My Dad wasn’t unfairly demanding, but often advised about using common sense and showing responsibility. On a Saturday in 1961, my summer league baseball team (10 year olds) was playing at Big Rec Park in San Francisco. After my game, I was sitting on the lawn to watch the next game when I decided to go to the hot dog stand. I tossed my glove on the ground and ran off with my friends. When I returned, I couldn’t figure out what happened to my glove. A man sitting nearby asked if I had left my glove there. He said a kid on a bike just picked it up as he rode by. He pointed way across the field, and there was the kid, too far away to even give chase. I was mortified, not just at having the glove stolen, but of knowing I would have to explain to my Dad what happen.
When my Dad got home from work that night, he asked how the game went. I stood there nearly in tears, and told him what happened. Even worse, I had a game the next afternoon, and didn’t even have a glove. I braced myself for a stern lecture about common sense and responsibility, which was well deserved. He sized up the situation, and only said, “Tomorrow morning after church, we’ll go to the sporting goods store and find another glove.” While I was happy about that, I still had trouble in my young mind of knowing that I had let him down.
We were at the store just after it opened at 10. My eyes locked on one glove, signed by Joe Cunningham. He wasn’t the most famous ballplayer of the time but he hit .345 in 1959, so I knew of him. But the cool thing that made his glove stand out was the trapeze webbing, almost like a first-baseman’s glove. I thought I would never make another error if I could snag every ball in that trapeze webbing.
When we were driving home, I thanked my Dad over and over for the glove, and promised I would forever take care of it. He smiled and said, “I know you will, son.” I then thought a minute, and said that maybe that kid took my glove because his father wouldn’t buy him one. My Dad didn’t answer, but looked the other way. “Your eye Ok, Dad,?” I asked as I saw him go to rub it. “Yea,” he said, “it’s fine.”
. . .
My Dad was a star on the sandlots of San Francisco in the 1930s. He was an all-city pitcher for Commerce High School who hit .385 in his senior year in 1935. He was a left-hander with a sweeping curve that left most batters paralyzed. The newspapers called him the “husky, bulldog hurler,” and his one-hit, 11 strike-out performance against Lowell High got much attention in the local press. He moved on to the very competitive semi-pro leagues of the Bay Area following graduation. In one game, he struck out 19 while allowing just three hits, which prompted a local newspaper headline to declare him as possibly “the next Lefty Gomez,” referring to the great Yankees Hall of Fame ace. His talent attracted professional scouts, who signed him to a minor league contract in 1938 with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. Unfortunately, one too many curve balls thrown without proper supervision resulted in a shoulder injury and the dream ended before it could get under way. He remained proud of his accomplishments, however, telling me the stories as I got older, and he kept his old worn and beaten up baseball glove in a prominent place in our garage through the years.
. . .
It has been 25 years since I received a late-night phone call telling me that my father had suffered a fatal heart attack. I never got to say goodbye, but that wasn’t needed. I often dropped by to have dinner with my Mom and Dad, and saw him just the week before, so there were no regrets of anything left unsaid. There were so many good memories over all the years, but for me, much of it came down to baseball. That was where we formed our father-son bond at a very early age, watching the games at the park or on TV, talking ball and playing catch.
It’s still hard not to think of that devastating phone call every time another Father’s Day draws near. But to fend off the sadness, I head over to my baseball memorabilia bookshelf, where two of my most precious possessions sit side by side — my Dad’s tattered glove, and that beautiful 53-year-old Joe Cunningham mitt with the trapeze webbing. In my own private moment, I smile, and say, “Yes, Dad, I really did take care of it.”
Happy Father’s Day to all Dads, but especially to those Dads who find a way to show understanding and compassion when their child is most in need of a lift.