The Sherman Effect

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks

You Mad, Bro?

By now you all know about Richard Sherman’s outburst on Sunday night.  The past week has been a saga of half-hearted apologies and critiques of interview ethics.  However, while most people tossed this news aside with the Sunday paper something happened.  Reaction to Sherman’s behavior became so vitriolic that his words were silenced by hatred.  There are a lot of thoughts I have about Sherman, but most of what I’m going to say here addresses a social condition that is troubling to me and my future kids.

Hatred is a harsh word.  I remember using it once against my mother when I was twelve and I was swiftly put in my place.  My father taught me that night that hate is a four letter word.  By now, all of you have drawn your own conclusions about using the word hate in your own vocabularies.  I still subscribe to the four letter approach.  After Sherman’s angry comments about Michael Crabtree his twitter feed was hit with a deluge of outrage.  Among the choice words tweeters used were “Thug” and “Monkey”.  I assume the N word was used as well, but I hope most of the people who will read this agree with me that the N word is inexcusable in any context.  Therefore, I’ll confine my comments to “Thug” and “Monkey”.  But, the larger context of those words falls within the lens of racism, intolerance, polarization and arrogance.

“Monkey”.  I get it.  This word is loosely connected to racist epithets.  Let’s just agree that when you call someone a monkey it certainly sounds bad enough to receive a slug in the face.  On the other hand, “Thug” is less egregious.  In my opinion, “Thug” has been adopted by gangsters and twisted into a racial slur.  Let me be clear, it is not a racial slur.  Thug has been used to describe corrupt politicians more often than describe African-Americans.  Tu-Pac glamorized the term “Thug Life” to endear his music and lifestyle to the  American public.  In fact, he had it tattooed across his abdomen and drew copious amounts of attention to it in his music videos.

“Thug” is a double entendre.  Most of us learned that some words can have dual meanings  when we were in third grade.  I remember my father saying I was acting stupid.  Here, he addressed my behavior and instead me personally.  Of course, I tried to contort his words into an indictment of his parenting skills and love for me.  But that was a nine-year old talking.  Most well-adjusted adults, and Richard Sherman unequivocally pronounces himself to be, understand the distinction.  Unfortunately, Sherman’s pride has clouded his ability to recognize how he acted thuggish in that interview.  Or, maybe he’s just not as intelligent as he considers himself to be.  Alternative explanation, Stanford hands out 3.9 GPA’s like physicals.

The true Sherman Effect that I’ve witnessed is best illustrated through a string of Facebook comments I participated in.  I will leave out the names of people to protect anonymity.  Most of you are probably muttering doubts under your breath or sighing and shaking your head about a reference to Facebook.  Any of you who know me understand that I’m virtually absent on Facebook and tend to rebel against the sprawling digital culture.  However, the Facebook platform allowed many voices to chime in on a few thoughts.  So, here’s the story.

A friend of mine posted a link to the CNN press conference Sherman gave in the middle of last week.  Sherman addressed the firestorm of anger unleashed on him and almost apologized for being immature and betraying his intelligence.  My friend posted “Love it” above the article.

I couldn’t tell whether he was being snarky or whether he genuinely liked Sherman’s comments.  I posted the following:

This guy is so proud of Stanford. I wonder if Stanford is equally as proud of him[?]  And, I’d love to see if he graduated, what his degree is in and his GPA.

Before you all go running to the comment section and blast out a note condemning me to the snark penalty box, read it again.  Would Stanford or any institution of such high academic caliber be proud of the way Sherman portrayed himself?  Furthermore, would they welcome the free press Sherman gives them?  Sherman does an excellent job of reminding anyone who challenges him that he went to Stanford.  The rest of us should feel intellectually overmatched.  Evidence of this, watch his interview on First Take with Skip Bayless.  Even if you’re not a fan of Skip Bayless, just listen to Richard Sherman.  He personifies almost every stereotype of elite school students, except he’s not quite as eloquent.

And, the GPA question.  I admit, I could have easily done a Google search and found this information.  But, my good friend obliged my torpid tendency and answered that question for me.  Sherman is a member of the academic honor society, earned a 3.9 GPA and graduated with a degree in Communications (congratulations, but Andrew Luck graduated with an Architectural Engineering degree.  Even still, I’d respect your braggadocio a lot more if your degree was in Faulknarian Literature,  the Classics, Public Policy, Theatre, Education or even Underwater Basketweaving).  He even returned for a semester of master’s work.  Yet another notch on his academic belt.  But, I’d like to remind everyone of Myron Rolle, the Florida State Safety who delayed a massive pay-day and a professional  football career to accept a Rhodes Scholarship to study Medical Anthropology at Oxford.  Not Oxford, Mississippi.  Oxford University in England.  You know; Shakespeare, Oscar Wiled, John Locke and William Penn, Oxford.  I could go on about the Harvard graduates, Matt Birk and Ryan Fitzpatrick but I think I’ve made my point.  So, let’s not plan the ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes for Stanford graduate, Richard Sherman yet.

