Call it living a dream, even if it’s only in my head.
My Father’s Day present was a trip to the ballpark to see the Memphis Redbirds play, like we’ve done a dozen times every summer for the past several years. We know the team and the stadium inside and out, and have watched games from virtually every perspective.
This time, however, we got to see it all from a different angle. After the game, the Redbirds welcomed families to come onto the outfield grass to play catch. My two boys and I claimed some grass in left-center field and threw the ball around.
Jonathan, the younger, made it about twenty minutes before deciding to call it a day. Zachary and I, baseball junkies that we are, stayed on the field. As the crowd thinned, I positioned him by the outfield wall and threw pop flies, as though he was Oscar Taveras going after a long fly ball. Ten minutes later, he wiped sweat from his forehead and rubbed his shoulder.
“I think I’m done, Daddy. “
“Oh,” I said. “Can we stay a little longer?”
“My arm’s getting sore.”
“I know, but how often have we gotten to play catch on a real professional field?”
“I guess so.”
We looked around. Fourteen thousand seats, now empty, but only an imagination away from being filled with fans. A glorious field peppered with other fathers and their sons, throwing baseballs to one another through all the dreams between them. Spectacular plays and errors. Home runs and strikeouts. Cheers and boos.
I reached out to put my arm on Zachary’s shoulder, but I missed low. He is taller than I remembered. I reached my hand up. He squirmed away.
“Ready?” he said.
But he didn’t back away toward the exit. Instead he ran past me, turned and tossed the ball my way.
We went back to playing catch, and kept at it until last call from the stadium personnel. If we weren’t the last ones to leave the field, we were close to it.
By that time, I had stopped my daydreaming too, at least for awhile. I may still envision alternate lifetimes in which I patrol center field for the St. Louis Cardinals. I may picture my son doing the same. If I do, I will certainly not think of the pain of the losses. I’ll imagine his success, even though I know that at his age he understands more than most. The game itself is his reward. It’s a privilege just to play.
For the moment, that truth was, if only barely, within my grasp. It was enough just to play catch, a game with no winner or loser, nor with any substantial purpose. We didn’t need cheering crowds or menacing opponents. We had grass and sunshine, the pop of baseball into leather, the pleasure of feeling the seams of the ball against our fingers. Releasing it to flight. Watching it go. Trusting it would return.