My dad passed away on Wednesday. 85 years a Minnesotan.
I wish I could say he was a big baseball fan. In minor ways he was. He went to the old Saints and Miller games as a kid, with his aunts and uncles saving Wheaties box tops, which with two and a dime you got a ticket to a ballgame.
I actively collected baseball cards starting in 1962 when you got one with a gum for a penny. My dad would tell me stories of the neighborhood corner store where the owner opened all packs and put the cards in one jar and the gum in another and you could pick the cards you wanted and take a corresponding piece of gum.
I learned about early era baseball players when I unearthed my dad's 1933-1935 Goudey cards in the attic...yes, he had them all -- Ruth, Gehrig and the gang. He did sell them in the late '70s. They weren't as glamorous as the Topps photo cards of my youth, but showed the charm of baseball -- small gloves and big bats. When every man could play the game with a modicum of skill.
My dad was never a big fan of catch or playing ball. We went to few games, my live action attendance mostly with friends of the family. But he religiously listened to WCCO radio and both my parents fueled my baseball interest on our yearly cross country trips by driving to baseball stadiums, letting me get postcards of the parks, going on the tour of the then new Astrodome, and even waiting outside Fenway Park when this 13-year-old got his own seat down the line from the "Green Monster" all by hisself in this strange land knowing that when the last out was recorded the family station wagon would be waiting outside the garage door exit.
My dad was a good dad. Yes, I miss not playing catch more with him more...but it was the afternoons of hitting balls to other kids in the park, playing tennis ball baseball in the alleys, and always afternoon little league games that parents of that generation could not attend because of the working environments.
I remember my parents getting me one of those bounce back nets to perfect my non-existent pitching skills. I placed it with its back to the alley on the first day of use, anchoring it to the grass, wound-up and threw the ball. The bounce came back high and hard and just missed breaking the kitchen window. I quickly reposition the net now facing the alley, then side-armed a wild pitch missing the net and cracking a basement window. You can't win some days.
The game was always on the radio in those days, during sunny afternoons, when out doing yardwork, travelling the roads. My dad knew the players (his work shared the same physician as the Twins team and a co-workers son was the Twins public relations guy during the early days of the franchise). He would bring home photos of the players, used game balls, Twins souvenirs.
And he listened to my fascination with stats, my gaining knowledge of home run records and pitching feats. And I'm sure he loved his own days as a kid, sitting on the plank bleacher seats of the hometown teams cheering on your everyday working stiffs playing a little baseball.
I'm going out to the park with my glove and a ball and loft a pop up high towards the sky. And when it comes back down, I'll catch it!