Fathers + Sons = Baseball

Fathers + Sons = Baseball

June 18, 2023 0 By Dan Freedman

Today is Father’s Day, which is always a frantic holiday for me as my daughters typically leave for camp this weekend, my sisters live in different directions, and it is nearly impossible to make sure every dad in the family has his day.

Last year on Father’s Day, I flew to Chicago and took in a game with my youngest. It was such a pleasure, but also twinged with guilt, as I wasn’t with the rest of my kids or my dad. If I had my druthers, we all would have been at Wrigley that day.

For context, and as you might recall, towards the end of the classic film Field of Dreams, the reclusive author Terence Mann, played by the grizzled and wizened James Earl Jones, says to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.”

I work in the movie business and deal with writers, directors, and actors all the time. And for my money, for my life, never have truer words been uttered on-screen.

You see, through all my years, baseball has been the one constant. It is my bedrock and my north star, my hobby, and my obsession. But, more importantly, baseball is – if not the foundation, then at least – the backbone upon which my relationships with my father and with my son have been forged and have flourished.

One of my first memories – from around 1977 – is standing in an empty Fenway Park in Boston. Our family was in town to visit more family, and my dad slipped a security guard a finsky to let us into the ballpark hours before that night’s game.

My father, a trained and sometimes paid photographer – a man who would gladly leave home without an American Express card, but not without his camera – found himself alone with his son in one of the nation’s most hallowed stadiums, without his extra photographic appendage!

In the days before cell phones (with cameras) were in every pocket, we had no way to document that moment. To this day, there is no proof that it happened (my kids say “pix or it didn’t happen”). But it most certainly did.

What could have been…alone in America’s most beloved ballpark

I have dined out on this story for years – especially in contrast to our children, who don’t leave their bedrooms without documenting every step on social media. But since we have no actual evidence of the day, and since memories are an imperfect beast, it is impossible to know all of the details. Which begs the question, does it matter?

The story, my memory, are foundational to me. They are a moment I shared with my father, in a ballpark, more than 40 years ago. Truth – to the extent there is just one or to the extent it has been bent by the ravages of time – is secondary, at best.

And now that I find myself solidly into my sixth decade, with my father strongly – in not a bit more slowly – into his ninth, with my son sprinting through his third, baseball seems to have taken on even greater importance in our collective lives. The sheer number of games we have watched together – on television, in the stands, or on our respective couches texting back and forth – is innumerable. Baseball is our lingua franca. Baseball is our shared love.

My grandfather – that stout man of few words but an iron will – taught my father about baseball, with a brief pit stop at stickball. My father, in turn, taught me the game, refusing to make an analogous pit stop at t-ball. So, upon having a son of my own, I felt it a familial obligation to teach him the game.

Truth be told, he took to it – as both a player and as a fan – considerably more quickly than his forefathers. So now we have three generations who adore the game, who argue about the game, who are fanatical about the game. And who love nothing more than being together, at the game.

A few years back I was fortunate enough to bring my father to his first World Series. The man had lived 77 years, but never attended the Fall Classic. It was Game 3 of the 2018 edition, and we got there early to take in all the pomp and circumstance. Little did we know that we would still be sitting in our seats more than nine hours later. My dad, loving every minute, joked that he got two games in one. We were rooting for the Red Sox, but couldn’t help but cheer when Max Muncy won the game for the Dodgers with a home run in the bottom of the 18th inning.

Two nights later, I brought my son to Game 5, and we watched our beloved Boston team win the World Series together. Players go full careers without winning the World Series, but they have fame and riches to fall back on. Fathers and sons go generations without watching their favorite team win the World Series, with nothing but sorrow and woe to show for it. For me, to be able to share that moment with my son, after sharing a similar moment with my father, was truly the pinnacle of my being a baseball father and son. 

2018 World Series — Game 3 with Dad / Game 5 with Son

Since that time, I have attended more games with my father and son (both together and apart). In fact, before my boy left for college, we did a Midwest run from Chicago through Cincinnati and Cleveland, and then finished it off with a game down in Anaheim, just to get our fill before he left the nest.

And while my son has been away, I have taken my dad, and his Dodger-loving wife, to games at Chavez Ravine. My dad used to take me to games, but now I live in the liminal space where I now do the taking – I bring my dad and I bring my son – and I love it! Bringing them to games is one of the pure pleasures in my life.

A few months back I got a wild idea. My dad had never seen my son’s college, and had not been to Wrigley Field in many years. My son never misses an opportunity for me to visit, or to take him to a game. So off we went to Madison, with a drive down to Chicago to visit the Friendly Confines.

For reasons that are too ineffable to articulate, Wrigley Field is my happy place. I have visited well over 30 major league parks and all but one of the current stadiums. And when I want some joy, a relaxing time, and just pure happiness, I find my way to the corner of Clark and Addison on the North Side of Chicago. The people in Wrigleyville, the atmosphere outside the stadium, the fans inside, the 7th inning stretch, and “Go Cubs Go” after each Cubbies victory, simply make me smile. So, when afforded the opportunity to share that delight with my father and son (and my daughter as well), I couldn’t pass it up.

Unfortunately, the day we chose was unlike any other I have ever experienced at a Cubs game. We encountered snow flurries on our drive into town, and then braved 41 degrees with a light wind out to right. The sun never came out, and Wrigleyville was muted. The Dodgers beat the Cubs, which was good for our hometown rooting, but denied us my and my daughter’s favorite after-game song. We needed to rush out to make sure we didn’t miss our flight home, so we didn’t get to enjoy a 10th inning libation at the Cubby Bear. It was quick and dirty at Wrigley. And it was spectacular.

Braving the cold at Wrigley Field (Dodgers won, so no “Go Cubs Go”) / April, 2023

Nothing in life – including life itself – is guaranteed. I have learned that lesson the hard way time and again. So it is imperative that we seize the moments, the experiences, that will reside deep in our memories for years to come. Feelings of mortality force you to embrace the now; and I believe it is my obligation to live those words as much as I write them.

Neither my father nor my son are getting any younger (none of us are). That means that one of them cannot do as much with me as he used to, while the other simply may be less willing. So when you have that constant, that glue, that holds relationships together, you preserve it for as long as possible. Those constants create common ground, and help find off-ramps and detours when conversations and relationships could otherwise go off the rails. Baseball is that for me – and for my father and my son.

People who know me know how much I love the game. But with my father and son, it is intrinsic – it is part of who we are, part of what we are. Baseball is a warm blanket in which we wrap each other. For my dad, my son, and me, baseball is, quite simply, home.

I have been a father for more than two decades. My kids make me laugh and make me cry. They swell my heart and fill me with pride, in everything they do. But my true delight is when my son, after all these years, grabs two gloves and a ball, and like Ray Kinsella in the final moments of Field of Dreams asks: “Dad, you wanna have a catch?”