Later, a post by a friend of a friend boiled my blood for three days and encapsulated the malice behind the Richard Sherman phenomenon.

He’ll always have to prove himself to guys like Matt, and that’s a shame.

He continued,

The kid is the total package.  We would all be proud to have our kids end up like him.  He made a mistake, he acknowledged it.  that people question his authenticity is nothing less than bigotry.  Move on.

In my anger, I fired back a response asking whether he would be proud of his kids if they acted the way Sherman did in the interview and poked holes in his “apology” defense.  But, after I took some time to think deeply about these comments I found the stinging hypocrisy in his first statement.  This guy was judging me based on one response and categorizing me into, I assume, his bigotry list.

I had to exercise severe restraint to shoot back another question asking him, “What kind of guy am I?”

I’ll never know for sure, but I guess he thinks I’m a racist and a bigot.  I don’t feel the need to defend myself here.  Anyone of you who know me understand the racial struggles I deal with on a daily basis as a teacher in a highly diverse school.  Although I will admit that I struggle with separating the actions of few from the masses, I am galaxies away from a racist, bigot or ethnocentrist.  It’s a daily struggle to deflect the venom from those who attack your integrity without distinguishing the action from the soul.  I guess I know what it feels like to be Richard Sherman.

High and Outside

Yet another chapter from my novel. I took a big risk with this piece by using spanish. This story contrasts the arrival of an american player with a spanish player. I think there’s a great story here. Would love to hear what you think. As usual, this story is copyright protected. Enjoy!

