A son's conversation to keep close on Christmas

I wake up to my third Christmas morning without my father, who fought esophageal cancer until he decided, on his own terms, that he was done.

The entire family gathered in Ocean Pines to be with him in late December 2018, the only time we've done that. He didn't say much as we exchanged gifts. He just sat in his recliner, watching our faces, taking it all in. We knew why.

Three weeks later, he was gone.

We still talk, and sometimes the exchanges feel like they're coming from one of my mailbags. They're always therapeutic for me.

I jotted down some notes from our most recent conversation.

What's happening with the lockout?
Hello to you, too, Dad.

Hi. What's happening with the lockout?
I'm not working that beat and you probably know as much as I do, though you're not on Twitter. As you always said, your mother didn't raise any dumb kids. There doesn't appear to be much, if any, progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement. I wasn't expecting one before the holidays. That way, I can't be disappointed or discouraged.

When are you expecting one? Best guess.
Late January, early February. And this is based on absolutely nothing. I'm just making an assumption.

Are you going to spring training?
I haven't been told. However it plays out, I'd be shocked if the media is allowed inside the clubhouse. It feels like we're moving backward again.

I want you safe.
I know.

How's Brandon?
I haven't heard from Hyde in a while. I try to leave him alone in the offseason unless it's really important. I appreciate his patience with the media. Can't be easy, especially on Zoom calls, to field so many of the same questions. And to talk while also biting his tongue. I'll say again that he's the right man for the rebuild. They play hard for him.

Would he also keep going for two instead of taking his chances in overtime?
I see what you did there.

Roch-With-Dad-Sidebar.jpgHow much longer before they start winning again?
The Orioles or Ravens? Still no timetable on the O's. I keep checking. But 2022 should be more fun with some of the top prospects playing this summer. Adley Rutschman behind the plate, Kyle Stowers in the outfield, maybe Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith on the mound.

All at the same time?
That's my joke.

Does Rutschman make the team out of spring training?
I'm not expecting it, but I don't know whether a new CBA changes the service time rules. I also don't know whether it matters. Rutschman has played one full season of minor league baseball. I don't know whether it matters.

I loved watching Trey Mancini play. Cancer couldn't take him down. I respect that.
I knew you'd appreciate how he's such a fighter. Takes one to know one.

Are they going to trade him?
If there's an offer that Mike Elias can't refuse. That's the only way it happens. He'll keep listening on anyone. But if you're wondering whether my early mock opening day lineup includes Mancini, yes, he's in it.

You think Cedric Mullins can be just as good in 2022?
He's raised the bar, for sure. I hope his season won't be deemed a failure if he falls short of the 30/30 mark. Or if he doesn't join the 40/40 club. The expectations could get out of hand. But I don't think 2021 was a fluke.

How are your mailbags conversational?
You too, Dad?

I was surprised by the Jordan Lyles signing.
Yeah, same. Didn't think there would be any more major league business until after the lockout. And didn't think they'd spend $7 million. By the way, it isn't really a signing yet. Just an agreement. He still has to pass a physical and put his signature on a contract.

I'm sure you want me to ask about Odor because you loved how I always butchered names.
ROOG-ned oh-DORE. And yes, he's expected to be the starting second baseman. He's got power and a name you'll never get right.

Is Kevin Gutiérrez the starting third baseman?
You mean Kelvin.

I just did that for your amusement.
Sure you did. Anyway, he could start or not even make the team. If they sign another veteran, like Maikel Franco last spring, Gutiérrez is in trouble. He doesn't really profile as a utility player and he's out of options. I wouldn't classify him as a lock.

Are you going to keep spoiling that granddaughter of yours? Chasing after her instead of telling her "no?"
I remember when I told your granddaughter "no" at our Severn house when she was just beginning to walk and you said, "Leave her alone. She's fine."

Sounds vaguely familiar. And now she had her own baby girl, conceived exactly one year after I passed away. Coincidence?
We don't think so.

I know more than you realize. Like how you think of me every time you play Pearl Jam's "Release." That's their name, right? I'm more of a Seger and Petty guy. And how you're trying to learn more about analytics on the fly. And how Pedro Severino should have blocked that ball on the strikeout that cost John Means a perfect game. And how I could outrun Franco right now.
Just be sure to stretch first.

Very funny. Anyway, I better go. My friends here keep asking what I've heard about the Orioles. You're my source.
Next time, I promise to come up with better answers.

We'll talk again soon. Be good. Stay out of trouble. Kiss everyone for me and have a Merry Christmas. I love you.
I love you, too. I really miss you, Dad. Every day. It's still so unfair. I wish you could have spent the night in our new house. Hugged Emily at our wedding. She framed a photo of you for our reception, with a white rose placed in front of it. That was her idea. I wish you could hold our granddaughter. Just once. She'd melt your heart.

I'm watching over them, too.
I know.

Taking a quizzical look at Orioles
O's could pursue more free agent pitching

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