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Cheating dads and sons


MY DAD DIED two weeks ago.

He had his first stroke in November 1993. It was followed by others, and the final event was more a liberation than a loss.

Except for one thing. I never got to take my dad to a baseball game.

Oh, he took me often enough. I well remember the April day in 1954 when the Baltimore Orioles -- formerly the St. Louis Browns -- paraded down Charles Street while sitting on the back decks of convertibles and tossing out plastic balls; My mom threw them away.

And I remember a night game, probably that very year, when we watched Ted Williams with his perfect swing plant one in the right-field seats.

It must have been late in the game because Dad said, "That's what we came to see," and led me by the hand out to the car.

Dad loved to coach Little League baseball. Many was the time he crammed an unlikely number of kids into the back of our 1953 Chevy for the trek to some schoolyard or vacant lot for a few hours of practice, the bats and balls in his sea bag, left over from service in World War II.

To play ball professionally was his dream. He played in the 1930s on the same amateur team with The Evening Sun's John Steadman, the dean of Baltimore's sports reporters. Though Dad had talent, circumstances didn't allow fulfillment of that dream. Marriage and a child and a war got in the way.

I guess he found part of that dream in coaching kids. Surely he never found it in me. A nerd before the status was dignified by XTC title, I was pretty fair with a glove but hopeless with a bat.

Dad was a good coach for kids. He never yelled at them -- a little emphasis, perhaps, but he never screamed or browbeat because you need a good reason to yell at a kid and dropping a baseball isn't one of them.

For my father, baseball was just one of those pleasant things in life, a game to be enjoyed for its inherent beauty.

Almost two years ago, Peter Angelos and I and a few friends bought a team -- the same Orioles who arrived when I was in first grade. Dad knew about that. It happened before his first stroke.

But by the time we started our first season, there had been several strokes, and I never had the chance even to wheel him into my box. I'll regret that to my last breath.

But there's more missing than that, isn't there? There is some sort of unwritten covenant between those who own and play and those who come and watch, and that covenant has been broken.

What is baseball, after all? The same as most important things, baseball is something of the mind. It's a dream. If baseball is a thing of the mind, it would be well to remember that minds can change. If baseball is a dream, then let us reflect that dreams can become nightmares from which people awaken and flee.

Baseball does not exist in a vacuum. It serves the fans, and somehow the fans have been forgotten. We need them more than they need us.

The fans expect to see their game, to see their heroes play it and to see common sense break out after months of divisive nonsense.

It's their money that supports all of us. It's people like my Dad who love the game and teach the game and see the game. I cannot help but think that fate denied me a chance to take Dad to a game.

At times like this, it's well to remember that there are many more dads and many more sons who have the same wish, and it is not our place as owners or as players to deny dreams to others.

Baseball is probably the most tactically intricate of team sports because it depends upon a vast set of interlocking variables. Baseball may also be the last place where we can find real sportsmanship. The other team can make a good play, win the game and still the fans will show some appreciation.

And without the people who show that appreciation, the people who buy the tickets and eat the hot dogs, the people who bring their sons to demonstrate how the game is really supposed to be played -- without them, the owners and players are nothing.

Because I am a part owner of a team, people speculate on my feelings about the strike, but what it comes down to is simple.

Fans may come to support their home team, or to see some special players of another team, but they really come to see the game. If they stop coming, both owners and players will have to find other things to do.

Novelist Tom Clancy wrote this for the New York Times.

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