On Fathers and Sons and Baseball
Do you wanna have a catch?
I made the mistake of watching “Field of Dreams” this week. It’s such a great movie, a love letter to baseball, this dumb sport that we love so much. One of my favorite movies ever. But yes, it was a mistake to watch it. Because on Friday, we celebrated “Senior Night” for the local high school varsity baseball team. One of those seniors was hitting fifth in the lineup, the left fielder, number four: my son Casey.
Yeah, it’s been an emotional week.
I called “Field of Dreams” a love letter to baseball, but it’s more than that. Sure, I’ve heard the criticism, that’s it’s too sappy, that they had Shoeless Joe Jackson hit right-handed, etc. Whatever. It’s my kind of movie. Sometimes I want to get all gooey about baseball.
If “Field of Dreams” was only a baseball movie, I might get irritated with stuff like the Joe Jackson nonsense.* But it’s not just a baseball movie! Even more than the baseball, it’s a fathers and sons movie. And these days, that really hits me right in the feels.
*And COME ON…I love Ray Liotta and I was 100% in favor of casting him for a role in every movie during his lifetime. But either make him learn to hit left-handed or cast another actor! Such an unforced error by director Phil Alden Robinson, who had a good career but is not exactly one of the luminaries of the profession.
Or maybe the blame lies with casting director Margery Simkin. But a quick look at her career shows that she did the casting for some great films: Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, 12 Monkeys, Footloose, both Avatar movies, Death to Smoochy (um).
I choose to blame Robinson. Or Liotta. Who cares? Where was I again?
Oh yeah, fathers and sons and baseball. I touched on this topic a little bit when I wrote about last year’s Field of Dreams game, which featured the Cincinnati Reds, as you will recall.
During the game, I found my mind wandering. I recalled all the times I was lucky enough to “have a catch” with my own father in the front yard when I still believed I was going to be the next Barry Larkin. I remembered the catches I’ve had with my own children, including a particularly special Father’s Day on a minor league field after a game.
[F]or better or for worse, this game connects us in ways that we don’t always understand until we see some 30-year-old guys running around a cornfield in throwback uniforms or when we watch a gooey, overly sentimental movie from the 1980s.
For many years, I rarely wrote about my family here, on social media, or over at Cincinnati Magazine. There are good reasons for that, mostly related to my previous career.* And I’m not going to start writing about them now, even though I couldn’t be prouder of the two kids my incredible wife and I have raised. But…
*If you don’t know, just ask.
But Senior Night got me. They celebrate Senior Night at other high schools around the country, right? The senior players walk onto the field with their families, collect some gifts from their teammates, and an ovation from the crowd. Seems like it’s mostly designed to get parents to cry uncontrollably. (It works as designed, if you were wondering.)
We already went through one Senior Night a few months ago, at the end of basketball season. It was just as emotional, on the heels of a fun senior season. But baseball Senior Night was different.
Baseball — and the Cincinnati Reds — have always been our thing. On the day Casey was born, I held him in my arms in the hospital room and watched Ken Griffey Jr. hitting on the tiny little television mounted on the wall. Over the years, Casey and I have been to countless baseball games, at Great American Ball Park and elsewhere around the country. And that’s not to mention the innumerable times I’ve watched him play.
We’ve been to baseball games everywhere: in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Blacksburg (VA), Baltimore, New York, Oklahoma City, Sevierville (TN), St. Louis, Milwaukee, and countless points in between. We were in the park when Todd Frazier had that memorable Home Run Derby victory, and we saw Mike Trout win the All-Star Game MVP the following night. He and I were at Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series vs. the Giants. We’ll be at the next Reds playoff game, I’m sure.
And I’ve been in the dugout or watching him from the stands at hundreds of games over the years, from Little League to travel ball to middle school to junior varsity to varsity.
He decided long ago that Brandon Phillips was his favorite player, and until he reached the varsity level, he always played second base, just like Dat Dude. He has worn BP’s uniform number 4 since he was six years old. He still wears that number, and he will continue to wear #4 for another week or two at least (depending upon how far his team advances in the high school playoffs).
When The Big 50 was first published, Casey and I hung out in the Reds TV booth for an inning or two. He enjoyed the fact that Chris Welsh and Jim Day were exceptionally nice to him, talked about him a bit, and treated him like royalty.
They didn’t exactly get one of the facts straight — he wasn’t actually named after Sean Casey* — but it was a memorable moment for the kid. I’ll always be appreciative for the way those guys were so nice to him.
*There’s a whole family history to be written about Casey’s naming. The lovely Mrs. Dotson and I went round and round, back and forth. In the end, the compromise was Casey — from “Casey At The Bat.” Shon is my middle name; even though I was a huge fan of Sean Casey at the time, he never actually entered into the conversation. Related: don’t even get me started on the story about my wife refusing to let me name our daughter “Larkin.”
My dad coached my Little League team. My grandfather is almost certainly the reason that I became obsessed with baseball at the age of nine. Baseball has been at the center of the relationship with my son since day one. There’s just something special about fathers and sons and baseball.
At some point, I’ll write about how softball and baseball shaped my relationship with my daughter too. I coached her for years, and we have so many memories on (and off) the ball field. Being a #girldad has been a joy. I couldn’t be prouder of her.
But this week, we had to take a moment to celebrate the boy. I’m getting sentimental and I needed to write about it. I dunno, maybe I should have saved it for Father’s Day, since we celebrated Mother’s Day this weekend. Casey has an amazing mother and two grandmothers who have been by his side since day one.
I guess I shouldn’t have watched that stupid movie that I love! It got the emotions flowing, especially since Casey’s final baseball game is on the horizon. But even though he’s on the verge of his final game as a player, it won’t be the end of our relationship with baseball.
Right now, our family is moving from the home the kids grew up in, and we’re going through everything we’ve accumulated over the years, tossing out most of it. While cleaning out the house, I found this gem that Casey submitted as a school assignment years ago.
To be continued, indeed. That’s still my goal, and I’m hopeful that Casey and I will share baseball for the rest of our lives. I hope we can go to a game at every single park. I hope it’s something we have for the rest of my life.
At Casey’s Senior Night, they did something special. The fathers of the senior players (and one mother) threw out the first pitch of the game simultaneously. As I reached back to deliver a strike to my son, who was crouching behind home plate (and it was definitely a strike; don’t let anyone tell you differently), I thought about “Field of Dreams.” I thought about Kevin Costner’s character saying: “Hey, Dad? You wanna have a catch?”
Yes, Casey. I’ll always want to have a catch.
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