Oscar Arrives
I lowered my eyes, took a deep breath and tried one more time. “A que hora sale mi vuelo?” The attendant’s eyes grew wide and her lips curled in the center making a circle. She pinched one eye half closed trying to understand me. I stood silent.
While I was on the flight to Charlotte the pilot addressed the passengers in English and Spanish. I knew it was going to be tough once I landed, but I didn’t think it was going to be this difficult this quick. I reached into my pocket for my boarding pass and placed it on the counter for her to read. Holding out hope, I watched her unfold the paper and tap the keyboard. I felt my heart beating in my chest the way it did after an inning ending double play. Except, the inning wasn’t over.
“Gate A,” said the woman. For a moment she almost looked as nervous and confused as I was. The noises around me were distracting. I couldn’t focus on what she was saying. Her mouth moved but my anxiety arrested my senses. She repeated it again, and again. I felt dizzy but, refused to lose my cool.
She turned around to a janitor cleaning out the waste bin. The line behind me spilled out onto the concourse of the terminal. Sighs and gasps bounced off the cold floors and high ceilings of Terminal J. I didn’t need to understand English to sense the impatience radiating behind me.
The Janitor had a mocha complexion and his nametag read Alberto.
“Excuse me, do you speak Spanish?” asked the woman.
“Si,” replied Alberto.
“I have a gentleman here who speaks Spanish and I can’t understand him. Would you mind taking a minute to help me?” Someone chewing gum behind me snapped a bubble loudly and sighed.
“No problem,” said Alberto, rolling the r.
“Tell him that his flight leaves from Gate A in forty-five minutes,” directed the woman.
“Te vas de la puerta A, en cuarenta y cinco minutos. Mal dar unpaseo.” My body began to relax. The beautiful cadence of my native language sang to me off of Alberto’s tongue. The sounds hugged my buzzing nerves easing my adrenaline rush. I nodded my head, took my new and old boarding pass from the woman, and popped my backpack into a more comfortable position on my right shoulder.
“Espera alli” said Alberto.
I stepped out of line to wait for Alberto. An agitated woman brushed me roughly aside in a huff before I could avoid her wrath. I stood by a wall trying not to draw attention to myself as I waited for Alberto to bring the shuttle for me. Maybe if I stood still enough I wouldn’t feel like the outcast I already was. There was a white wall behind me that I tried to blend in with. A foolish impossibility with my dark skin tone. I turned my palms up and flipped them over recognizing the difference in color.
Painted on the wall behind me was a map of the United States. Each major airport that American Airlines flew into was denoted by a small circle. Just above my head was Charlotte International airport. Long lines extended out from the small dot to all parts of the country. I clasped my hands in front of me just below my belt buckle. I wore an old brown, red and yellow striped polo shirt tucked into straight leg jeans dirtied from the dust blown baseball fields of Santo Domingo. The sweat dried on my forehead but residual anxiety still flushed through my veins. The same feeling I got every time I walked out to the mound to pitch. There was no speaking on the mound. I let my pitches do the talking. I feel separated from society when I’m not on a baseball field.
“Vamonos,” yelled Alberto. I peeled myself from the wall, picked up my duffle bag and laid it on the back seat of the golf cart.
“Me di cuenta por su acento esta en la Republica Dominicana,” Alberto correctly sensed my Dominican dialect.
“Si,” I replied.
“Por que estas aqui?”
Alberto’s expression was stoic. The lines on his face were the only fragments of the easy smiles of his youth. Patches of discoloration below Alberto’s forehead were burned into his skin from years in the sun. It was obvious to me that baseball was his bittersweet lover.
“Estoy aqui para jugar al beisbol,” I said with a smile peeking out of the corner of my mouth.
“Ah, que equipo estas jugando para?” asked Alberto.
