Nothing quite brings back certain memories for me than the smell of a leather baseball mitt. I can still hear the snap and pop of the ball piercing the afternoon sky when it hits the leather; I can feel the small ridges and wrinkles of the glove as I worked tiny gobs of Vaseline over every leathery inch of tanned skin while molding and shaping it to fit my (and only mine) left hand.
I bought my 9-year-old daughter her very first glove this week, not because I want her to recall similar memories when she grows up and has kids of her own. I did it because Ava has shown a genuine interest in playing baseball, throwing a tennis ball all over the backyard and even going so far as to tape the shape of a home plate on a patch of concrete near the trampoline.
In other words, she’s caught the fever.
I don’t blame her. Baseball was a huge part of my life growing up and if I could sit and watch games every day, preferably in person, I would gladly do so. As a kid, having a baseball glove gave you immediate “street cred,” guaranteeing you a spot in the order during impromptu baseball games at the crappy field near my old house. It was a game that brought much joy to my childhood, an even greater amount of pain – take a line-drive hit by a high-school kid to your face when you’re only 8 and you know what pain is – and friendships that have lasted to this day.
I don’t have these memories without my father, though. My dad would come home from work and we’d play catch together. Sometimes I wouldn’t let him go inside or even put his cigarette out, for that matter. I’d just toss him one of my brother’s gloves and he knew what time it was.
My dad was a big man, standing about 6’2 with broad shoulders. He’d squat in a catcher’s position and the setting sun behind him gave my dad the silhouette of a block. I’d throw to that block until the sun went down and I could see his face again.
Not every throw I made was perfect. Sometimes they were erratic; sometimes they were wild. But that’s okay, because my dad wasn’t perfect either.
As erratic and wild as I could have been off the baseball field, especially during my teenage years, my dad was, well, he was my backstop. He made sure nothing got past him. He might not have always had the right words to say but he was there, a constant presence.
Whether Ava’s baseball fever ever goes away remains to be seen. Right now that glove goes with her everywhere she does. She stares at it, snaps a ball against the webbing. You could say they’re getting to know each other, she and that glove of hers.
As much as I want to keep her safe, happy and healthy each and every day – we all strive for this as parents, right? – I’ll start by taking a page from my old man and be her backstop on and off the field.
My new book, Pizza For Breakfast! (Waldorf Publishing) comes out in September and I’m proud to have launched a new Teachable course called Tell Your Story! It’s the first step in starting your own publishing career.