I’ll be at my post on Sunday, Fathers Day, shooting photos for the Syracuse Chiefs. I’ll get shots of Bernie Williams signing autographs before the game, and then playing The Star Spangled Banner. During the game I’ll get about 700 or so action shots, and, after the game I’ll stick around to photograph the Chiefs’ new wrinkle…the chance for fathers and their kids to get on the field to play catch.
There is a reason why the most poignant line of Field of Dreams is "Hey Dad, you wanna have a catch?" Playing catch is the single most defining activity of most father/son relationships…at least for my generation. It begins as a way to pass along that most basic skill of baseball and a metaphorical passing the torch from one generation to the next and beyond, and continues as a reminder of the common bond of father and son.
And on Sunday I will photograph that bond in action as fathers will celebrate their day playing catch with their children on the magical green grass of a professional ballpark, and that’s when things will get a bit tricky. After the nearly 68 years of my life, the man I first played catch with, the man who taught me baseball, is gone. I can remember neither the first nor last time we played catch but I can remember the in between part…the gradual increase in the distance I was able to throw, the increase in the velocity I was able to handle, the confidence that I was, indeed, a ballplayer. Ultimately, the time for playing catch was gone, but the sense of it, the muscle memory of ball striking glove, the sound of leather meeting leather, lingers.
The man who taught me baseball taught me how to catch with two hands, to block ground balls, to throw overhand, to do a pop up slide. He taught me to choke up on the bat and to hustle on AND off the field.
He taught me to practice hard and to enjoy it for what it was. He taught me how to put on a uniform correctly and how to care for my equipment. He taught me to revel in the smell of a brand new baseball, and appreciate the roughened texture of a ball well used. He taught me to tape a broken bat to extend its life.
He taught me that reading The Sporting News was essential to understanding baseball well, and that rolling up the pages to use as batting practice balls was essential to hitting a baseball well.
He taught me that when I did something good, to keep from showing off...to just act like it was routine, and when I made an error, to keep my mouth shut, my temper hidden, and get back to work.
He taught me not to show anyone up and never argue with an umpire.
He taught me to respect the game and show some class when I played it.
He taught me that it is a team game, and that requires working together.
He taught me that envy of someone else’s skill would do nothing to improve my own and that I should play the game the way that I was capable of playing it.
He taught me not to blame anyone or anything for my mistakes and to learn from them so as to not repeat them.
He taught me that nobody becomes good on their own, and to not be afraid to ask for help.
He taught me the rules, and that there was a reason for playing by them.
He taught me that the only way to be a starter was by earning the right, and that if I wasn’t a starter, I was still part of the team and to act like it.
He taught me to figure batting averages, but warned me not to pay too much attention to my own.
He taught me that anger was counterproductive and would only make me play worse.
He taught me that if the game stopped being fun, I should find something else that was.
He taught me that practice would not make me perfect, but it would smooth out some of the imperfections.
He taught me that winning was good, but not everything, and that losing might seem bad, but it really wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be.
He taught me that blaming failure on bad luck would mean that I had to credit success to good luck. He allowed that there was an element of luck in both, but hard to prove.
He taught me that all I should ever care about was being as good as I could be and not to measure myself by someone else.
…and as it turned out, as he taught me baseball, he taught me life.
So, on Sunday…Fathers Day…I will photograph fathers and their kids playing catch, and remember the man who not only made it possible for me to be there, but also made it possible for me to understand why I will be there.