“Medias Blancas,” I proudly answered, inflating my chest a hair more.
“White Sox,” admonished Alberto. “Usted va a tener que aprender a decir en ingles, si quieres sobrevivir en el beisbol profesional y America.” I shook my head in affirmation and responded, “Yes,” in English. “I…learn…English.”
“De donde eres?” I asked.
“Corocito,” replied Alberto. I smiled at my fellow countryman.
“Por que dejo?” I asked making sure Alberto left the Dominican for baseball. The cart weaved smoothly between people walking on the concourse.
“Para perseguir el mismo sueno que es ahora. He jugado el cuadro interior de los cardenales durante cinco anos. Me dejaron en libertad hace treinta anos manana.” Alberto drifted into a melancholy haze remembering his years with the Cardinals. He played with Stan Musial, Curt Flood, and Bob Gibson. They became mythological figures in the baseball pantheon just after Alberto was hit in the head with a pitch in a minor league game. After his release, he flew into Charlotte international airport on his way back to the Dominican Republic, missed his flight and never left.
Alberto pulled the up to the gate just as the flight started boarding. “Buena Suerte a mi amigo,” said Alberto and slapped me on the back.
“Gracias senor,” I replied. I lifted my bloated duffle bag from the back seat and winced. Before Alberto left he said, “Haga que su pais se sienta orgulloso,” wishing great fortune and protection in a place more foreign than the moon.
I hitched up my bags and slinked to the attendant at the gate. “Good afternoon sir. Have a nice flight.” English still sounded like gibberish. It was ugly. There was no rhythm or romance. It lacked passion.
The jet way sloped down and to the left, sliding me towards the airplane. My own inertia flushed me right past another attendant greeting passengers.
“A cuatro. No! A fower,” I whispered to myself. I found my seat, stowed my duffel bag in the overhead compartment and sat down. No one had claimed the seat next to me yet. Staring out the window, a blanket of warmth spread over my body thinking about home. I started to count in English, “wan, two, tree…”
An older woman with an accent of her own sat down next to me and said, “Hailo there. Hoopefully this flat leaves on tam.” I nodded in absently. Quickly, I turned my eyes back out the window and wished the woman away.
“This shoodent be a long flat,” the woman continued. “My name’s Cathy. What’s yours?” I knew the woman was talking to me but I didn’t understand her and resisted the polite temptation to acknowledge her introduction.
“I guess we all can’t have the southern sensibility,” the woman muttered under her breath after a long silence from me.
I felt the adrenaline rush back through my body after the woman’s utterance. The stale air in the plane became muggy. I hated myself for wearing such silly clothes. My brother’s hand-me-down polo shirt felt moist under my arms. The pilot’s voice sounded over the intercom.
“Goooood afternoon ladies and gentleman. We’re preparing for departure to Tri-Cities, Tennessee. It should be an easy flight with low headwinds and clear skies. While the crew prepares the cabin for departure please take a look at the safety booklet located in the pocket of the seat in front of you. I’m captain Bob and we look forward to delivering you safely to your final destination.”
The plane backed away from the jet way and began to taxi towards the runway. The beating in my chest became more and more rapid. It felt like my ribs exploded with every pounding beat. The pilot hit the throttle, the passengers sank into their seats and I closed my eyes. As the wheels left the ground the cabin calmed. I closed my eyes. My chest rose and sank quickly.
“Respiraciones profundas,” I whispered controlling my breaths.
After a while, I slipped back to the sandlot where I threw my first pitch. The infield dirt was light and lifted off the ground with an easy kick. Each base was dirty and tattered from being left out in the weather. I didn’t care though. In my dream I brushed away the loose dirt to toe the rubber. Twisting my left toe into the dirt I dug in for a challenge I wasn’t afraid to face.

