I was flipping hamburgers on the BBQ on Father’s Day when my asked me, “Do you remember that opening day game when you were 12?”
Yeah, dad, I thought to myself. That game had occurred 35 years ago but I still felt I had played it that afternoon. It was opening day in Little League, 0-0 in the bottom of the last inning. I was pitching a gem. There were two outs and an opposing runner at third base, the first player to get that far all day. At the plate was the other team’s best hitter, who would go on to lead the league in home runs that year. I had struck him out in each of his previous at-bats.
My dad, the manager, a two-time state champion as a high school pitcher who threw two complete game shutouts on the same day to win the second championship, came to the mound.
“This kid hasn’t gotten around on your fastball all day, so don’t fool around. Throw him fastballs and let’s win this thing in extra innings.” I threw fastballs and had a one ball, two strike count on him. But I felt he was starting to time my pitches better, plus I was in love with my curveball, so I decided to fool him and throw a curveball.
Problem was, the ball didn’t curve, and all I remember from that point was the sound of the crack of the bat as the ball soared over the center field scoreboard and we lost 2-0. My dad never mentioned it later. I figured he knew I had learned my lesson and silence was more powerful than rubbing it in my face.
“Yeah, dad, I remember it like it was this morning.”
“Well, so do I, and I want you to know that I gave you bad advice that day, son. That kid was sitting on your fastball. You should have thrown him a curveball.”
Oh my god. For half his life my dad had agonized over that pitch, but for the wrong reason. I flipped hamburgers for a few more minutes, the silence between us interrupted only by the sizzle of hamburger fat on the coals. This was a major moment for me, perhaps the toughest decision in my life at that point. I could let it go and let him live with the false memory. Or I could own up to it and get the lecture I thought I was going to get at home that night long ago.
“I did throw him a curveball, dad. Only it didn’t curve.”
Again, silence. I could hear 35 years of tape rewinding in his head.
“You what?! I told you to throw fastballs. No wonder he hit the shit out of that ball.” The words came out as fast as air from a popped balloon. Perhaps the fastest words he ever spoke in his life. We brought the hamburgers in and the family talked about current times, reminisced about the past. Then my dad turned to my mom.
“You remember that opening day game where Mark” and he went on to re-tell the story. It was obvious she had heard it many times while I had moved on with my life. At the end of the story he turned to me.
“Well, I hope you learned a lesson.”
You have no idea, dad. You have no idea.
He passed a couple years later (and a couple years ago), complaining of a headache while walking to his car and then suddenly collapsing from a massive stroke.
Happy Father’s Day, dad.