Photos From Dad

There aren’t a lot of pictures of my dad.

He was the family photographer. He was the one who documented his life, our lives, and the passing of time.

He had the camera. He took the photos. There weren’t many times that someone took a photo of him.

I took this one.

My dad’s photos – and he took thousands of them – were neatly sorted, by topic, and filed, along with their negatives, in big plastic boxes. Most included handwritten notes – sometimes written over the front of the photo – explaining  who, or what, or when.

Tractors and wide fields of North Dakota wheat being harvested. And, pets. And, every house we ever lived in. And, flowers. And, squirrels. And, plenty of people I don’t know. And, cars.

(There are a few more photos of me, his daughter, than there are of the cars he has owned. But, it’s pretty close.)

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You’re Not Losing, Because You Haven’t Lost Yet

You know what’s a great baseball movie? The Bad News Bears. That’s a pretty great baseball movie.

bad news bears

The original one.

Field of Dreams is an ok baseball movie.

So what if it made you cry? That doesn’t make it a great movie.

Lots of lousy things can make you cry. Fussy contact lenses, broken legs, dropping your ice cream.

This one-minute home video is as good as any movie. Cute characters. Drama. Tragedy. Loss. Heartbreak. Happy ending. (Plus, the kid’s hair swirls just like his ice cream.)

But, back for just a sec’ to Field of Dreams. As the movie winds down, Kevin Costner’s character, picks up his baseball glove, turns to his ghost father, and says, “Hey … dad? Wanna have a catch?”

Wanna have a catch?

If I asked my dad if he wanted to have a catch, he would have looked at me funny and said, “Play catch. It’s play catch, not have a catch. What the hell are they teaching you in school?”

I figured “have a catch” was just some insipid, affected phrase that the movie came up with.

Until I looked around.

Shakespeare

Bet you weren’t expecting Shakespeare.

In Twelfth Night, which is Shakespeare (and, no, I did not know this, but the Internet can make you seem way smarter than you actually are), Sir Toby Belch says, “Welcome, ass. Now, let’s have a catch.”

“Welcome, ass,” sounds way more Bad News Bears than Field of Dreams and has encouraged me to rethink my Shakespeare.

Smart people will explain that Shakespeare’s “Welcome, ass. Now, let’s have a catch.” means “Hey stupid. Sing us a song.” Seriously? That makes no sense.

Never mind. I’m not rethinking Shakespeare.

But, Sir Toby Belch is an awesome name. Like a baseball mascot. So, credit for that.

Embed from Getty Images

Make room for Sir Toby Belch.

At first, I couldn’t find a pre-Field of Dreams reference to “have a catch” except for Shakespeare. I was ready to say, “Yup, Field of Dreams just made it up.”

But, then I found this.

In May 1953, Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich was profiling Willie Mays.

In that piece he wrote: “Willie didn’t bother to learn the names of his Giants’ teammates. ‘Say, Hey,’ was his favorite salutation. ‘Say, Hey, wanna have a catch,’ ‘Say, Hey, we gonna beat ‘em good to-day.’ They in turn called him ‘Say, Hey Willie.’”

Say, Hey, wanna have a catch?

So, if you’re Kevin Costner or Sir Toby Belch, go with ‘have a catch’ if you want. If Willie Mays said it, then I’m willing to concede it’s ok.

But, it still sounds a bit weird and la-dee-dah to me.

It’s play catch.

dad in modesto ca

Dad. Not having a catch.

My dad and I didn’t play much catch when I was growing up anyway. Mostly we played basketball together because that was his thing.

And, we shot free throws. Lots and lots of free throws. Because, free throws are something you can get right. And, so he taught me the free throw he knew I could practice and get right.

The same free throw Rick Barry used. The same one Barry also taught his kids.

The embarrassing and ugly one. But, if you practiced, it was the one that would always go in.

It was better, my dad would say, to get the point regardless of how silly you looked doing it.

Don’t say stupid things. That was something else my dad taught me.

Like “have a catch.”

Or, “It’s 13-2, the Orioles are losing.”

If my dad were around today he would grumble about that.

“They’re not losing,” he would say, “they’re just behind.”