The Approach

Another chapter from my novel in progress. This is a fictional account of a recently drafted ball player departing for his assignment.

Philadelphia to Tri-Cities
I woke up at three in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t contain my excitement, but somewhere beneath my joy was an anxiety. My bags sat in the corner with the khaki pants and collard shirt I was going to where on the plane. It was important to dress professionally for my first day on the job.
“I guess I should check to make sure I have everything I need,” I said, kicking back the plaid comforter I slept under for ten years. “I can’t afford to forget anything. Deoderant, toothpaste, contact case, contact solution, extra contacts, toothbrush. Check. Socks, underwear, t-shirts, shorts, one pair of jeans, sweatshirt, collard shirts. Check. Picture of my Mom, Dad, brother and sister. Check. Two baseball mitts, four wood bats, baseball socks, cleats, compression shorts, athletic shirts, belts, hats, batting gloves, sweatbands, pine tar and my confidence. Check.”
We left for the airport at six a.m. The airport would be crowded and I didn’t want to miss my flight to Tri-cities airport. I stuffed my bags into the trunk, softly closed the door and climbed into the passenger seat. Mom turned the engine over and sniffled.
“Come on Mom,” I consoled with a short smile.
“I know, I know.” Mom turned on the headlights and pulled the car out of the driveway.
Mom drove and we both sat in pensive silence. I scrolled through my mental checklist of everything I packed, double-checking to make sure I didn’t forget anything. The sun rose in the sky behind us as we crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge into Philadelphia.
“Do you have everything you need?” asked Mom.
“Yeah. I think so.”
Mom sniffled again and rubbed her wrist underneath her nose. “I’m really excited for you, Matt.”
“Do you cry every time you get excited?” I joked.
“No,” she sputtered with a spastic chuckle. “It’s just that I remember the little boy that begged everyday to have a catch. It doesn’t feel that long ago.” Streetlights were turning off from the rising sun. Mom turned her headlights off.
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
“It’s been so much fun watching you play, Matt. You’ve given us memories that we’ll never forget.”
I thought for a moment and said, “There’s a lot more to come.”
The airport emerged from behind the highway. Planes swarmed the area like a beehive. Mom parked the car and walked me to the security checkpoint. I felt a knot twisting in my stomach. We unloaded the trunk.
“Here we go,” was all I could gather in my cluttered head of excitement, nerves, reflection, and anticipation.
We crossed the three roads of drop-off traffic to the terminal. “Where do I check in, Mom?”
She glanced at my travel itinerary. “Continental,” she quickly directed. “I’ll wait in line with you.”
The line was short and when we reached the counter the attendant asked for my destination. “Bristol, Virginia,” I mumbled.
“Name and I.D. please.” I handed over my driver’s license.
“How many bags are you checking today?” The attendant was sharply focused on getting me in and out of her line.
“Two,” I lifted the heavy duffel bag onto the scale and watched the numbers tick swiftly past fifty pounds.
“You’re going to have to pay to have this one checked. It exceeds the fifty pound limit.”
“Okay,” Mom swooped in for the save. “You can’t play without your equipment and you should hold onto your money until you get acquainted with your new situation.”
The attendant slipped a thin baggage tag under the handle and pinched the adhesive end securing the tag and bags final destination. I lifted the second bag onto the scale, watched as the attendant followed the identical procedure of the previous bag, swiped Mom’s credit card and handed me my boarding pass.
“Do you want to grab a quick bite before you head through security?” asked Mom.
“Sure,” I said. “Something light.”
We walked over to a busteling Starbucks café and waited in line. I noticed Mom occupied the space between unparalleled happiness and absolute fear. In my thoughts I gave her expressions a voice that sounded like the quivering utterings of a timid organ. The voice was warm but fluttered with uncertainty.
“My baby boy,” Mom rubbed my back and smiled painfully. I looked right through her weak veneer into her pain.
“Mom, It’s okay. I’ll be back in a few months. This isn’t much different from the past two summers.”
“I just want you to get there and back safely.”
“When are you coming to visit?” I ordered my Vanilla Latte and lemon iced pound cake then let Mom order and pay.
“Three weeks, I hope. You’ll still be there, right? I don’t have to worry about you being cut?”
“Let me get there before you cut me, Debbie Downer.” We enjoyed the moment of levity, collected our drinks and pastry, and sat down at a table.
“So, what happens if I miss my connecting flight?” I asked.
“You find another one.”
“Oddly, that’s what I’m most nervous about. I don’t know where I’m going to live and how I’m going to pay for it. Baseball’s the easy part,” I clearly postured with false bravado.
We finished our light breakfast. Mom walked me over to the security checkpoint. The line wasn’t crowded and Mom could walk outside the ropes as I zigzagged through the maze of ropes. When I reached the end I stood in a single file line along a wall. Mom was on the outside and I was on the inside. We inched forward one step at a time and just before I reached the metal detectors we hugged.
“I love you and I’m so proud of you,” Mom cried.
“Love you too, Mom.” I felt my stomach crawling up my throat as I sniffled. “I”ll call you when I land,” was all I could manage after our hug and I watched Mom hustle to the escalator and wave goodbye.
The air wasn’t cold on my skin but the linoleum floor, bland colors, and forced recycled air chilled the hairs on my arms. In line, I played with the change in my pocket remembering that I had to empty my pockets, take off my belt, shoes, hat, watch, and wallet before I entered the scanner.
“Do you have any metal on you sir?” asked a burly uniformed T.S.A. agent.
“I don’t think so.”
