Sportswriter Frank Deford ruined my idea for this week’s column.
I was going to write about how my 14-year-old son rekindled my passion for baseball when he decided to start following the game. But I was forced to rethink that plan when Deford reminded me that such father/son baseball stories are “sappy” in a commentary he did for NPR, my employer.
They are sappy.
But, despite that, I’m still going to write about baseball.
How could I not?
The season just opened and my son’s new-found obsession is something to be encouraged.
Thanks to Deford, however, I’m not going bore you with an overwrought story about how the promise of a new season sparked my son and I to have a catch in our backyard “Field of Dreams” for the first time in years. (It wouldn’t be true, anyway. Until now, he’s never shown much of an interest in sports).
And, I’m not going to say how pleased I am that baseball still has the power to draw even the most hardened teenaged boys away from playing video games in their parent’s basement.
I’m not even going to write about when, with an ear-to-ear grin, my son told me how excited he was just before we entered Nationals Park Wednesday night for his first Major League game.
Or, how we ate peanuts and ground the shells up with our feet as trumpets blew the charge, exhorting us to cheer the Washington Nationals to victory over the Miami Marlins.
Or, how disappointed we were when we missed Nats pitcher Gio Gonzales’ home run, the most exciting part of the game, because we were fetching hot dogs at the concession stand.
And, I’m especially not going to write about how I have a chance to pass down a love of the game to the next generation.
That would be sappy.
I am, however, going to offer a cautionary mother/son baseball tale that I was reminded of with great clarity at Wednesday night’s game. It starts in my hometown of Charleston, West Virginia.
These days, Charleston is home to the West Virginia Power, a Class-A minor league team whose ballpark near downtown opened in 2005. But when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, Charleston was all about the Charlies.
The Charleston Charlies played across the Kanawha River from downtown, at the former Watt Powell Park. It was a great old ballpark. I remember clambering all over the stands with a pack of my friends on game nights and shagging foul balls hit into the left field bleachers.
Watt Powell had at least a couple of distinguishing characteristics. For one thing, it offered a great view of the lush, green hillsides beyond the outfield. There was also a railroad line that ran just outside the right field wall. Charlies fans too cheap to buy tickets used to camp out there in lawn chairs. I always wondered what it was like for them when a train rumbled through, as one almost always did during games. And, although I don’t recall ever being on hand for it, there are stories of balls landing in empty coal cars as they clacked by.
For my mom, though, Watt Powell Park wasn’t about a Charlies game, or shagging foul balls, or admiring lush hillsides and the disruption caused by trains; it was about the breeze. It was near constant, making night games chilly even in the middle of a humid West Virginia summer.
She used to always make me take a jacket, saying I’d freeze and “catch my death of cold” if I didn’t.
Of course, I dismissed her concern. But if I didn’t take her seriously then, I do now.
I heard her voice in my head just before leaving for the Nationals game. My son had emerged from his lair downstairs in a T-shirt and light jacket. I told him it was going to be cold and made him grab a sweatshirt to wear underneath his jacket while I reached for my black down vest.
Unfortunately, my mom-inspired precautions weren’t enough. By the time the game ended, I felt like we’d just emerged from an ice box. I was shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering. Even my usually hardy son admitted to being frightfully cold as we made our way to the welcome warmth of the Metro subway train that took us to the lot where I’d parked my car.
We don’t plan to go to another Nationals game until the end of May. It will be warmer then. But, after Wednesday night, my mom doesn’t have to worry anymore. We’ll be prepared for just about anything, even if it means taking a parka on a hot summer day.
Update: It seems it was Dave Parker who hit a ball out of Watt Powell Park that ended up clanging around in a coal car. According to his Wikipedia profile, the ball was later recovered in Columbus, Ohio.