I thought I was just going to write a few things about my Dad and then I guess I got kinda carried away. I split what I wrote into two parts, and I think you need to read the first one to understand what I’m going to say about Dad here.
It comes down to this: baseball was Dad’s and my thing.
I was the only boy in the family, but don’t think Dad pushed me into becoming a ball player. He liked sports as much as the next guy, and wanted us all to be reasonably athletic and healthy kids, but never pushed us. (He used to say that he didn’t want any kid of his getting picked last. And he did manage it so that none of us totally sucked at anything. That’s except me and basketball lol.) Dad did teach me how to catch and throw, he showed me my first ballgame on TV and took me to Tball for the first time. After that, things took care of themselves. Dad’s problem wasn’t getting me interested in baseball: it was getting me interested in anything else.
Dad took me on that road trip to Baltimore when I was 8 so I could get to see Cal Ripken Jr play. I already had decided I was going to be a shortstop, and I thought Cal Ripken Jr was the greatest shortstop of all time. I had a poster of him on my wall from when I was 7 until I left home for college. So Dad took me up to Baltimore one weekend and we saw three games: a Saturday afternoon game and a Sunday double header. I remember all 3 games (the Orioles won all 3 and swept the Yankees) and how my hero homered in two of them. But maybe the thing I remember most of all is that I got ice cream twice the day of the double header, once at the start of each of the 7th innings.
Kids aren’t stupid. In little league, we knew exactly whose dad was an asshole and whose dad was cool. I was proud back then and I’m still proud that my dad was one of the cool dads. First of all, he never argued with a single coach, umpire or call…and he went to enough of my games to see enough bad calls. His reason was that if I was going to get anywhere in baseball, I was going to have to learn to deal with bad calls. There wasn’t going to be anyone to yell at the umpire for me when I got older.
In little league, Dad was one of the ice cream dads. He’d take the whole team to Bruster’s or the Dairy Queen – but not if we weren’t good losers or good winners. I remember one day we’d kicked the other team’s ass pretty bad, and some of us (ok I was one of them) started making fun of the boys on the other team who really sucked. No ice cream after that game (and I still remember the look on Dad’s face when he told us why.)
Still, Dad was a real good customer at the Dairy Queen in those days.
Dad came to a lot of my high school games. By then, I’d started putting a lot of pressure on myself, since I was serious about baseball and was the kind of high school player who might grow up to be good enough to have a career playing ball. You can’t tell a teenager who may be headed for the MLB draft that “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” and make it all better by buying him a strawberry sundae at the Dairy Queen.
Dad gave me some rules to follow:
- never argue with an umpire
- never yell at your coach
- never throw equipment
- throw your bubble gum in the trash can when you’re done with it
- never freak out in public
- but you can go tell your dad about it after the game.
Although I didn’t call my dad “sir” (actually I did once in a while), I also couldn’t call him up and scream at him about goddamn motherfucker faggots on the other fuckin bitchass team who fucked us over with the help of the fuckin gayass piece of shit umpires. You didn’t raise your voice to my father and you certainly didn’t use that word in front of him. But I could calmly tell him why I was upset about losing a game or making a stupid error, and, he’d listen for however long it took me to tell him about it. He didn’t hug me and let me cry it out on his shoulder, but he made me feel it was ok and I wasn’t going to die from it. (Remember: this was high school and you think you’re going to die from every bad thing that happens to you lol.)
And, yeah, we kept playing catch in the backyard. It was pretty cool when I discovered I could throw harder than he could catch.
Dad also made the draft after high school real, real simple for me. You’re going to college. End of discussion.
I didn’t go to the greatest baseball school in the country, but Middle Tennessee State had a good baseball program and they needed a shortstop. They were academically strong enough to please Mom (have I told y’all yet that she was a librarian?)…and, most importantly, they were willing to pay all my expenses.
Although I didn’t become the regular starter until my sophomore year, I got a few chances my first year. I didn’t find out about my first start until 8:00 that morning. I don’t know how he got the time off from work at such short notice, but, when the game started, Dad was in the stands, having made the 3 hour drive from Maryville to Murfreesboro in time for a 1 o’clock start. Dad didn’t come to all my college games of course, but he did expect a text after every game to know how we did. And I knew I could call if there was anything I wanted to tell him that didn’t fit into a text.
I hope I’m not gonna sound stuck up when I write this, but I was usually the best player on whichever team I was on growing up. But, even though Dad was incredibly proud of me, he made sure that it was never all about me. He never let me forget that baseball was a team sport. His son was not going to be one of those asshole players you hear about who thinks he’s doing his team a favor by playing for them. When we blew a 6-4-3 double play and I was blaming it on the 2nd baseman, Dad always told me that my throw to 2nd could have been the late one, and not the throw to 1st.
Dad was right about that one too.
Dad was also smart enough to know what he didn’t know. Dad was my Dad, not my coach. He’d listen to me talk about my swing for hours, but he knew his job was to listen, not to interfere with things my coaches knew more about than him. I played with a lot of guys over the years who had their swings completely fucked up by their dads.
A lot of people watch the MLB draft on TV and probably think that what they see is all there is to it. In reality it goes on for three days and, the longer you go without getting picked, the worse it gets. I was back at home when it was going on, and I could tell Dad was as nervous as I was. We did everything not to think about it (one night we binge-watched the Clint Eastwood Dollars movies), until, finally the call came on the afternoon of the third day that the Rangers had picked me in the 38th round – 1098th overall.
Dad took me to the Dairy Queen to get a strawberry sundae after we got the good news.
And then I reckon we get to April 7, 2016, the Crawdads’ season opener, which we played at the Kannapolis Intimidators. I started in short. I think I’ve made it clear that Dad doesn’t like to show emotion. He was practically handing out cigars that day. It had been a long, long road from that first night he came home from work with a kid-sized glove and a bunch of balls and we went out in the backyard to play catch for the first time. Most of what I remember about my first pro game was being more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. That and seeing Dad in the stands.
I knew how proud he was of me. I could see it (since of course he had a seat on the third-base side.) And I knew he’d be proud of me no matter how I played.
(But for the record, I went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk and no errors. We even turned a really cool 6-3-4 double play.)
Know what? Dad had figured out where there was a Dairy Queen in Kannapolis and took me there after the game to buy me a strawberry sundae.
So y’all are probably wondering how Dad reacted when I told him that I wasn’t going to go back to Hickory for a second season. The short version of the story behind that is this: I’d gotten called up to AAA Round Rock (that’s in Texas) and realized that those guys were a hundred times better than I’d ever be. I got offered a contract for a second year with the Crawdads, so the choice was mine. After lot of stressing out and long talks with Meemaw, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the next years of my life bouncing between Hickory and Kinston NC until the Rangers told me that they didn’t want me taking up space they needed for another younger prospect.
It was a real hard decision for a 23 year old to make, and it took me a long time to come to it. I wasn’t too afraid that people would think I was quitting: I was like Belshazzar and saw the handwriting on the wall. But I did know how proud Dad had been when I made it to the Crawdads, and I didn’t want him to think I was quitting. (I’m sure Meemaw had told him what I was thinking about, but I didn’t want to talk it over with him. Not because I was afraid of him. But because I was afraid of disappointing the man who’d been with me through my entire baseball life.)
Know what he said when I told him? He said he’d never been prouder of me than he was then because I’d just made the most mature decision of my life.
And then he got me into the car and he drove us to the Dairy Queen.
So…Dad…you’re probably going to hate it that I’m writing about my feelings, but I gotta say it anyway. Thanks for being the best Dad in the world.