This was his rule and he would always correct me when I got it wrong.

As he would explain it, if the game isn’t over, your team hasn’t lost, so they’re not losing. As long as there’s hope, they’re not losing, they’re just behind.

And, don’t say your team is winning either. Your team hasn’t won yet, things can change. They’re just ahead.

“You’re not losing, because you haven’t lost yet.”

He wasn’t exactly correct about this, but he wasn’t wrong either. It was his rule and I stick to it today.

As for the Orioles on Friday night, he was right. They weren’t losing 13-2. They were just behind.

Because, they “rallied” in the bottom of the 9th to make it was 13-3 and that was how they lost.

Yup, things can change. (But, not enough when the pitchers desert you.)

My dad was fussy about things. Things should be just-so. And, even though he’s been gone nearly 10 years, I try to remember the rules he taught me.

And, I’ve become fussy, too, about things. Like serial commas. Proper punctuation. And, always running out ground balls because you never know when a little mistake by the other team might be all you need. Because, you haven’t lost yet.

 

Know Your Ground Rules

When I was about 10, I challenged my dad to a footrace around the block.

I’m not sure why I wanted to race, but my dad and I were always thinking up competitions with each other. I must have figured it was a no-lose race.

My dad said his longer legs would beat me, but I knew that I was fast. Even faster with my P.F. Flyers. I knew I could out-sprint an oldie like him.

dad in modesto ca

The Favorite.

the underdog

The Underdog.

We set the ground rules. From the tree in our front yard, we would run counterclockwise around the block. First one back to tag the tree wins.

the racetrack

Google Maps confirmed that my childhood home — and the round-the-block track — in California still exists. But, the finish line tree-of-legend is gone.

With the rules set, we took off into the street. A neighborhood block is much longer around than you think it is, especially when you’re 10 and your legs are much shorter than your dad’s. But, I picked up steam just as he was losing his, and I drew even with him somewhere around the houses that lined the block behind us. When we came to the final turn for home, my dad was pooped. I was hitting my stride.

It was at that moment that my dad veered off the street. He cut through our next-door neighbor’s yard, hopped over the waist-high fence that separated our houses, and tagged the tree. He had cut several seconds – and several feet – off of the race by short-cutting across Mr. and Mrs. Faustini’s lawn.

I was still running in the street. Soundly beaten.

Faustini Loophole

I had yet to learn any of the wonderful, bleepful words that grown-ups use but children don’t.  So, I probably just called him a “big cheater.” I was pretty mad.

He was jubilant. “Hey, Kid, you never said we had to follow the street.”

It would be my first time getting screwed by a loophole. There would be no rematch.

me and dad

Happier Times.

I’m not sure my dad saw any great lesson in our race. He was just the kind of guy who liked to prank his kid from time to time.

But, his non-lesson left a big impression on me, and I’ve been pretty careful about making ground rules clear ever since.

Which brings me to this.

Ground rules are a baseball thing. They are the special rules governing play that are unique to a park, usually identifying a park’s lines, corners, poles, and edges as fair or foul.

At Wrigley Field in Chicago, if a ball gets stuck in the ivy it’s a double, but if the ball pops back out, it’s in play.

At Tampa’s Tropicana Field, the four catwalks are governed by different ground rules. Hit the lower ones, it’s a double; hit the higher ones, a homer. Indoor parks have all sorts of ground rules for balls that hit the roof, trusses, cables, or other stuff hanging down.

Some individual games have had their own ground rules. In 1903, during the first World Series, the games were so packed that fans overflowed into the outfield. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Americans agreed that if a ball was hit into the fans it would be a “ground-rule triple.”

The Americans went on to hit 18 triples over the course of the eight-game series, a World Series record that still stands.

The key thing is this – ground rules are unique to a single park or event.

Here’s what’s not unique in baseball.

Rule 5.05 (a) (6)

A fair ball, after touching the ground, bounds into the stands, or passes through, over or under a fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery, or vines on the fence, in which case the batter and the runners shall be entitled to advance two bases;

There you have it. A ball that bounces from fair territory into the stands is a double.

Nothing unique. Happens all the time. The rule is the same no matter where you are.

It is not a ground rule double. It’s just a double.

