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My ‘old man’ taught me plenty about baseball — and life

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Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013 12:00 am

Some say a father living in the home is not necessary. As for me, I can’t imagine growing up without one. Even though he’s been gone for two decades, I always think of him at this time of year.

Springtime in the Washington, D.C., area is a beautiful season. Cherry blossoms and dogwood trees are in full bloom. Flowers, bright green leaves and grass are everywhere. Humidity is moderate, and daytime temperatures vary in the 60s, 70s and low 80s.

Around this time, I always think of baseball and the joy it brings. My dad had a key role in introducing me to the game. In the first grade, he taught me how to switch-hit on a U.S. Marine baseball field.

By 1954, I was in the fourth grade. Our nightly after-dinner ritual was a game of catch. We would walk out to our Bethesda backyard during daylight evenings. The “old man” would ask me to “burn ‘em in” as hard as I could.

On some weekends, he would take me to the city to see the Washington Senators play. Even though he was a medical student at Georgetown and the only breadwinner in our family, he somehow found the time.

Johnny Shultz was my favorite pitcher. Like me, he could throw left-handed but would bat right. I appreciated left-handed infielders like Dean Stone. But frankly, my favorite team was the New York Yankees. I especially enjoyed the games where they played (and usually beat) Washington.

At the ballpark, my father parked on the streets. Neighborhood elementary school kids would rush up to our blue ‘49 Dodge and offer to “watch your car” for a quarter. Dad always paid, figuring it was cheap insurance. It seemed to work.

We usually sat in the second row balcony overlooking left field. I remember once punching the pocket of my three-fingered glove, waiting for a foul ball to come my way. But as it goes with kids, focusing on the details can cause one to miss the big picture.

Just then, a ball came right at us. Dad reached up and caught it while I was staring at my glove. The popcorn he had been holding fell like snow upon the fans below. I felt a real connection that day when he sacrificed his snack and handed me the souvenir!

Baseball wasn’t the only thing my dad and I did together. We built radios long before the digital age. He built me a little racecar. We even did medical experiments as a father and son team — once working on mice with cancerous tumors generated by chemicals found in cigarette smoke.

I can’t say our relationship was always easy. As I grew older, he became more involved with his professional work. We drifted apart. His dominating personality was not always “a day at the beach” as they say. Of course, my unappreciative and entitled attitude didn’t do much to help our relationship either.

During my college years, he bought a Porsche, and rekindled our common interests. His expert navigation techniques made him an East Coast rally champion. I often joined him as a driver.

I realize two-parent families are not a practical option for everyone in today’s world. But for those who say one-parent families are just as good, I respectfully disagree. My home was no “Ozzie and Harriet” picture of tranquility. Actually, my folks could fight with each other better than a couple of courtroom lawyers. But when I thought about one leaving and only living with the other, anxieties ran high and my self-esteem dropped. In the end, I’m glad they decided to “stick it out” through thick and thin.

Looking back, I realized both parents acted as a tag team while raising their children. Each had specialized skills, along with a variety of personal strengths and weaknesses. I’ve often wondered how my life might have been different if Pop had only thought of himself and vanished from the picture.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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