“Have you emptied your pockets?” I turned out my pockets and put my hands behind my head ready to be cuffed. The strong-shouldered security woman lifted one eyebrow and squished her lips in impatience as she pointed to my waist. I thought to myself, “Is my fly down?” My fly was in the upright and locked position but the sun light pouring in from the windows bounced off the belt buckle and slapped me in the face. “Sorry” I said as the four-person crew folded their arms in impatience. I imagined their voices ringing through my head saying “rookie”
I made it through the metal detector but my bag hadn’t yet. “Sir, do you have any explosives in your bag?” My mind went blank. The simple act of asking the question made me doubt that I hadn’t packed any. “I don’t think so. Did you find any in there?” By this time I had taken so long to make it through security that other security guards seemed to be showing up at my line. Even though I was a recently contracted professional athlete I had to look up at every security guard. I felt like every one of them was six foot four and two hundred and thirty pounds. Even the women looked like they could bench press a Volkswagen.
“Do you mind if we search your bag sir?”
“No.”
After some digging the security guard found a bottle of cologne that was not properly packed. “Sir, you’re going to have to check this,” the security woman boomed.
“How do I do that?”
“You’ll have to return to the check-in counter.”
“I don’t have that kind of time.” The line behind me lengthened by the minute. “Just get rid of it.”
“Sir?” the security woman quizzically retorted.
“Yup, just chuck it or give it away as a gift. It’s Armani Code. Nice stuff.” I practically tripped over my untied sneakers as I skimped away, embarrassed.
The flight was less interesting than the security check-point. I found my seat quickly and tried to fall asleep dreaming about the luscious green infields I would play on at my assignment. The stands arched up into two tiers behind home plate hugging the foul lines for an intimate setting fans could enjoy. Each base shined like bright white teeth against tan skin smiling out to the centerfield fence. Locker rooms were furnished with luxurious black carpeting with a White Sox emblem embroidered in the middle of the room and leather couches for the players to nap on during breaks. My locker was filled with White Sox shirts, shorts, bags, bats, batting gloves, warm-ups, and a pristine new mitt.
The wheels of the puddle jumper that had been held together with duct tape and gum touched down around one o’clock in the afternoon. I stepped out of the fuselage to a wall of heat and humidity. My clothes immediately sucked to my body in the sticky heat. The strap of my carryon bag felt like a cheese grater against my shoulder. But the nervous excitement of reaching my final destination numbed the pain.
I dialed Mom’s number and checked in with her. Then I did the same with Dad, my brother and sister as I walked briskly to the baggage claim. At the baggage carousel I noticed a young face across from me. He wore a Tar Heel blue athletic shirt and cargo khaki shorts. I could tell that he might be another player from his thick forearms, athletic frame, and the Phiton bands he wore around his neck and wrist. “What a gimmick. My left foot those bands make you run faster, jump higher, and hit the ball further.” I silently mouthed to myself shaking my head. After my bag slid down the carousel I made a course outside to where the Phiton boy was standing.
“Are you here to play for Bristol?” I asked with humble assertion.
“Yeah,” said the blond haired southerner.
“Nice, so am I. I’m Matt.”
“Brent,” he replied, giving me a stiff handshake.
“Where are you from? I sense somewhere south,” I ventured.
“Yeah, Missouri,” Brent answered. “How’bout you?”
“I’m from New Jersey.”
“Oh. New Joysee,” quipped Brent, cracking the most quotidian Jersey joke available.
“Yeah. I’m from southern New Jersey. We don’t really speak like that.”
Brent let go a nervous laugh, “Oh.”
“What position to do you play, Brent?”
“Outfield. You?”
“I play everywhere. I haven’t had a home since high school. I think I’m shortstop, I played third in college primarily, but I’ve also played the outfield and Major League Baseball seems to think I’m a second baseman.”
“Shees!” exclaimed Brent.
“Yeah, so I don’t know where I play. I just go wherever they tell me to.”
Just then, Mr. Bentley, a local fan, volunteer, and front office jack of all trades picked us up not long after Kent and I suffered through our first long awkward silence. He drove a 1996 Ford Windstar with no less than three human size dents on the passenger side.
“Ya’ll here for the Whit Sox?” he yelled from the driver’s seat. We nodded in the affirmative, opened the rusty sliding door and piled in the back. “I’m gone take ya’ll over da field ta meet the staff before da rest team show up,” Bentley told us. My adrenaline began to spike again at the excitement of seeing my home field for the first time.
We entered the city of Bristol and Bentley made an aggressive left turn into the stadium parking lot that toppled Brent onto his gear. I tried to identify foul poles, dugouts, locker rooms, or even the façade of a stadium but the only building I saw was General Stonewall Jackson High School. Behind the school the landscape opened up to a weathered concrete structure that showed its age. Kent and I unloaded the Windstar as Bentley held out a crooked finger pointing to the clubhouse. We were in the shade but to get to the clubhouse we had to traverse the simmering asphalt.
I switched the strap of my carryon bag to the other shoulder. Brent and I picked up our remaining bags and headed toward the clubhouse. Everything was heavy but the air seemed to sit on my shoulders like a ten ton elephant. As I drug my heavy bags and Dumbo with me I saw the field to my right. The fence was plastered with advertisements for local businesses, colleges, and the White Sox.
Then I saw the grass. It was patchy, sun scorched, and brittle. The infield dirt was dry, baron, and weed ridden. I climbed the stairs to the clubhouse and pushed the door in that felt pressurized against the oppressive heat of a mid-summer day in Bristol, Virginia.
A round, salt-and-pepper haired man stood in the center of the chilled locker room pouring over a document with another goteed younger gentleman.
“Hiya boys. Mike Colardo. Skip or Chief’l do. What’s your name?”
“Matt,” I said, firmly shaking Mike’s thick hand.

