From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

A Proud Father

A boy wants something very special from his father. You hear it said that fathers want their sons to be what they feel they cannot themselves be, but I tell you it also works the other way.

Sherwood Anderson

My dad still isn’t a hug-first kind of guy.

That’s not to say he doesn’t love his kids. It’s just that, at age thirty-eight, I’ve long since learned to demand an embrace, to detect, I think, a bit of gratitude when he relents and grumbles something about me being “the sensitive one.”

I must have learned it at the ballpark. The only ballpark that counted, really.

Old Comiskey was Dad’s park when he was a kid growing up on Chicago’s south side, and he made it ours after moving out to the south suburbs.

When he got out to Comiskey, something about my old man melted, something opened up—the same way it did when we were playing catch in the backyard and he’d tell me I didn’t need to learn a curve because my fastball had “natural movement.” It’s like he was letting me in on a secret every time he pulled on his mitt to flag down my heaters, and every time we headed out to Comiskey.

Man, those trips were an adventure, especially for a kid from a subdivision not much older than he. Just walking through dank city viaducts and across crushed gravel parking lots strewn with broken glass to get to the park marked a Comiskey excursion as something different, something exciting, something just a little scary.

We could always count on Bat Day as our annual trip. There might be more if my brother or either of my two sisters scored free tickets at school for getting straight As, or if I managed the miracle of perfect attendance (straight As being completely out of the question). But Bat Day was a sure thing.

We were there in ’73, among Comiskey’s all-time record crowd of 55,555, to collect our bats and watch a doubleheader with the Twins. We were there at least four years running, because the bats—far worse for the wear—are still in a barrel in Dad’s garage.

Well, three years’ worth, anyway. There are a couple of Dick Allen models, a Bill Melton—dipped in a weird yellowish paint one year, red another and blue a third, but still bats you could use in a game instead of the mini-souvenirs they hand out these days.

I don’t remember whose autograph was on the missing year. But those bats are the ones I’ll always remember best.

My sisters, too old and too cool to hang out at the ballpark with their jerky little brothers, stayed home with Mom. So, it was just the men—and a buddy of my dad’s from work and his sons, both much younger than me and my brother.

We were old pros by then, Comiskey veterans. We were ready to show these rookies the wonders of Comiskey— the gaping window at the back of the outfield stands that bathed you in a cool breeze and let you look down on the handball courts below; the picnic bunker beneath the left field stands where, if you yelled loud enough, an outfielder might wave at you; the ramp in center where you could look right down into the bullpen.

But even before the game started, it happened. The coworker’s kids went off to find a bathroom, only to come back in tears.

Some older kids stopped them. The crowd, as usual for a Bat Day, was huge, and there weren’t enough bats to go around. Taking in the story between stifled sobs, we gathered that the big kids asked if they could see the bats, grabbed them, then ran off, blending into the crowd.

My brother and I looked at each other. We looked at our dad. We handed the two crestfallen kids our bats.

A few innings later, after his buddy and the kids went off in search of a hot dog or something, my dad stunned me.

“I’ve never been prouder of you boys,” he said.

For some reason, I remember being in the left-field stands, beneath the rusting, girdered canopy that was Comiskey’s upper deck. But I don’t remember asking for the hug my dad gave us that day.

Phil Arvia

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