I love the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. I've always loved it. The mere mention of the event and my thoughts fly back to the mid '60s to early '70s - the years when I was lucky enough to spend my summers at Camp Winadu. Every year there was a home run pool run by the campers and counselors (I'm sure the directors weren't all that fond of this practice), but, still, we could count on the pool happening every year. People would contribute a few bucks and pick who they thought would hit home runs in the game. Back then we were talking about guys like Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, Jimmy "the Toy Cannon" Wynn, Greg Luzinski, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt - to name just a few of many great players. The lucky winner(s) would win some serious money - enough to cover a summer's worth of Big Beefs and Fribbles from Friendly's. One particular home run memory was the one hit by Dick Dietz in the 1970 game. Here, I would use the phrase "one-hit-wonder" since, to be honest, I hadn't heard of Dietz either before or after that home run. But one camper - I forget his name - had Dietz in the pool and, sure enough, Dietz hit a dramatic homer in the bottom of the 9th inning and the camper won big.
I love the All-Star Game.
The other night, something else kicked in while I had the game on in the background - something I want to mention here. Several times during the game, there were moments. A great play. An interview. Prince Fielder's three-run home run - (I'm guessing some camper must have been very happy when that ball skipped off the top of the outfield wall). And during those moments, I thought about my father.
At each of those times, my instinct was to reach for the phone; I felt a strong urge to call him. After all, as soon as I had moved away from home to attend college, the phone (there was, of course, no access to the Web back then), immediately became the tool of choice that connected our family whenever we wanted to talk with one another. Special sports moments would occur and, right away, one of our phones would be ringing. A winning putt during The Masters. An exciting touchdown pass to clinch the Super Bowl. I can name a hundred situations right now. But it won't surprise any of my friends to find out here that one sport rises far above the rest for me and my family: Baseball. And whenever something spectacular happened in a particular baseball game, the reflex was always the same. I'd pick up the phone and start to dial - within milliseconds after the event occurred. Before my father would say a word, as soon as I heard the pickup click, I'd spit it out: "Did you see that?"
I'm smiling as I write this because after engaging in this practice for a number of years, the interaction became very much a two-way operation. Many times, my dad would beat me to the punch by calling me, and he'd start things off with the same, "Did you see that?"
I miss my dad, of course. It's been just over a year now since he's gone. But I have to tell you that I feel tremendous comfort and joy whenever I feel what I felt the other night. The fact is, I feel it even now as I write this entry. I had long heard that when a person dies, it's the memories that keep that person very much alive in our hearts and minds. To me, that concept always sounded like a cliche . . . I mean . . . it is a cliche. But, cliche or not, I can now say for certain that this is precisely how memories serve to operate. Whenever I watch a baseball game, I think of those "Field of Dreams" moments when I tossed a ball around in the driveway or backyard with my dad. I think about the many Mets' games we attended together with the family. (Note: Two very special games in 1969 - the last game of the playoffs against the Braves and then the World Series win versus the Orioles. I remember how my father lovingly pulled me back as I started to make my move to run onto the field when Cleon Jones made that last out - kicking off the mad celebration.) It's nice to know that whenever I have a chance to watch a baseball game these days, I don't have to use any kind of modern day gizmo to make contact with my dad. I simply think to myself, "Did you see that?" And he's right there with me.