In the film, Elizabethtown, Drew (Orlando Bloom) and Jessie (Paul Schneider) are talking. Drew’s dad has recently died and Jessie asks, (and I’m paraphrasing, here), “So you and your dad were close?”
Drew answers, “Oh, yes. Very close. I knew him well. Very, very well.”
With deep understanding Jessie says, “Yeah, I don’t know my dad very well, either.”
So how well did I know my own dad? Not sure, but I do remember a lot of little things. And maybe little things are the most important.
On December 21, 2012, I offered the eulogy at my dad’s funeral. I offer it again, here, as evidence of one of those little things.
Baseball has never held a position of prominence in my life. I haven’t played much baseball over the years. Didn’t play in junior high. Didn’t play in high school. I think I was in Little League for a single season. I don’t follow the teams. Don’t watch on TV. Toma and I have only been to one professional baseball game in our lives.
And yet, baseball does hold a position of prominence in my memory.
There is a house on 16th Avenue in Rockford with a grassy side yard. Years ago that side yard seemed huge but drive past it today and you’ll see it is just a narrow strip of grass maybe fifteen feet wide.
Long ago, sometimes, on sunny Saturday afternoons, a young father living at that house would take his young son out to that side yard with a couple baseball gloves and a regulation hardball.
One of those baseball gloves was left-handed. The son was growing up as a southpaw but that didn’t seem to bother the young dad. He would simply move the boy to an imaginary pitcher’s mound, pace off several feet of lawn, turn, and take his place behind an imaginary home plate. Strategically positioning his own right handed glove, the young dad would coach his boy to throw fastball strikes, “As hard as you can.”
You see, that young father played professional baseball for the Chicago White Sox. At least that’s what he always told his son, all the while hiding a sly smile.
Sometime later the boy would figure out that the games he attended, with Mom, watching dad play center field was not the Chicago White Sox. It was the Rockford Firefighters Softball League.
The dad did not play professional baseball in Chicago with Luis Aparicio. He played family friendly softball with his Rockford firefighter pals.
Playing professional baseball was make-believe, but that’s okay. All of us live bits and pieces of our lives vicariously. Most times that’s a good thing.
In case you haven’t figured out the characters in this story, yet…well, I still own a left-handed baseball glove. And I’m sure there are a couple of baseballs hiding in the corners of our home.
Still, as I said, baseball does not hold a position of prominence in my life.
Baseball just hangs around, locked in my memory of throwing strikes, “As hard as you can.”
And baseball will remain forever in my memory because I am father’s son.
My dad was a veteran of the United States Air Force.
My dad spent too much time at work and not enough time at home.
My dad worried about too many things that really didn’t matter in the long run.
My dad liked tossing baseballs around in the side yard on 16th Avenue.
So, yeah, I guess I did know him well enough.