As I writer, I know the advice: Avoid cliches. That means I shouldn’t write about fathers and baseball any more than I already do, and I certainly shouldn’t pull out the line from “Field of Dreams”: “Hey dad, wanna have a catch?” I’m going to do both, and more, because as a writer I also understand that sometimes you have to break the rules. This is one of those times.
My dad nearly died over the holidays. He went into cardiac arrest while participating in the Military Bowl parade as part of his role as the official town crier of Annapolis. Thankfully, he was walking in front of a fire truck when it happened. The firefighters used a defibrillator to get his heart beating again. There’s no debating the value of that save.
Dad was so proud of his placement in the parade lineup. Little did he know it would save his life. Fate? Divine intervention? Pure luck? Call it what you want, it kept my world intact.
I was in Tennessee at the time of dad’s cardiac arrest. We had arrived the previous day to celebrate the holidays with my wife’s family. The phone call - there’s always that phone call - arrived while I was seated at the breakfast table with my infant daughter in my lap. I nearly dropped her on the floor as I stood up and attempted to process the words: “Dad collapsed ... they took him to the hospital.” The details were sparing.
I spent the eternity between phone calls wondering and worrying. I checked Twitter for updates about the Military Bowl. Maybe someone saw what happened and could provide the hopeful update I was seeking: “Guy just collapsed at the parade. Looks like he’ll be OK.” Were Dad a football player, I would have been looking for the thumbs up as he was carted off the field on a stretcher. No such luck.
The most common concerns expressed on Twitter related to heavy traffic and the parade running late.
“Hey fans! The parade was delayed due to a medical emergency but is back up and moving and should reach the stadium any minute now #mbgameday,” read a Military Bowl Tweet.
That medical emergency - my personal crisis - registered simply as an inconvenience for everyone else. Intellectually, I understood why that was the case. Emotionally, I seethed at the normalcy of everyone else’s day. Hopefully, the experience will help me develop greater compassion for other people’s unseen struggles.
I gave up on Twitter and packed my suitcase in case I had to fly to Maryland. Before zipping it up, I reached in and grabbed my Orioles hat. I had planned to wear a Rutgers hat, what with my alma mater having won its bowl game the day before. The O’s hat now seemed more appropriate, even if it were to recognize a loss. It would serve as a nod - a tip of the cap, if you will - to dad and all the time he spent with me at the ballpark and beyond. A farewell gesture, perhaps.
The second call arrived. I would be flying home.
I thought dad was going to die. My gut told me this was the moment I had feared since my mother died more than 25 years ago. As I boarded my flight, I catalogued my potential regrets.
“Did I call him enough?”
Yes, I made it a regular part of my morning routine ever since my brother-in-law lost his dad in July.
“Did I tell him I loved him?”
Every time we talked.
On it went.
My thoughts then turned to missed opportunities. Most were in the future, lamentations about dad not being present for my children’s milestones and life events. Then I started thinking about a most peculiar thing: the Father’s Day “Catch on the Field” at Camden Yards.
The Orioles started the Father’s Day promotion in 2013. They repeated it in 2014 and added more sessions. I loved the idea, yet I never asked, “Hey dad, wanna have a catch?”
I conjured up the usual excuses for not taking advantage of a good opportunity in year one - I should save the money, the travel is too much, I’ll do it next year.
Next year came and indecision got in the way. Should dad and I have a catch? Should I have a catch with my own son instead? Should dad have a catch with his grandson? Stuck in the middle, I settled once more on, “I’ll do it next year.”
Suddenly, next year wasn’t a given.
For several days I sat bedside with my dad in a medically induced coma. I held his hand and prayed. I said the Irish Blessing that he uses to end his historical tours of Annapolis, starting strong with “May the road rise up to meet you” but struggling to get the words out by the time I reached “Until we meet again.” Finally, I bargained - not with God, but rather with dad.
“If you make it back, we’ll have that Father’s Day Catch on the Field.”
After weeks of uncertainty I found myself sitting on a couch at the hospital and watching my dad, now awake, be fed with a spoon. Immediately in front of me, my wife fed my daughter in the same fashion. Once more I found myself stuck in the middle. I got lost in thought and struggled to find my bearings between the adult I was now supposed to be - a dad myself - and the child I so desperately wanted to be.
It’s difficult to reclaim pieces of your lost innocence in a hospital room; that’s what ballparks are for. As the old Camden Yards song said, “I feel like a kid again when I am at the Yard.”
This is the part of the story where I return to the cliches. Call your dad. Tell him you love him. Find reasons to be with him rather than excuses why you can’t. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Things become cliche through repetition. Sometimes they are repeated so frequently because they are true.
My dad survived. He held up his end of the bargain. Unfortunately, I won’t be holding up mine, not yet, at least. The Orioles are on the road for Father’s Day this year. Nevertheless, I plan to go to the ballpark with my dad this season. It will provide me with a chance to revel in the times we once had, and the time we still do.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.