Saturday, June 20, 2009

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

This is the first Father's Day I don't have my dad to call up and wish a happy day to. I wrote it when baseball season started, but it didn't seem the right time to send it out. So I send this out to the summer solstice ether, amid the chirping of the june bugs, and hope you heard the crack of the ball on Todd Helton's bat tonight, Dad. I love you eternally.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Dedicated to Leonard Trank
October 22, 1911 – October 19, 2008

April 3, 2009

I just realized baseball season starts this week. This is usually a time of excitement for me. I love the game, have loved it since I was a little kid. But this year will be different. And so different, that I don't know if I'll be able to partake in my favorite sport. What makes it different this year? Not A-Rod, Manny, the overblown egos and new Yankee Stadium. What makes it different this year is my dad. For the first time since the 1930s, when he first came to this country, he won't be watching baseball. My father died on October 19, 2008, three days short of 97 years old, and it has taken me these many months to muster the strength to write these words.

I grew up with baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers were our team, during the great years of the 1960s with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and all the rest. Yes, as a Jewish family living in a very non-Jewish Southern California town, we were forever bolstered when Sandy refused to play on Yom Kippur, despite the not so hidden transistor radios peeking out my brothers' and other boys shirt collars during High Holy day services.

My dad taught me how to throw a ball and helped me develop an arm that made me a great centerfielder, even for a girl. He taught me how to hold a bat and swing at the bat evenly - "keep your eye on the ball" was his constant mantra and when I put his simple words into action, I hit it long and hard. I played softball on two winning teams, the Blue Powder Puffs and the Red Devils. I met my dearest and oldest friend playing against her in the Pony League.

Our family listened to games in the car, went to games with our season tickets, gobbled down Dodger Dogs, and covered the ground under our feet with peanut shells, but mostly, I remember sitting on the couch and watching the game with him. My dad was always a quiet watcher, but I was just the opposite. It became a sort of joke between us and he used to line up pillows between our seats to protect his legs from my arms that would need to hit something either in celebration or misery.

No matter what was going on in our lives -- boyfriends, school plays or whatever, my dad and I always had baseball. He shared this love of the game with my brothers who have remained avid fans of the game as well, but it was different for me, as the only daughter. He opened up a world to me with every game we watched. He didn’t go on about statistics or how to keep a score card. Instead he taught me what he loved about the game - the focus, the patience, the discipline of keeping your eye on the ball no matter what position you play. But most of all, I loved to see his face react to that essential sound, the sound of the bat hitting the ball, followed by our close and shared waiting.

I left California in 1977 and went to college in the Midwest. Homesick, I watched the 1977 World Series by myself in the dorm entertainment room and cringed at the Dodgers humiliation by the Yankees. The only person I could call who understood was my dad. He just said, “There’s always next year.” That spring, I played on the co-ed IM team and one particularly muddy Saturday, I went running to catch a hard hit center field ball. My shoe stuck in the mud and my foot kept going. When I got back to the dorm room after a trip to the ER with my foot in a soft cast and a badly sprained ankle, I called my dad. After making sure I was all right, he asked one other question. “Did I catch the ball?” I could hear him smile when I told him, yes.

When I moved to NYC in 1987 and was living alone in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, I screamed out the window when the Dodgers beat the Oakland A's with the famous Kirk Gibson cobbled-kneed home run. As soon as the ball went out of the yard, my phone rang. It was my dad. "You pee in your pants?" I didn't need to answer. He heard my yawp all the way across the country and let me know he was there with me.

I've switched teams since then and am now a Colorado Rockies fan. We live in Colorado, I love Coors Field and the scrappiness and heart the team plays with. In 2007, the miracle year, I watched every game with my kids and was thrilled they knew all the players names, and now love the game as much as I do.

For the past few years, as my dad's health declined, one of the harbingers of spring has been knowing he was here to watch another season and I prayed he would make it until another World Series. For a long time, he’d taken to watching the Los Angeles, nee Anaheim, Angels, a team he always liked for reasons still mysterious to my brothers and me.

This past October, my second oldest brother and I sat in the hospital room and watch the Series while my dad lay sleeping. His respirator had been removed earlier that day. My oldest brother, my sister-in-law and my mom had gone out to eat, but my brother Mark and I stayed with Dad. The game was on and we knew there would be no more World Series to share with him. The Red Sox and the Florida Marlins played, the sound turned down low. I don't remember much about the game other than the movement of the players, the ball's arc and the sound turned down low. I don't even remember who won.

I love baseball because of the hopeful and eternal optimism of the game. The contained embrace of a baseball diamond and the sound, the sound of the bat hitting the ball and then the shared waiting. I love the game because my dad taught me how to love it, what to love about it and why it was worth loving.

I can't say I'll be able to watch baseball this year without a lot of tears. I've already started crying and it's a long season. But as I watch each game, I'll feel that hopeful suspension of that seamed ball moving through air and how it makes me feel. Alive with hope and possibility. Alive with the love of what can happen, if you just keep your eye on the ball.

Happy Father's Day.


Kathy Kaiser said...

I think it's great that your dad taught his daughter, and not just his sons, about baseball. He sounds like a wonderful man.

Kathy Leftwich said...


A beautiful post ans such wonderful memories. I lost my dad six years ago and I still tear up thinking about it. The first few years found me breaking down in the oddest places as certain memories arose .. seeing the shorts for sale and knowing I'd never buy another pair for him ... noting the newest release by his favorite author ... The only girl amid multiple brothers makes for a special bond between dad and daughter.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post.With my father it was golf that we shared. Out of six kids, three of whom were boys, I was the only one to pick up a club. We shared a lot of good times on the course. Laughing at my atrocious play. He also introduced me to his golfing buddies and invited me for Saturday morning coffee with them. As a daughter, those are some of my favorite memories. I lost my dad over 15 yrs ago but I keep his golf clubs in my garage and take them out to the driving range once in a while in his honor. Thanks for reminding us all of our father's and what they brought/bring to our lives. said...

Lisa, what a lovely tribute to your fathe!. Thanks for letting us know about it at BMW.

I miss my father, too, and he's be dead for 18 years.

Hilary said...

What a poignant post. Thanks for writing such a wonderful tribute. It gave me the chills, actually, since it sounds so close to my experience. I lost my dad on June 21, 1985, and we shared baseball as well (although SF Giants and Oakland As--he was from NY and a Yankees fan before that). He played for the farm leagues in his younger days, but he taught me everything I know about baseball (and how to play), and my love of the game never ebbs.

Laurel Kallenbach said...

What a beautiful essay! Gorgeously written, it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for reminding us how special our parents are--and how we shouldn't take our eyes off the ball of our relationships with them.

Lisa Trank-Greene said...

I'm really touched by your kind words, everyone - thank you.

The Mulligan Family said...

Oh Lisa! An absolutely beautiful tribute to your Dad. All those wonderful memories you have. I know you will cherish them the rest of your life.

I'm so sorry for your loss. My Dad passed 16 years ago. Father's Day is always hard for me. We were both so lucky to have such special men in our lives that guided us and gave us beautiful memories for a lifetime.

Lots of hugs, Cindy

Anonymous said...

I read this again and again with increased pleasure every time. This is a wonderful piece. Thank you for writing it/

Lisa Trank-Greene said...

This piece is seminal for me in that it has given me permission to let it flow. Thanks and be well!