A Day With Dad

This is the first chapter in a novel I’m working on. Excuse the formatting. As a wordpress newbie I need to figure out the copy & paste properties. Still, the tale is here. All feedback is welcome.

P.S. – for the improprietous reader, this work is copyright protected. if you’d like to publish the story contact me.

A Day with Dad
1990
The morning was crisp with fresh sunlight kissing the grass on the field. My glove was stiff and needed oil to loosen the pocket. Maybe a few more days of sitting on it with a ball in the pocket would do the trick.
“Drip a few drops of oil right here,” said Dad, gently squeezing the young bottle of oil. “Then rub it into the leather and work the pocket. Just the pocket.”
The excitement inside me was so great that I had to expend energy by hopping up and down on my toes. Dad tossed a ball in the pocket of my glove after working the oil to towards the fingers and winked, “It’s all yours kiddo.” I sat on the glove with the ball in the pocket, still bouncing in my seat for the longest ten minutes of my young life.
“Is it good now?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. It feel like I’m sitting on a dead porcupine. The laces keep sticking me in the but.”
“It’s your mitt. You break it in the way you want to.”
“Ok. Let’s go”
With my sturups pulled high to my knees and my pants snug against my legs I tied my cleats. The same ones I went to sleep in the night before. They were pearly white and fit tight against my feet. I couldn’t wait to see the marks they made in the infield dirt as I ran. I wanted dirt to fly up behind me like Rickey Henderson, or a race horse.
“I bet I can beat you to the car.” I shouted. Dad was at the kitchen counter pouring his morning coffee. I rocked from side to side looking up at him waiting for the terms of our race.
He put the coffee pot down, poured a dollop of half and half in the coffee mug, stirred it with a spoon and said, “On the count of three. No headstarts.” Dad slowly continued to stir his coffee while I stirred waiting for the countdown.
“One….Two….”
Dad was gone, spoon dropped on the counter and out the door faster than shoeless Joe Jackson breaking on a ball in the outfield.
“Cheeter!” I yelled and leaped down the three steps to our mudroom slipping momentarily on the lanolium floor.
I shot out the door and turned left just in time to see Dad gingerly balancing his coffee and running towards the car. I was still within closing distance.
“I got ya,” I gloated, touching the car door handle. Dad reached the door wearing most of his coffee and breathing heavily.
“Alright, you win…again. Hop in and buckle up.”
Riding with Dad was always fun. Before he surprised us with a gleaming brand new Honda Civic, he had a white Ford Escort. The Civic was decked out. It even had a radio and floors without holes. In the Escort, we used to have to sing for entertainment. Even though the Civic had a radio we still liked to sing.
“Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow your horn,” sang Dad.
Dad looked down to me as I chimed in, “Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow your horn.” We continued for one more round, Dad harmonizing on the bass line.
I belted out the final verse in my strong soprano, “Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow your horn….dodeludo.”
Dad looked down at me slackjawed. “Where’d you learn that?”
“Learn what?” I giggled.
“The last few notes you diddled.”
“I don’t know, it just sounded right.”
Dad turned his wide eyes back to the road and I knocked my knees back and forth proudly.
When we got to the field I put my batting gloves in my back pocket and shot like a bullet to the dugout. I caught my dad closing the car door as he grabbed his coffee to-go and made his way to the field across the gravel parking lot in his paint stained Lees, topsiders and blue nylon button-up jacket. Never an athlete but always athletic, he gracefully glided from the parking lot, through the fence, and onto the field kicking the spring dew with the toe of his topsiders.
“Ready?” he said with summoned excitement. “I’ll race ya to the outfield,”
I could give him a ten-foot lead, and I’d win by a furlong. Every parking lot race he instigated was a losing effort for him. He had no shot. I sprang out of my seat and felt the sharp cleats dig into the dirt, like a puma right before he pounces with deft agility.
“Go!” I yelled. I turned the corner of the fence in front of the dugout before he took two steps and was past him by his fourth, pulling away by the seventh.
“I win,” I chided.
“Alright, I’ll take the walk.”
“No Dad, I’ll go out. You take the line. I want to see how far I can stretch my arm today.”
“If you insist,”
My Dad had soft leathery skin. The kind of leather moistened with special oils to preserve the luscious texture of high quality hide. He slid his oversized mit onto his hand and stood without knowing how slippery it was beneath his feet.
“Throw me some high pops,” I yelled.
“Okay, here it comes,”
My dad dropped his arm to his waist and listed back launching the ball high into the blue sky. I dropped my weight down and spread my stance apart to move to where the ball was going, not where it was. First step back. Circling around underneath the ball I caught it square in the pocket. The ball sunk into the oiled pouch I fashioned this morning.
I fired the ball back as hard as I could, this time hitting my dad in the shins. “Sorry,” I yelled, but slightly unaware of the pain I probably inflicted. “Gimme another one,” I said.
Again, he leaned towards the ground, arched his back and let go a high one. My heart jumped when the ball went really high. There was nothing in the world that could make me happier than watching the ball fall from the sky into my mit. Again, I drifted back, circled around the ball and caught it above my face with two hands. This time, I tried to fire the ball right through my dad’s head. He caught it at his right hip, but I was getting closer to my target.
Cars passed along the road by the field every now and then. Across the street was the intermediate school and football field where a helicopter landed once when a kid chased a foul ball into the street and got hit by a car. By this time the sun was breaching the tree tops that bordered the perimeter of the football field and casted a serene silhouette of the majestic old school. My friends were certainly all sleeping, but the spring blossoms casted a spell over me that made me restless. I could smell P&B’s diner’s skillets warming up for the breakfast crowd and church bells rang in syncopation about town.