What do doubles have to do with my dad? Nothing really.

But, my dad was a stickler for getting things like this right.

San Francisco Giants broadcaster Jon Miller is a stickler, too. While most everyone else calls a fair ball bouncing out of play a “ground rule double,” Miller will call it what it actually is – an “automatic” double or a “rule book” double.

Like this:

 

Jon gets it right, but if you listen through, you’ll hear Mike Krukow get it wrong. And, look! That’s former Oriole’s closer Jim Johnson on the mound giving up the automatic!

(Even legendary Dodger’s broadcaster Vin Scully gets it wrong. Listen.)

Though he liked the Dodgers, my dad wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but I think he would appreciate my using this Father’s Day post as an opportunity to set the record straight about ground rule doubles.

And, he’d probably ask me to remind you: Always set clear ground rules, lest you get beaten by someone who discovers the “Faustini Loophole.”

 

Picture This, Dad

gnome

I’ve lived in Virginia for decades now.  (If you add up the decades I’ve lived in Virginia you will discover that I am somehow much older than I think I am.)

My dad came to visit once. (Which, to be fair, is one time more than my mom, but she had her reasons.)

They lived in North Dakota and I was very excited when my dad decided to fly out.

I had just bought my first place – a condo on the Virginia side of Washington, DC.  He came to paint the walls and do the fix-ity things that dads do with their amazing certainty and rightness of purpose that is unique to dads everywhere. Every dad project was a teachable moment, but, really, all I wanted was to make sure the pink walls in the bedroom were painted over.

And, I wanted to show him around and show off my world.

Which didn’t really turn out all that well.

He wasn’t impressed by Washington, its Capitol or White House. He was annoyed by the traffic and all the people. He wasn’t impressed by any of the historic buildings all along our day drives. Blue Ridge Mountains? Sure, OK. He was moderately impressed that the Cuban restaurant offered Philippine beer.

He was truly impressed by only one thing. The trees.

trees

“Damn, kid, I’ve never seen so many trees,” he said as I drove him around.

He said it as if I was somehow responsible for covering up a lot of otherwise good farmland with all these unproductive trees. He wasn’t disappointed. He simply thought it was funny, in the same way he thought a lot of my life choices were “funny”, as in “Well, I would never do that, kid, but it’s your life.”

When he got back to North Dakota, the only thing he told my mom and his friends was that we sure had a lot of trees in Virginia.

He never saw the farm where we ended up.

trees yard

And, damn, he’s right. We do have a lot of trees.

front yard

We have so many trees that I wonder how the sun even reaches the ground some days.

pecan tree

We have three pecan trees. (Yes, they DO grow in Virginia, people, so stop telling me they don’t.)

japanese maple

This Japanese Maple that came as a sapling from Montpelier, James Madison’s home.

rose of sharon

And, a Rose of Sharon. (More bush than tree, I guess. I thought it was only a girl’s name in Grapes of Wrath until I moved here.)

The winter did this to one of our magnolias …

dead magnolia

I know, I know, they’re not supposed to grow here either.

Is it dead? I don’t know, but look what I found on one of its branches this morning …

new mag

Editor/Husband plants trees like many people plant marigolds. This is his “Tree Garden”:

tree garden

I think I’m much more like my mom than my dad.  But, there are a couple things about my dad that carried into me.

My dad loved basketball and football with the same passion that I love baseball.  (“You didn’t get baseball from me, kid.”)

He gave me a love of politics and beer. Bad puns, bawdy jokes, and Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons above all others.

And, he loved taking pictures.

He had a couple cameras that were good enough. He would take and develop so many photos that he was probably the reason the little camera store in Devils Lake, North Dakota lasted as long as it did. When my father died a few years ago, I went by the store to tell the owner and he seemed truly sorry. The shop closed not long after and I think the loss of my dad’s business was part of the reason why.

My dad wasn’t a very good photographer, but it made him happy.

He liked to take pictures of tractors …

tractor

farmyards …

hail

squirrels …

squirrel

and, his kid …

me

Now, come to find out, I carry that gene, too. I’m not a very good photographer, but it makes me happy.

And, it reminds me of my dad.

dad2