchise -- whether it be three months or three years down the road -- isn't a life affirming exercise. But it doesn't bother my dad in the least. I call him at work once a week, and our conversation usually starts with "Woof, the Phillies really blow." We joke about how bad they've been, but he always has good things to say about them. Maybe it's because he lived through some of the shittiest days of the franchise, and he thinks my whining about being 10 games back is funny in a "you don't know how bad it could get" kind of way. But I tend to think it's because he always finds joy in his favorite team. And God love him, his attitude has started to rub off on me. I've stopped focusing on the negative aspects of the Phillies and instead I find at least one thing I can enjoy about each game. Of course, sometimes that one thing I enjoy is hating Ty Wigginton, but I think that still counts.
If I could pinpoint when it happened, when my dad's outlook on the Phillies took root in my brain, it would have to be Opening Day 2011. My mom got me and my dad tickets for Christmas (the best gift ever, thanks mom!), and I took him out early to tailgate in Lot K, something he'd never done. I was disappointed in the 9th inning that our great day would be made slightly less great by the Phillies' inability to put the hammer down on Brett Myers. But my dad, of course, refused to give up. "The game isn't over yet. You never know!" The people around us had mostly left -- "boobs" is what he called them -- when the Phillies rallied and we both saw our very first walk-off. My dad was right.
I came to baseball later than most. It wasn't my childhood love, my high school obsession, or my college hobby. I found it at the exact right time, though. And being able to share baseball with my dad means more to me than I can say. I'm lucky. While we won't be able to watch baseball or golf together on Sunday, I want him to know how thankful I am for everything he's done for me, and that he's the best father anyone could ever have. (He will know, because I'm going to send him the link to this story.)
I'll leave you all with my father's immortal words not about baseball, but golf. These are words I live by. "If he's not Jack, we don't like him." Thanks, dad.