From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

My Father’s Voice

Words have an awesome impact. The impression made by a father’s voice can set in motion an entire trend of life.

Gordon MacDonald

What I remember from that day is the rhythmic scuffing of metal cleats across asphalt, followed by the sudden quiet in the hot Nebraska sun. I was only one of a small band of boys that stopped in awe of the colorful archway of clapping flags lining the entrance to the ball fields. It was the moment every kid dreams about. The banner read: Welcome to the Continental American World Series.

I had arrived from New Jersey having had the flu all week. I couldn’t stop vomiting on the plane, and then I had exited the airport into the worst August heat you could ever imagine. Still, nothing could stop me from being with my team. I swung my bag of gear from one shoulder to another, shading my eyes with my hand, trying to take it all in.

I looked behind to see my mom pick up her pass at the gate and shook off the last argument with my dad. “You’re cavin’ your left leg on the inside pitches, and you’re not comin’ up fast enough from the crouch. You gotta’ teach ’em respect.” In a way, I was almost relieved that he couldn’t come. Still, the image of him as I waved from the plane haunted me.

This is it, I tried to convince myself back to reality, This is the World Series. . . . Dad would love this. It felt like I had stepped into the Field of Dreams, right down to the rolling cornfields that went as far as the eye could see.

My thoughts were broken by the sound of Mom’s voice, soft and encouraging. “If you feel weak or tired in this heat, just tell the coach . . . let him rest you. You have a lot of games to play.”

I frowned up at her, but on the inside I was screaming, The biggest game of my life and you’re telling me to take it easy? Now Dad would have said something like, If you feel like you’re gonna pass out—just call time and splash some water on your face.

I put on my chest protector and pulled the mask over my helmet, searching the faces of my opponents. Move with the pitch, I could hear my father say. Stay on your toes and move behind the plate. Soft hands, Jake . . . soft, quick hands.

Mom strolled by the dugout, “Good luck, boys!”

Good luck, I thought. Dad would have said, Get out there and kick some ass!

“Batter up!” the ump’s voice bellowed, and I snapped back to the present. Their lead-off batter got a single and was now getting ready to test me. He started to run on the wind-up. I caught the pitch, came up and threw with all my might, but the boy was already on second. Damn, these guys are fast.

“Good try, Jake,” Mom yelled from the bleachers.

I didn’t turn around, but heard my father say, Should’ve gotten him! Come up faster and fire!

When the same boy tried to steal third, I was way ahead of him. I pivoted and nailed him cleanly, even with the slide.

Teach ’em respect, Dad’s voice echoed in my ears. I picked up my helmet and adjusted my catcher’s mask.

“Way to go! Good throw!” Mom yelled.

I chuckled as the words of my father echoed, Good throw, but you should’ve gotten him at second!

I watched a new pitcher from the batter’s box, confident that I could hit him. I stood outside the limed rectangle swinging my bat to the rhythm of the warm-up pitch. There was that voice again, Square up your shoulders, step in toward the plate. Keep your eyes on the ball and don’t forget to widen your stance. Teach ’em respect.

As I waited to deliver my lesson, I heard my Mom’s advice, Above all, Jake—have fun.

Boy! I never heard Dad say that!

I walked up to the plate repeating his words, Gotta stay level on the swing, widen my stance and commit hard.

What I got was a satisfying double and an RBI.

The seventh inning went down like quicksand. There were errors in the field and the other team rallied in hitting. One error led to another, and soon we were sinking fast. The more we fought, the deeper we got. We walked away that day with an 8–5 loss.

Mom and I rode back to the hotel. I was thankful for the silence. Dad would’ve wanted to discuss every mistake. I would always answer him by rolling my eyes and hearing him say, You’ve got a lousy attitude! If you can’t take criticism, you’ll never get better.

Mom finally broke the baseball silence when we got to the hotel, “Tough game, but you played well. You and your team put up a fight today. You should be proud of your effort.”

Now Dad would’ve said, You played tough, but not tough enough. Now, can I give you just a little bit of advice? I rolled my eyes just thinking about it.

“I’m gonna call your father and tell him how you made out. He felt so bad that he couldn’t take time off from work. I know he’s home goin’ crazy waiting for our call.” She dialed and turned to me. “Do you want to tell him?”

“You tell him.” I didn’t want to explain

She didn’t argue, “Hi, Hon. We just got back. It’s hotter than the hammers of hell out here—and not a tree in sight. A hundred and ten on the field, do ya believe that? These poor boys . . . and Jake being sick all week and wearing all that heavy gear in this heat . . .” I couldn’t stand it. She made me sound like a wimp. I yanked the phone from her hand in mid conversation.

“Hello? Dad? Well . . . we lost our first game. My throws were late to second—these guys play far off-base and run on everything. I know, Dad, but I’m only as fast as the pitcher gets the ball to me. Dad! . . . Dad! . . . will you listen to me? I got two men at third, one at home—boy, was that a great play. Yeah, two outs, first and third, and I called the trick play. . . . You know when I look like I’m throwin’ down to second, but I go to short and he fires back to home . . . and the guy hammered me and I still held on. I got on base every time, three singles and a double with two RBIs . . . And Dad?” All of a sudden there was a kind of choking silence between us and some kind of liquid began to fill my eyes. The words just spilled from my throat, “I really need you, Dad—I mean, I wish you were here. . . . I love you, too, Dad.”

I handed the phone back to Mom and she was silent as she listened. “Well, you have to do what you have to do.” She tossed a pillow playfully in my direction as she hung up the phone. “Your dad’s getting a flight out tonight. Work is gonna have to do without him. Somethin’ about his boy needing him.”

And I realized at that moment I knew the true meaning of respect.

Jake Mannon
As told to Lois J. Mannon

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Jake is now a Division 3 college catcher, varsity starter and team captain. When asked about his ability, he always credits his dad—and yes, they still argue after every game. ]

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