Growing up, Mickey Mantle was the baseball star who captivated my interest. I'd read everything I could about the Commerce Comet. I learned that Mick's Dad named him after HOF'er Mickey Cochrane; that after working in the mines, Mantle's father would come home and practice making Mickey into a switch hitter; and that Mantle thought he was doomed to an early grave since both his father and grandfather died before they were 40 years old. It wasn't until I became a father myself that I understood you didn't have to hit 500 foot home runs to be a hero.
In 2001, my parents reached their 50th wedding anniversary. At a family gathering to celebrate that occasion, I told my Father that he (and not Mickey Mantle) was my hero. Due to the state of his health, I'm not sure that my Dad fully understood what I was trying to convey. I miss him a lot and think about the lessons he taught me. Not in the "you better eat your vegetables" kind of way, but in the manner in which he conducted himself: modest, unassuming, cordial and respectful to those with whom he interacted.
Over the past couple of months, I have read two books of non-fiction that are about Fathers and Sons and baseball. The first one was recommended to me by my Mother. It's entitled: "Third Base For Life" and recounts the experiences of a father and son who assemble a team of athletically challenged 10 year olds. They enter a tournament in Cooperstown New York to play against the best little leaguers from around the country. It is a WONDERFUL book about much more than baseball. I couldn't put it down on a flight to Atlanta. It was that good -- indeed powerful. As the plane descended through a turbulent landing approach, I felt that as long as I was reading the story, I would be comforted in the bonds that were detailed in the story. The second book (a birthday present I received from a dear friend) is entitled: "Trading Manny" about a father and son who share a passion for baseball only to be undercut by the steroid era. I'm still processing the take aways from that one.
As you can surmise, I am one who believes that shared experiences derived from baseball can provide a context for establishing long lasting ties between parents and their offspring (I won't go into what happened between the 6th and 7th games of the 1986 World Series when Mookie snaked that ball down the first base line). And I have also learned that the experiences I no longer can share with my Father make me appreciate, learn from and love him even more.