This day was pure bliss. I was at the baseball field with my father. I asked for another high pop. My dad obliged with the highest one yet. Up, up, up, until the ball became a grain of sand in the high blue sky. When the ball came down I caught it off to the side, playfully mimicking Mookie Wilson, Andre Dawson, or Otis Nixon’s superior ability.
“Basket catch,” I said.
“How bout it hot shot,” said my Dad. “Never make an easy play look hard. Make a hard play look easy,”
“Come on Dad! Then throw one or two over my head. Let’s see if you can get it past me”
“How about we work on grounders?”
I let out a sigh and reluctantly agreed. By now the sun had burned most of the dew away, but there was still moistness to the earth that left a slick residue on the ball.
I threw the ball one last time to my dad. He labored to catch it far to his left and I bounded in to give him a high five. He hugged me with one arm and said, “How about some breakfast?”
“Can we go to the diner?”
“Sure”
We raced to the rust colored Civic and tossed our equipment in the back. I hopped in the front seat, watching my dad slide into the driver’s seat.
“Dad, can I shift the gears?”
“Yes, but you have to wait for me to get us out of the parking lot,”
He started the car and wiggled the shifter to make sure it was in neutral. I looked out of the dirty windshield at the field wondering when we’d be back. Dad put the car in reverse, braced his arm around the passenger head-rest and balanced the clutch and gas backing us up. I always listened for the whirring sound our car made in reverse, wondering if we could drive as fast in reverse as forward.
Dad pulled us out of the gravel parking lot and onto Delsea Drive saying, “OK, second gear…third gear…fourth gear.” My small hand hardly covered the knob of the shifter, but the action of moving it smoothly to each gear thrilled me. I watched Dad’s hands work the steering wheel. I watched him stare at the road. His beard was meticulously groomed and his glasses were large, thick orbs. His jet black hair softly brushed back and parted to one side was everything I wanted to be. He is my model; the archetype of who I want to be.
We pulled into P&B’s Diner and raced to the front door. This time, I baited him into actually trying. He gave half an effort, but I was holding the door for him while he launched up the front steps.
“Two, non-smoking please,” huffed Dad.
The waitress gathered a few menus and said, “Follow me.” We followed her back to a booth nestled in a corner at the back of the diner.
“Thank you,” I said lightly as we sat down and opened our menus. My feet hung off the booth seat and I swung them loosely, knocking the bottom of the seat.
“Stop that,” groand Dad.
I gave a sinister smile, kicked a few more times and stopped after Dad peaked over his menu raising one eyebrow. Staring at him, I watched him browse the menu. Everything he did was smooth and natural. His motions were like a silk scarf blowing in a gentle breeze. Each tick of a finger or swipe of a hand seemed precise, effortless, and fluid; like water flowing over rocks.
“What’ll it be Mateo?” Dad likes to call me Mateo to remind himself that he’s Italian. I looked back to my menu and said, “French Toast.”
“Good Choice”
“It’s my favorite”
We put our menus down as the waitress hustled over to our table and said, “Ready to order?”
Dad took the lead ordering, “Two eggs over easy on rye toast with provolone cheese and pork roll.” His hands fluttered in front of his face illustrating the precise nature of his order. He slid the menu to the edge of the table and pointed at me, biting his lips and raising his eyebrows.
“I want French toast,”
“Any sides?”
Dad cut in quickly, “Nop, that’ll do it,”
“Drinks?” asked the Waitress.
“Orange Juice,” I said.
“Coffee for me, please,”
“Thanks guys, be back in a jiff,”
The seats of the booth were weatherd and cracked like the skin of my grandma. Stuffing poked through cracks. I bounced up and down on the seat enjoying the worn springs beneath me.
“Hey, cut it out,” Dad snapped. I stopped bouncing time and watched him drum his fingers on the table.
“When can we have another catch, Dad?”
“How about tomorrow?”
As I sipped my water I shook my head with such vigor I couldn’t get my words out and spilled water down my chin.
“You have to work on extending your arm and following through,” coached Dad, modeling the motion at the table. He almost knocked over his water in the act. “Tom Seaver finished every game with dirt on his knee. His stride was so long that he couldn’t keep his back knee from dragging on the ground.” I nodded, more concerned with the sensory overload the diner provided. I swung my feet some more underneath the table.
Dad leaned in closer to me from across the table, “You know, when we have a catch I can hear the ball zipping towards me.”
“Really?” I asked with wide eyes.
“Yes, and it also moves. How do you hold the ball when you throw it?”
“I hold it across the seams,”
I stopped swinging my legs and watched Dad raise his brow in wonder. He drummed his fingers some more and turned his lips in, withholding any more compliments.
Although we were sitting in the non-smoking area, the acrid fumes drifted into our section and danced around my nostrils. I actually like the smell. The waitress hurried up to our table and slid the coffee and orange juice onto the table, spilling some of the coffee on the place mat advertising real estate agents. I pulled the orange juice closer and propped my elbows on the table after I dropped the straw in my juice. As I sipped I watched Dad deftly peel three creamers open and softly drop their contents into his coffee mug. I watched as the mocha cloud billowed in his cup. He added two taps of sugar from the sugar jar and stirred thoroughly, clanking the sides of the mug like the triangle I watched him play in the pit orchestra at school. Dad tested the temperature of his drink timidly, then took a big slurp. Shaking his head in approval, he placed the mug back on the table as our food arrived.