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Baseball can create life-long father-son connection [Commentary]

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What is it about fathers, sons and baseball? What makes the sport so special that it is passed down the family line, normally among males? But I should quickly add that my wife learned to keep score from her father while going to Fenway Park in Boston in the 1970s, something she still does these days as a season ticket holder to the Washington Nationals.

Despite the recent and ongoing problems with performance-enhancement drugs in Major League Baseball, and the ascent of the National Football League as the most popular sport in our country, baseball remains a sport like any other that is passed down from one generation to the next. Maybe it's because it is so easy for fathers and sons to play catch.

I thought about this again as my father, Dan, who passed away on Aug. 13 at the age of 81, was laid to rest a few days later in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

My father grew up on in a fairly conservative Mennonite family on a farm near Harrisonburg. With hay to bale and cows to feed, there was no time for organized sports in a family of 10 children in the 1940s.

Perhaps since my father did not get to play organized baseball, or any sports, he made sure that his three sons had that opportunity. All of us played Little League baseball in Bridgewater, Va., a program that has produced major league players Alan Knicely and Brian Bocock. The league website says it was the first Little League program in the country to play under lights, since local boys in the rural community were needed to do chores during the day.

One story I always remember my father telling me is about reading the local newspaper when it came to his rural farm one October day in 1951.

The sports headlines blared about the "Shot Heard 'Round the World," a home run by Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants in the last of the ninth inning to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers and gain a spot in the World Series that year.

My father took me to my first major league game on Sept. 16, 1970 (his 39th birthday) at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore when I was 8.

My first reaction was how green the grass was in the outfield as we walked up the ramp and to our seats. I can remember the Orioles easily beat the Red Sox — a team my future wife would see play a few years later — though Carl Yastrzemski of Boston hit his 40th home run of the season.

Earlier this summer I was able to interview Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Carl, who now is a minor leaguer with the Orioles. Baseball has a way of coming full circle.

In the years that followed, my father, sometimes in tandem with family vacations, took me and/or my two brothers to big league baseball games in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, plus several more trips to Baltimore. I remember many times heading up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, passing my future workplace in Laurel, on the way to old Memorial Stadium.

The only trip to Washington came in the last season of the Senators, at RFK Stadium in 1971. I recall stopping in Charles Town, W.Va., that morning as my father, my school friend and his father checked the newspaper to see who would be pitching that day at RFK Stadium.

It was a doubleheader between the Oakland A's and Washington, and one of the Oakland pitchers would be Vida Blue, while Denny McLain would start one of the games for the Senators.

Blue would go on to win the Cy Young award that year as the best pitcher in the American League - an honor McLain had won with Detroit in 1968.

There was no way to know then that many years later I would live a few Metro stops from RFK Stadium or that I would be able to cover many of Washington's games at new Nationals Park.

I never really asked my father why he signed us up for Little League. Maybe he saw other fathers, or mothers, doing the same thing for their children. If you have elderly parents, I would recommend asking about your past before it is too late. But regardless, I am very grateful that my father introduced me to baseball. It is indeed a sport that lasts a lifetime.

David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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