My father treated me to a Mets-Dodgers doubleheader on May 30, 1962. Memorial Day. The Dodgers had moved from Brooklyn to LA in 1958, broke my heart and lots of hearts, and now they were returning to New York for the first time. I was 16. We took the subway to the Polo Grounds where the Giants used to play, where the Mets would play until they got Shea Stadium in Queens.
I never had been to the Polo Grounds. It looked like a relic. Old wood and that strange big center field. My dad bought us seats in left field, bathed in sunglow.
I need to tell you something about my father. He was legally blind. He could see to walk down the street and he could make out shapes on the screen in a movie theater, but he couldn’t read the newspaper or books. He was a trial lawyer and, the night before a case, my brother or sister or I would read him the legal files and he would memorize them.
OK, so my dad and I were at the Polo Grounds, and the crowd was enormous for this homecoming — 55,704. It was Game 2 of the doubleheader and Maury Wills was on second and Jim Gilliam was on first with no one out. Willie Davis crushed a hard liner to Elio Chacon at short. Chacon caught the liner, threw to Charlie Neal doubling off Wills at second base. Neal threw to Gil Hodges at first, tripling off Gilliam. Just like that. The crowd went nuts. I never heard noise like that.
When it was all over and the crowd had settled down, my father gently touched my hand and said — I never have forgotten this — “Lowelly, what just happened?”
He didn’t know. He couldn’t see. He saw nothing. He took me to the Polo Grounds to make me happy. And he would be happy giving me happiness. I loved my dad. I explained the Mets pulled off a triple play and he smiled. “You don’t say,” he said.
And I had helped him. He needed me that moment and I delivered just as I delivered years later when he was an old man visiting me in California and I held his hand crossing a busy Oakland street.
We came together in the Polo Grounds through baseball — it was the medium of our meeting. He had bequeathed me his love of ball, a gift from his generation to mine, and now from me to my sons. Baseball continuous, always there.
Same with football and basketball and whatever sports you shared with your folks and children. Sports a topic bonding Americans, strangers breaking the ice with, “How about those Niners?” Or “It’s about time the Giants got a good closer.”
Sports the universal glue. Sports a secular religion with heroes and demigods and athletes we invest with our best qualities. Sports a world filled with moral tales of right and wrong, of weak and strong. Sports giving us the chance to rejoice and grieve.
My father died in 1988. A year later, I was in New York. One afternoon, I ducked into a movie theater to see “Field of Dreams.” Do you remember that lovely film? At the end, Kevin Costner meets his dad — his dad miraculously a young man. They had endured a fractious relationship when the father was alive, but now on this magical ballfield they play catch. A father and son communicating through throw and receive.
And I started to cry. God, did I cry. Choke-strangled sobs. Salt hot tears pouring down my face. When the movie ended, I remained in the dark theater head down, didn’t dare walk into the lobby with my wet red face. I cried for my dad through a baseball flick.
It felt so bad and so good. Sports bring people together as “Field of Dreams” brought my dad and me together after he died. My father in that dark theater holding my hand.
Sports are more than what happens on the field or on the court. You have experienced this profound feeling.
Maybe you see where I’m going with this. I made my living writing about games for 37 years, in love with the writing, in love with putting great moments — “The Catch” — into words, feeling intrigued by the huge personalities I was allowed to write about day after day, year after year. What a privilege to translate into prose Don Nelson, Dusty Baker, Bill Walsh, Jeffrey Leonard, Will Clark, Steve Young, Al Davis and even Barry Bonds.
Now, I’m 71 and I’m moving on. It feels right. This is my last column as a full-time writer. The Press Democrat has asked me to contribute as a guest columnist from time to time, and I gladly accepted the invitation.
I love The Press Democrat. Working 22 years for the PD was a writer’s dream. Never had anyone breathing down my neck, telling me what to think, changing my sentences. I felt free to be creative. What a rare gift the PD gave me.
And I want to thank you for reading me and agreeing or disagreeing, and for writing to me or not writing to me, but mostly for putting up with me. Thank you so much. Thank you.