by Gary Spina
(Copyright 2011 by Gary Spina)
I never knew either of my grandfathers. One died before I was born, and the other died when I was too young to remember him. So, now that I’m a grandfather, I’ve got nothing to draw from. Nothing, I guess but love for my grandkids, and a hope for the best.
We’re supposed to be wise, you know – grandfathers are. But we all know that’s a crap shoot. Life’s a crap shoot.
And as for being a father – well, I was never close to my own father. Not until I was in my thirties anyway. That’s when I began to understand him. You know what they say: “Anybody can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.” Still, I managed as best I could to be a father and dad to my own five kids. Here, too, I had little to draw from. I only knew what I didn’t want to be to my kids.
But my gang turned out all right, quite possibly in spite of me. There is one story they still tell. For several years I had coached baseball for the town’s Recreation Department where I coached my oldest daughter and my two oldest sons. I kind of retired from coaching as my third son Mike came up the ranks, and another father took the team.
One week, I told Mike’s coach I was taking my kids camping and that Mike would be missing practice that week. “No problem,” he said. “Have a good time.” But come the next game, Mike sat on the bench. The games were six innings long, and I watched from the bleachers until the beginning of the fifth inning. That’s when Mike’s team took the field, and Mike was still on the bench.
I went down from the bleachers and tried to talk to the coach, but he wasn’t talking to me, so before the first pitch of the inning, I calmly walked out and stood on home plate. I didn’t say a word. I just stood there quietly. The pitcher couldn’t take his warm up pitches and the umpire asked me to move. Of course, I wasn’t going anywhere.
“The game can’t go on anyway,” I told the umpire. “One of the boys has to get his two innings of play.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The recreation department rules say each child gets to play a minimum of two innings and here we’re starting the fifth inning and my son is still sitting on the bench. He hasn’t played.”
“That’s up to the coach!” the umpire said. I noted he had a very short temper. That’s not good for an umpire, I thought.
“It’s not up to the coach,” I said. “It’s the rules of the Recreation Department. It’s the rules under which I paid the entry fee for my son.”
Mike’s coach came running over to us. “What the hell’s going on!” he said. I noted he had a very short temper. That’s not good for a coach, I thought. And he needed to be aware of his language around the kids.
“My son Mike needs to be on the field,” I said calmly.
“He missed practice! You miss practice, you don’t play!”
“That’s not in the Recreation Department rules,” I said. Again, I spoke calmly and softly.
“Those are my rules!” the coach shouted.
“Your rules do not supersede the Recreation Department rules. And you know, man to man, when I told you my son would miss practice because we were going camping, you said not a word about ‘your rules’ then. You just wished us well.”
“Well, that’s my rule! It applies to all players – even your son!”
“Come on, Mister – you’re holding up the game,” the umpire said.
“I’m not holding up the game. He’s holding up the game. He’s not playing by the rules.”
The coach threw his arms up and walked away.
“Come on, Mister, we’re gonna hafta call the cops on you.”
“There’s one riding by right now,” I said. I pointed to a police cruiser passing along the road. “Go call him. I’m sure he knows the rules.”
The umpires – now there were two of them – were on the sidelines conversing with the coach. The coach’s arms were flailing. Behind them, people in the bleachers were beginning to shout at me and boo. Right about then the high school wrestling coach came over to me and leaned ominously close.
“We can make you move,” he whispered, his eyes narrowing.
I leaned back into him and smiled. “Go ahead – touch me,” I whispered back. He walked away.
Well, they finally called the leftfielder off the field and sent my son Mike out there and I returned to the bleachers to enjoy the rest of the game. Mike played his two innings that day, and he played every game that season and did quite well.
My kids are grown now and the other day, I heard my son giving my grandson Liam a lecture about standing up for what you believe in. I smiled when I heard him begin by saying, “Liam, sometimes in life you just have to stand on home plate.”