I wanted to talk about Jake Arrieta and the Cubs. It was late for me, but still early for my father. Especially since he had retired and no longer left home in the dead of night to beat the L.A. traffic to work.
I wanted to talk about the buzzer beater that had just happened, what he thought of his Angels’ chances this season. If he thought the O’s had enough pitching to make it to the postseason, if he thought the Mets could get back to the Series this year.
We probably wouldn’t have agreed on any of it. We didn’t agree on much sportswise. The only thing I can remember us finding total common ground on recently was whether Andrew Luck would become a top-five QB in the NFL. And even then, his thoughts were twinged with some excitement as Luck was on his team. I didn’t care much for that. Despite the independence he’d instilled in me, part of me always wanted to be able to say that I rooted for the same teams as my father; that we he had shared that, even if he hadn’t passed it down to me.
I was ready to call. The impulse doesn’t immediately leave. Even when it’s almost been a year since he’s passed on. Sometimes, I need to call my father.
I did call on my birthday. Out of habit. Muscle memory, perhaps. The phone still rang. Nobody answered it, obviously. At some later point, I texted him. Just needed to say I missed him.
I wasn’t there when he died. Nor was I there when my sister buried him. We had a small, memorial get-together back in Baltimore. But with no ceremony, no artifact, not even the closing of a casket, the finality didn’t feel as final.
I shared baseball with my mother. I lived with my mother, so she shuttled me to practices and games. Ran me up and down the highway looking for the right black and orange cleats or 32” Easton aluminum bat. She learned how to keep a baseball scorecard. Until she couldn’t do any of those things anymore.
Back in California, my father got game recaps. Mailed copies of the player pictures they made like little baseball cards.
We never even talked much baseball until I reconnected with him.
He bought me a whiffle ball set for my 5th or 6th birthday, the summer I spent out there with him, his fiancee, and my sisters. It came with a little, blue hat. I told him I wasn’t going to become a Dodgers fan. I loved the Orioles and besides, my mother would be mad. He said he didn’t want me to. He wouldn’t explain to me until later years how loathsome he found the Dodgers. After the 1988 World Series, we agreed on that.
That summer, whenever we played any games, we’d take on the persona of a player we admired. He had a badminton set in his tiny back yard, but we didn’t know any famous people who played badminton, so we substituted tennis players. He called out that he was Jimmy Connors. I was John McEnroe (not a bad choice considering how pissed I got when I was losing). My younger sister, Kellee, was too young to know anybody, so I tried to assign her Martina Navratilova. My father said she should be Billie Jean King.
When we played with the whiffle ball set, I was Eddie Murray. Eddie was Mr. Oriole to me. My dad was Reggie Jackson, who had left the East Coast for California around the time my father did.
We hit balls towards the house. I wanted to hit one over the roof and into the pool in the back yard. Perhaps I dreamed I had a little Frank Robinson in me, too.
That was the only time my father got to see me play.
Since we reconnected, calling on these nights became a habit: opening day for the O’s. Sometime on the first Sunday of NFL football. Sometime during each O’s/Angels series. The day of Ray Lewis’ last home game was fun (mostly since the Ravens had put a hurting on Indianapolis in Baltimore, always a welcome occasion). He still wouldn’t let me recruit him to Baltimore’s new team from the team carrying the name of its old one.
I wanted to say “I told you so” about the Rams moving back to L.A. He swore no team would ever return there. Everybody there was a fan of some other team, he’d insist for years, whenever we’d talk about it. I told him that wouldn’t matter, the NFL would stick a team there. Probably the Rams or the Raiders.
I would have called and lorded my moment over him and we would have had a good laugh. I would have asked him how his golf was going and if he was finally ready to buy himself the new computer he’d been talking about. He would have asked me how my aunt was and if I’d been eating right. We would have talked at the next big moment.
When I was younger, I used to be sad about how much we’d missed, the things we hadn’t shared. Now it’s the big moments. I know they’ll come. The Mets may win the Series this year. The O’s aren’t too bad, either.