BE A DOCTOR

BE A DOCTOR

From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Be a Doctor

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Gary Player

We lived in Brooklyn, five blocks from Ebbett’s Field, and I was a rabid Dodger fan. To paraphrase a future Dodger manager, when I cut myself, I bled Dodger blue. I could quote the statistics of all the players, including their batting averages, fielding percentage, and ERAs. I even knew how the prospects in the Dodger farm system were doing. My father wished that I knew as much about my schoolwork. During the season, I saw the end of most home games because they let the kids in free after the seventh inning. I even managed to sneak into a few games after the first inning when the ticket takers weren’t looking. I saw other children scream in their fathers’ ears as they watched the game. But I never went to a game with my father. When the Dodgers were on the road, I was out in the street, practicing my swing with a broomstick and a Spalding ball.

I was ten years old in 1947, two years after the end of the war, and I had high hopes for my Dodgers bringing their first world championship back to Brooklyn. I was devastated when they lost again to the hated Yankees. My father was unsympathetic. “Why do you spend all your time on this foolishness? You’d be better off studying hard and make something of yourself—be a doctor.”

“I want to be a baseball player and play for the Dodgers,” I said. The look of disappointment on my father’s face became engrained in my memory. Why couldn’t he understand my love for baseball?

Later, I learned that my father had immigrated to this country at the age of eighteen, leaving his parents behind in Russia. He couldn’t speak English and he had no high school diploma. In seven years, going to school mostly at night and working during the day, he obtained a high school equivalency certificate, completed college, and received a master’s degree in chemical engineering. That’s why he had no tolerance for wasting hours in nonacademic pursuits. At the time, though, I didn’t understand and was deeply hurt by his actions. I wished that I could share my passion for baseball with him.

When the 1948 season started, I continued badgering my father to take me to a baseball game. His response remained constant. “I don’t have time for that foolishness.” My reaction also remained constant: I pouted but didn’t let that stop me from sneaking into games or honing my baseball skills with my trusty broom handle.

When my teacher handed me the next-to-last report card for the year, it didn’t faze me. It was pretty much the same as all my previous ones. The report card was divided into two sides. On the academic side, I received outstanding for math, science, and geography, and satisfactory for history, art, and English. On the deportment side, I had a number of unsatisfactories, including one for conduct. In the comment section, the teacher wrote, “Runs with scissors, interrupts other children, chatters incessantly, particularly about baseball.”

When I showed the report card to my father, his disapproval bore into me again. I expected him to yell. Instead, he said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, young man. On your next report card, if you get all outstandings in the academic subjects and at least satisfactory in the deportment categories, I’ll take you to a baseball game.”

“I will, Pop. I will.”

I sneaked into fewer games and put my broom handle into the closet. I memorized dates, times, places, and vocabulary words. I tried to keep my mouth shut in class, which was difficult for me. When the teacher handed out the next report cards, I held my breath. My hands trembled as I looked at mine. I had done it—all outstanding grades in academics and satisfactory in all aspects of deportment. The teacher wrote in the comment section, “Much improved!”

I glowed as I handed my father the report card. He did, too. “You pick out the game and I’ll buy the tickets,” he said.

I think I picked out a Saturday afternoon game with the Dodger’s crosstown rivals, the New York Giants. I dragged my father there early on the day of the game so that we could watch batting practice. He bought me popcorn and a Coke. I had already come fortified with a box of Good ’n’ Plenty and a Baby Ruth bar. I hoped that I’d be able to get my father to show an interest in baseball.

We had great seats along the first-base line. I had never been so close to the players. I saw Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in the Major Leagues, and was excited because he had been the most valuable rookie the year before. The game started and the Giants quickly jumped into the lead. My father yawned.

“Don’t worry, Pop. The Dodgers will come back.”

By the fifth inning, the rout was on, and my father was fast asleep. Thank goodness there was enough noise to drown out his snoring. After the seventh inning stretch, only dyed-in-the-wool fans like myself remained. I guess I had mixed feelings about my father still being asleep. On the one hand, I’d get to see the whole game. He wouldn’t push to leave early. On the other hand, we weren’t screaming together. I wasn’t sharing my love for baseball. The game was about as interesting for him as watching test patterns on our new television set.

The Dodgers batted in the ninth inning trailing 11-2. My father continued to doze. The first batter singled up the middle, but was erased by a double play. The remaining fans edged toward the exits. Then the floodgates opened and the Dodger bats came to life. Hit followed hit. Soon the score was 11-6 and the Dodgers had the bases loaded. The crowd shrieked, which woke my father up. “What’s happening?” he asked.

“I told you they’d come back.”

Another single, then a walk, brought the score to 11-8, and the bases were still loaded. I got up on my chair and screamed. My father stood. Another single and the score was 11-10. I howled, and to my surprise, my father said, “This is terrific.”

The next batter hit a grounder to short. It’s all over now, I thought, but the shortstop booted the ball, loading the bases. I grabbed my father’s sleeve. “We got lucky, Pop.”

“We sure did.” Then he screamed at the next batter, “Get a hit, you bum.”

The next hitter smashed a screeching line drive down the third-base line. It looked like the Dodgers were about to win the game, when the Giant third baseman, who was guarding the line, made a leaping catch. I felt my heart sink. The Dodgers rally had fallen short.

I turned to my father and saw the look of disappointment on his face, the same look I was used to seeing when I told him that I wanted to be a baseball player not a doctor. I must have had the same look, too. He put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me. With his thumb he wiped a tear from my eye. “I love you,” he said.

I reached up and gave him a bear hug. “I love you, too, Pop.”

We walked out of the game holding hands, and I waved the Dodger pennant he had bought for me. He gently squeezed and I squeezed back.

Paul Winick, M.D.

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