There’s always something to howl about

Was That Your Kid On 2nd Base Lookin’ For You?

It’s a lazy Saturday here in Paradise, um, San Diego. The last week or so I’ve been running into more than my share of people from my local baseball past, bringing a flood of fond memories in each instance. In Vons last week I ran into a kid I both coached (for and against) and umpired countless times. Yesterday in another local store there was a parent ahead of me at the cash register. “Jeff!! It’s Cheryl, how ya doin’?” “Super, Cheryl — How’s little Stevie?” “He’s a CPA now, living at the beach.”

Wow — Little Stevie’s a CPA? How the hell old am I anyway? Over the years I’ve had so much fun on the field, enjoying the heat of battle, both in the dugout and as an umpire. From the time my own son was eight, till he was a sophomore in high school, I was in the dugout. That includes post season tournaments, and all-stars at every age group.

Guess how many many millions of dollars I’d trade for those years.

The on-the-field stories I have, interesting, funny, and sometimes deeply poignant, go from 1988 through 2000, my last year umpiring NCAA ball. I saw my son’s first homer. Was in the dugout for his no-hitter. Same for the day he stood on the mound so triumphantly, having won the local city-wide major league championship in front of his old buds and their parents. Who, for the record, were cheering wildly for him, while lookin’ up at the announcer’s booth at the black hat who’d chased us out the year before to another league.

How sweet was that? In that moment, how much was the look on his face worth? Or seeing another league’s folks standing up and cheering for their involuntary prodigal son? Or, having the memory of that look and those cheers till I die?

I’ve umpired college kids I’d seen play since they were fifth graders for Heaven’s sake. Some of the stories are fall down funny. Some are pure baseball, and most are made up of success, failure, and the value of endless hard work producing results. For a very few, those results included playing Major League baseball. Still have a couple left playin’.

Ask those kids the value of learning the lesson of hard, almost anonymous work turning into positive results. They’ll have those catskins on their walls for life.

It’s Dad though, who so often make the pivotal difference merely by their consistent presence. Experience shows far less than 5% of Little Leaguers even make it to third string bench warming status in high school. Fewer still ever get as far as casting a shadow on a college diamond while wearing a uniform.

But when asked, virtually all the ones with fond memories can tell you stories with Dad playin’ a critical role. Can every guy be a coach in their boy’s sport(s) of choice? Fact is, most can’t. They either don’t have the skill sets or are simply too busy puttin’ food on the table. But they break their butts to be there for the games, to show their kids it’s important.

Wanna know the saddest thing in youth sports? It’s the kid who doubles in a run, then, after sliding safely into second base like their favorite Major Leaguer, the crowd cheering wildly, they casually (no really) cast their eyes in the direction of the bleachers, searching for Dad, who’s not there — again.

Lord knows none of us are perfect parents, but Grandma was right. On the first visit to show off our newborn son, she said 95% of successful parenting was being there. As usual, I learned she’d been right.

Allow me one umpiring story

I’d made the decision to retire from NCAA umpiring. Not cuz I was tired of it, perish the thought. I simply couldn’t afford the time away from the office.

Anywho, I’d chosen a pretty much meaningless game to be my last. It wasn’t even between four year schools, but junior college. The catcher for one of the teams was a kid I’d coached/umpired since he was in sixth grade. His nickname was Butt. My son had played with and against him, mostly against since he was 11. In the ninth inning, when his team was on defense, I told Mike this was my last game, I was hangin’ ’em up. I’ll never forget his response.

He stood up, makin’ his pitcher pause on the mound, and said, “Thanks for tellin’ me Jeff. I’m glad I was the catcher.”

Tell me how much that memory is worth.

I’ve gotta million stories, ok, dozens, about single parents workin’ 2-3 jobs, still figurin’ out how to at least catch half a game when their kid was playin’. Though I’d never claim the highest value isn’t the affect, the impact your presence will have on your son, the memories you’ll get in return will make it the bargain of a lifetime.

Be there.


18 Comments so far

  1. Erion Shehaj September 24th, 2011 9:12 pm

    … Because it’s a space only Dad can fill.

    This was beautiful Jeff. Thank you.

  2. Sean Purcell September 25th, 2011 7:04 am

    Damn Jeff, brought a tear to my eye. I’m somewhere in the middle of your story now: one boy in his last year of Majors and another just beginning Majors. I’ve been the Managing/Coaching since Caps. Wouldn’t trade it for anything, and especially wouldn’t trade it for an extra 2-3 mortgages a month!

    You are echoing some of the greatest advice I ever received: when I first began in real estate (before I took up the dark arts of mortgage lending), I was in an old Century 21 office and there was an agent there whose boy was in little league at the time. He pulled me aside and said the whole reason we do this job is because we can create our own schedule. Then he said: when you finally have kids (this was the late 80’s) you remember this: you’ll be able to work your entire life, but they’ll only be young once. Never miss a game…” And I haven’t Jeff. Other than when I was coaching one of their teams, I’m damn proud to say I haven’t missed a game.

