For The Love of a Glove

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.

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Ava’s home plate that she in the backyard.

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.

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My Wife Ruined John Lester’s Perfect Game…

This is what passion looks like!
This is what passion looks like!

And so did my kids.

Every man, every husband and father knows what I’m talking about. It’s the moment when you become cosmically aware that there’s a higher power, a bigger-than-me situation going on, where history is about to be made and, damn it, you may have to start dinner without me.

It’s the moment you’ll remember what you were doing at that precise second, from the time of day right down to dinner’s burpy aftertaste (although your child’s exact birth weight slips the mind, for some reason).

You know what I’m talking about, guys, girls, and sports fans everywhere. You know how it is to ride the wave, navigate through the choppy waters of “Baby, don’t be jumping on the couch,” “Don’t bounce that ball in the house!” and “Daddy, don’t we have other channels besides the baseball one?” while the game is on and potential history is about to unfold.

“Seriously, another parking ticket?”

And even though I know it’s not my wife and children’s fault Kurt Suzuki nailed a chest high Lester offering into the gap in left-center, last Thursday, I can’t help but think, If I had only been more focused, more able to offer my share of mental karma the outcome would have been different. In short, there was that primal urge to tell everyone in the house to shut the fuck up (in the most loving of ways, of course).

I am am passionate when it comes to my sports teams.

And like many sports fans, specifically A’s fans, we know that with such passion, we are all cursed. We’re all prone to ignoring the world around us as we sit there, transfixed with every pitch, every rotational change of the baseball as it leaves Lester’s left hand. We’re laser focused, at least we want to be, when 15 straight Minnesota Twins batters have failed to reach first base because, well because this was our perfect game, too! My wife, of course, knows this. It’s the latter half of the “better-worse” equation she signed up for. For the good qualities I might have, there’s a strong realization that I am a moron…

Keep an eye on that roast in the oven while I give the kids a bath upstairs, ok?

Screw it. Lester’s perfect game wasn’t meant to be. But I’ll tell you, this is a strange and wonderful and angst-filled time of the year if you’re like me. It’s when the baseball world collides with NFL football and the promise of the NBA is only weeks away. This isn’t the first time I’ve  ranted about how sports are the ultimate reality show, where nothing is scripted and anything is possible.

More than anything, those magical sports moments trigger significant memories of whom we got to share them with. I was knee-high to a wastebasket back in 1984 when Boston College stunned the football world behind Doug Flutie’s miracle Hail Mary pass in 1984. I’m not sure who had more of a good time, the BC players and fans we saw on our little television set or my parents and four brothers, jumping and screaming for joy like ferrets on crack.

All the same, I remember feeling the shock of a clutch Kirk Gibson home run off of Dennis Eckersley in the ’88 World Series. That disappointment would be replaced with utter elation one year later with a World Series sweep of the hated San Francisco Giants.

I can keep going. From the Miracle on Ice to Jordan’s Flu game, sports have a way of taking us away from the real world, from the Middle East conflicts, the evils of ISIS and sad celebrity suicides. It’s an escape.

My father and I would sit in the car and listen to the game on the radio even though we had already pulled up to the house a half-hour before. The hell with homework and doing the dishes – for a little while.

As a dad to four kids I know I can draw from such memories, help teach the rules of the game and how they can be applied to their every day lives. And for this I say to you, “Now who’s the moron?”

Daddy why is there smoke coming out of the oven?

Crap…


Phillip Cortez is the author of Night Rhythms and When I Close My Eyes/Al cerrar mis ojos. Summer Son and Ava & The Monsters are due out in 2014/2015.

 

The Terrible “Wets”: A Baseball Story

Every kid that plays baseball looks forward to the day when the coach gathers everyone around home plate and cracks open a box to reveal the new and freshly folded uniforms the team would be wearing for the season. I was no exception, even during that terrible season when I was 10, when our team was called The Mets, and our coach was none other than my father…

Let’s begin with the uniforms. For lack of a witty, Shakespearean way of describing them, our uniforms sucked. We played in the Socorro Optimist league, and because our team was late to the party in joining the league, we had to settle for both our team name – this meant that we couldn’t be the Athletics – and team colors. This meant that The Mets would feature an ensemble of a quick-to-fade navy blue with orange sleeves, the latter of which mixed well with sun-burnt arms.

We had no pants. That’s not to say that we didn’t wear any – that would be damn ridiculous – it’s just that the Optimist officials “under-ordered” them, meaning that each member of The Mets would have to incorporate their own pair of faded Old Glory or Levis as part of our official uniform. We looked more like a street gang from Grease rather than a ball club when we showed up for our first game.

And to make matters worse – because what else could go wrong at this point – the fancy cursive lettering that was scribbled across our chest did our team a huge disservice, to put it nicely.

“You guys are called The Wets?” one kid pointed out to me on opening day. And from that point on, playing in a town that was a stone’s throw away from the Rio Grande, kids would call us The Wets, short for wetback, a slur that refers to illegal immigrants that swam to the US across the river. Of course, I didn’t know about that sort of thing at that age, I just thought it meant that our team was comprised of a bunch of bed-wetters.

So our first game was like being the kid in school that showed up in a Halloween costume only to find out that the principal didn’t allow dress-up after all. To say that our team stuck out like a sore thumb would be a giant understatement, which was fitting because we got 10-run ruled by the Giants. For those of you who do not comprehend baseball terminology, we got our asses handed to us.

“Didn’t anybody ever teach your friends how to play baseball?” my father asked incredulously. “I mean, seriously, these guys have all the coordination of a sponge.”

In my father’s defense, he was a last-minute fill-in after the regular coach abruptly quit before the first practice. And in looking at our line-up, it was easy to see that we weren’t an impressive group. I could at least throw and catch but nobody was going to fear a pitcher that stood knee-high to a wastebasket.

Memories like this one flood back to me in waves this time of year, as Major League teams take to the field for Spring Training. I think about the dynamic between young prospects trying to impress coaches enough to take a longer look at them and the old veteran players still trying to hang on long enough to keep playing a kid’s game. Like life, baseball isn’t perfect. Try as me might; we’re still going to make mistakes. The ball will be dropped from time to time and we can’t always knock one out of the park.

My dad tried sprinkling such sports clichés to me and the rest of the team after every loss that terrible season. Unfortunately we had managed to lose every game of the season. I wanted to quit, I wanted my dad to quit. Most of all I wanted the other parents in the stands to quit yelling at him because the mess on the field just wasn’t his fault. He was dealt a bad hand, that’s all. Parents put their kids on our team because they needed a babysitter. But my dad never let me quit, he just kept picking me up.

It was the last game of the season and we were up a run with two out. The Astros had runners on second and third. A base hit by them would cement our perfect no-win season. And when the ball left my hand that final pitch and got crushed by the batter seconds later, it ricocheted off our second baseman’s forehead and shot straight up into the air, only to be caught by our first baseman, a black kid named DeEllis, who hadn’t caught so much as a cold all season.

We celebrated with such enthusiasm that they had to finally drag us off the field (our second baseman needed a stretcher). And the win made me forget about every agonizing loss. My dad wouldn’t be giving me any pick-me-up speeches that day. Instead he literally picked me up and carried me atop his shoulders back to the car.

That day, after that lone win, I recall being overcome with the feeling of not being able to wait for next season and being thankful for my father not allowing me to quit – even when I knew he wanted to. Baseball, now more than ever, represents something exciting and new, something that gives you the promise that even after life’s tough breaks or strikeouts, there’s another game to be played.

I still feel that way.