In my ongoing effort to not write about ‘the virus’, I’ve been trying to think of something else I could tell y’all about. I’ve got a couple ideas, but I thought the one I’d go ahead with first is something I’ve seen often enough in my life: baseball dads. I’ve known quite a few…although the worst baseball dad I ever saw wasn’t even a dad.
Y’all know by now that I had awesome parents, I’m super proud of the fact that Dad, while he did everything to support me playing ball, was never a baseball dad. As an example, he never argued with an umpire in little league. He was real smart when he told me that, later on, I wasn’t gonna have him to fight my battles with umpires and that I should learn to accept bad calls from an early age. Dad always said that, over a lifetime, the strikes that were really balls and the balls that were really strikes would balance each other out, so I should never argue with an umpire.
Baseball dads are the exact opposite of that, and are always ready to get up there and yell at the umpire when they think that they’re not being fair to their boy. It’s super embarrassing for the kid and it doesn’t do anything to change the call. Although I never saw a baseball dad take a swing at an umpire, I’ve seen some come close.
When I was playing little league, there was one kid on our team named Jamie whose father was the worst baseball dad in all of Blount County. Jamie’s dad was always yelling at umpires and coaches and putting a ton of pressure on his kid. Let me give you an idea: he wanted his kid to be a left-handed pitcher. So, from when Jamie was like 3, his dad started teaching him to pitch left-handed, even though the kid was a natural righty.
When Jamie got to little league, we all thought it was weird that he did everything with his right hand besides throw. So his pitching was a totally unnatural motion, and y’all can guess that it wasn’t working too well for him. So one day our coach suggested that he try and pitch with his right hand. Surprise! He pitched better as a righty with no practice than he ever did as a lefty. Then his dad found out, and, from what I understand, he told the kid (his own fuckin son) that he was gonna break every bone in his right hand if he ever pitched with it again.
I know this because Jamie told us while his dad was yelling at our coach about it. The weirdass thing about it was that Jamie wasn’t crying or anything. He was totally matter of fact, like it was normal or something for his dad to treat him that way. I went home and told Dad about it, because I was really upset by the story – I mean, a father threatening to break a kid’s hand – and Dad got fuckin furious. He was ready to go over to Jamie’s house and break every bone in the dad’s hand, until Mom calmed him down. I think I told y’all that Dad’s one of those people who don’t usually lose their temper, but, when they do, watch out. Ok, so this was one of those times when he did.
Maybe if Jamie had been allowed to pitch naturally, he’d of been a better player. As it was, his dad made him hate baseball and Jamie eventually dropped out of little league. Jamie was a good teammate and we all liked him, but, dang, was his dad ever on the road to fucking him up for life. The day of his last game with the team his dad wasn’t even there (it was Dad who drove him home after the game…and a trip to the Dairy Queen.) Jamie told us how disappointed his father was in him…and how he said that he’d never speak to Jamie again after this. That’s maybe even more fucked up than the breaking his hand thing.
That was the last time I saw Jamie until I caught up with him in high school, where he was a straight A kind of student. His dad wanted a jock and he got a smart kid instead. The sad part is that Jamie didn’t seem to have a lot of friends or be involved in too many extracurricular activities. I think he was in the chess club. Yeah yeah, no jokes…and Jamie wasn’t a total nerd…but I always had the feeling that Jamie’s dad had done a lot of damage and that the damage kept on even after he’d gotten out of baseball. He graduated almost at the top of our class and went to Stanford, and that was the last I heard of him. I still remember him…and I’m not likely to forget about his dad and the threat to break his own son’s hand.
I’ve known other baseball dads. Remember the gay catcher at Maryville High, Johnny Porter? He told me one day that his dad said it was ok for him to be gay as long as he continued playing as well as he was. I reckon that was ok as long as we were in high school and he was one of the best players on what was a great team…but Johnny still gave up playing ball in favor of settling down with a dude he fell in love with in college. It was a pretty fucked up thing for his dad to have said to him, though. But that’s baseball dads for you.
Then there was my buddy Jackson from MT, the pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery (and who made the 30 chicks/30 days bet with me.) I already told y’all something about his dad, who, after every game would go over the whole game with him, pitch by pitch. I was there and I can tell you that it used to drive Jackson crazy…and made him go out and get drunk way too often for his own good. It’s no wonder his elbow gave out under that kind of pressure. The thing about Jackson is that I never got the feeling that he truly loved playing ball. I was one of those guys who was happiest on a baseball diamond: I loved the game…and couldn’t play enough. Jackson was one of our best pitchers at MT, but I never got that vibe from him. He wasn’t like Jamie from little league…I think he liked playing ball and he was very good at it…but the love of the game was missing. Maybe that’s why Jackson gave baseball up after college, even though he was being scouted along with me and maybe could have gotten drafted.
But Jamie, Johnny and Jackson’s dads (hmmm…is there a pattern there lol) couldn’t hold a candle to the worst baseball parent you could imagine in your wildest nightmares. That was someone I met up with when I went to Hickory to play for the Crawdads in 2016.