Saturday, May 29, 2004

A Ball with Dad

I was never much of a baseball player....for that matter I never really excelled at any sport. This was, I suppose, a little disappointing to my father who like many fathers had that thought in the back of his mind of his son becoming really great at some competitive game. My middle brother was good at sports, but I wasn't...ever. It was a reality that I think became apparent to me before my father finally acknowledged it.

I did play little league baseball for a couple of years, but I was terrible. I didn't care who won. I found the game slow and boring. Worse yet, I was afraid of the ball. I never got past the idea that there was the potential to get hit with a really hard object whether you were at bat, or on the field.

I was almost always relegated to "left out" when it came to assigning positions, and I could usually think of other things I'd rather be doing. Often those thoughts came to me as I stood in the outfield kicking at the blades grass with my KEDS high top sneakers at about the same time as a fly ball was passing over my head.

I remember my father yelling from the grandstands urging me not necessarily to catch the ball....he only wanted me to see the ball. We both had rather limited expectations.

During my last year in little league, my father had a brainstorm. He told me every time I got on base he would take me to Carvel. They don't have Carvel ice cream in South Texas, but in New York in the 1960's it was a big thing. It was, to my knowledge, the only place that served soft ice cream.

To my Dad this seemed like a brilliant plan. It certainly inspired me immediately. I now had a reason to play. I still didn't care about the score, or the game...but I sure did love Carvel ice cream.

Although I really didn't care about baseball, I understood it. I also understood that Little League was not exactly baseball at its finest. The pitchers couldn't pitch, and the home plate umpire was usually some other kids dad.

The problem was that despite the lure of Carvel ice cream, I was still frightened by the prospect of getting beaned by some 9 year old throwing a hard object directly at me. My usual approach was to swing away, often with my eyes closed, and strike out quickly. Then I would trudge to the bench dejectedly and wait to be sent back to left field oblivion.

However after my Dad made his offer I realized striking out was against my best interests. I also knew getting an actual hit was highly unlikely.

I sure did love Carvel ice cream though, so in my mind this left only one option: get a walk.

Since I knew the pitchers couldn't actually pitch, I decided to force them to try. If they were going to strike me out, it was going to be without any help from me. I didn't swing my bat....ever. If an umpire appeared to be calling strikes, I would crowd the plate and, with great flair, jerk away at the last second as if I were convinced the ball was about to hit me. Then I would stare at the umpire to let him know how close I had come to death right in front him.

It worked.

It worked a lot.

That year I got more walks than any other player on our team or for that matter in our league. My Dad lost count of how many trips to Carvel he owed me, and so did I. The ice cream didn't matter any more. The story was far more flavorful. My father never signed me up for Little League again, but he enjoyed telling his friends about my last season when I got on base more than anyone else.

That story came back to me today after hearing about the wonderful events that unfolded yesterday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It's a tale that you've got to love, even if you're like me, and don't really love baseball.

In the bottom of the ninth inning of their game against the Chicago Cubs, the Pirates and Cubbies were tied at 5. Rob Mackowiak came to the plate with bases loaded and hit a grand slam. Pirates win 9 to 5.

That was the first game of a double header.

In the nightcap, again in the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates were losing 3 to 1. Mackowiak, who had hit 8 home runs this season prior to last night, stepped to the plate and hit a two run homer. That tied the game and forced it into extra innings. In the tenth, the Pirates won.

That in itself is a good story, but what makes it better is that at around 11 o'clock yesterday morning, Jennifer Mackowiak, gave birth to Gareth Matthew Mackowiak - Rob Mackowiak's first child....a son.

Whether Gareth becomes a great ball player is anybody's guess, but I know he and his Dad are going to have a great story to tell.

Who knows, maybe they'll share it over ice cream.