Several years ago our Kentucky Wildcat baseball team was opening up our season in mid-February in warmer climes down in Deland, Florida against Stetson. As we approached the field for early batting practice I witnessed two men playing catch in front of the home dugout. As I walked nearer I noticed it was all-star third baseman Chipper Jones with his dad, Larry. The senior Jones was a volunteer assistant on Stetson’s Pete Dunn-led coaching staff.
I couldn’t help but pause for a few minutes just to appreciate what I was witnessing: one of the premier players in the game (very likely a future hall of famer) enjoying playing catch with his dad. There were smiles and light conversation and the sound of leather popping leather, a familiar and comforting sound to millions through the ages. Of course, Chipper was working out with his dad’s college team in preparation for spring training, but it didn’t appear to be work. It looked more like a father and son connecting once again with two pieces of well-crafted and conditioned leather gloves and one hard, white baseball.
As I recall that story, my mind goes back to just a few years ago to my country home in rural Kentucky. Our youngest son Tyler, who was in his early 20s then, had been studying in England and we hadn’t seen him in almost a year. After hugs and “how are you’s,” there was an awkward silence that goes along with jet lag and time apart. Tyler left our living room and returned with two gloves and baseball and said, “dad let’s play some catch.”
Having not played competitively since he was 14, he wasn’t nearly as rusty as I would have imagined. You see, though his interest changed from baseball to skateboards during his early teens, we would still find time occasionally to toss a baseball back and forth. It was a time of connecting and sharing our love for the game. Sometime we talked about important things, but most of the time we chatted about fun things and sometimes, we said nothing at all. These are times that I shared with both of my sons that I will never forget.
Nowadays, my oldest son Austin has two sons of his own. Even though he is in the competitive business world, he is finding time on a regular basis to connect with his sons in a very special way, simply by playing catch.
I am nostalgically reminded of a popular song from the late singer/song-writer, Harry Chapin. Back in the early 70’s he wrote and recorded a song about a father’s busyness and lack of time for his son. The son grows up and becomes just like his father. One line sadly says, “‘Can you teach me to throw,” I said, ‘Not today I got a lot to do’, he said, “That’s OK” And he walked away but his smile never dimmed and said, “I’m gonna be him, yeah you know I’m gonna be like him.”
Baseball fathers: hitting and pitching lessons are wonderful and they will most likely teach your sons to have better mechanics, but never leave out that special “one on one” time with your sons.
Baseball players: every once in a while, toss a glove to your dad and say, “Dad, let’s go toss a few.” Neither of you will ever regret it.