    I hope a lot of young and soon-to-be dads are reading what you’re writing here – because you’re talking about the kind of wealth we only have one chance to earn; and we’ll always regret if we don’t.

  3. Andrew Mckay September 25th, 2011 7:13 am

    Nice put as always Jeff. I had just quoted John Lennon on a friends Facebook post which seems appropriate:

    “”Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

    Two 40 years olds died in our small town this weekend left families behind. One in a car crash, one from illness. The lady was at the front desk of Remax and the guy lived in the street next to us and we were on nodding terms. Makes you think and to use a cliche count your blessings.

  4. Tom Bryant September 25th, 2011 7:28 am

    I had one of “those” dads, and he and my mom rarely missed not just my high school track and cross country meets, but my college meets. They drove to Iowa from Ohio to watch the Big 10 c.c. championships! My senior year in college, my coach had a special trophy made for my parents – it said something like “most miles traveled”. Dad passed a couple of years ago, but mom still has it prominently displayed in the house.

    A few years later, they got to do it all over again when my sister ran for the Univ of Tennessee. When the whole family gathers, it’s amazing how many stories get repeated about those days.

    Thanks for a great post. It really hit the mark. Any success that I’ve had as a parent comes from watching two great ones (and marrying way above my station).

  5. Jeff Brown September 25th, 2011 9:45 am

    Hey Sean — So many times when I’ve called you, it’s been, ‘can’t, gotta game’, or, ‘can’t, gotta pick ’em up from practice’. Can’t wait till next season.

  6. Jeff Brown September 25th, 2011 9:46 am

    Hey Erion — If I remember correctly, it’s almost your turn in the barrel. 🙂

  7. Jeff Brown September 25th, 2011 9:49 am

    Hey Tom — One of my fondest memories is of a single mom agent in my office who had five kids. I took one of ’em on my team. She was at every game but a couple. There’s another great story with her boy, but I’ll leave that for another day.

  8. Jeff Brown September 25th, 2011 9:52 am

    Andrew — How lucky were you?! I think we all knew parents who went above and beyond as yours clearly did. Your mom’s memories are irreplaceable.

  9. Robert Worthington September 25th, 2011 11:27 am

    You know Jeff, I gotta tell ya. I miss those years as a kid when I played little league. And you know what, I’m wildly excited to watch my kids play in little league. It’s so much better than the majors! And so much more meaningful.

  10. Jeff Brown September 25th, 2011 12:34 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Robert.

  11. Steve September 26th, 2011 8:48 am

    As one of the kids looking around from 2nd, I’ll echo Sean’s closing encouragement to young and soon-to-be dads to make the time. Decades later it still stings.

  12. Jeff Brown September 26th, 2011 8:55 am

    Hey Steve — I was that kid too. Ya wonder about priorities of those dads.

  13. Teri Lussier September 27th, 2011 6:33 pm

    My dad was a hardware sales rep with a tri-state territory. There were very lean years when he got up on Monday and got on the road by 6a.m. and got back home on Friday around 4p.m. which made Mom a single parent for most of the week. They both hustled their asses off for us, doing the best with what they had. Dad wasn’t there for most of the stuff, but here’s the thing, Jeff, and I know you will get this- I never felt like he wasn’t there for me. My parents made a Herculian effort to let us know we were the most important people in the world to them. My point is this, if you can’t be there physically, you are going to have to go out of your way to be there emotionally. Either way, you are right it’s always worth the effort.

  14. Jeff Brown September 27th, 2011 6:47 pm

    One of my best friends in grammar school almost never had his dad in attendance at anything, sports or otherwise. He was a long distance truck driver. But, much like your dad, his family adored him. I did too.

  15. Michael Cook September 30th, 2011 12:54 pm

    Funny enough, my dad was around to teach me the sports, but he was never around for the games. He worked three full time jobs, yep thats 24 hrs a day and is now retired from them all. Government jobs, with excellent pensions, making him the most wealthy retired man I know.

    My mom; however, despite working 1.5 jobs herself managed to never miss a game. She didnt know much about sports, but some how managed to always cheer at the right times. The only games she missed (including all three sports I played in high school) were the college ones and she gets a pass because they were almost 500 miles away.

    At 31, my best and worst memories are still on the baseball field. Nothing better than striking out three batters in a row with the bases loaded to win a game and there is nothing worse than striking out with the bases loaded to lose the game. Been in both spots and it puts the world in perspective very early on.

    More life lessons than I can count…

  16. bob hunter September 30th, 2011 2:51 pm

    Twilight with a cold spring wind blowing over an empty ball field. One lonely girl sitting by herself on the chilly metal bleachers waiting…………always the last to leave. Mom and dad too busy at the bar to watch the games. While I have lots of great memories of coaching and being a referee, this one won’t go away

  17. Jeff Brown September 30th, 2011 3:06 pm

    Hey Michael — I knew you came from world class stock. With role models like your mom and dad, it’s no wonder you’re a success.

  18. Jeff Brown September 30th, 2011 6:46 pm

    Hey Bob — We all knew kids like you growing up. The sting doesn’t leave. It’s one of the driving reasons I was so involved with my kids.