My father would have turned 80 today, but Stage 4 esophageal cancer took him away from his family and friends in January 2019, leaving us heartbroken that he’s gone but also relieved that he didn’t suffer.
The sentence is harder to type than I imagined. I had to pause in the middle of it.
We wouldn’t have been able to talk baseball this year, at least in the traditional sense. Every conversation over the phone included a mention of the Orioles. Same with every visit, which on a few occasions had to be put on hold because the club did something newsworthy.
I mention the following only because it reminds me of my dad.
I received a tip that a minor leaguer had joined the team on a road trip. A roster move was coming. It might have been immediately after the All-Star break. That part of the memory is fuzzy.
I got confirmation and delivered the news on Twitter and later in a blog entry. I glanced to my right, where my father sat in his recliner, and saw the look of pride on his face.
He said something to further convey it. Something along the lines of, “All right! Very good!” Meanwhile, it really wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t burn away the hours waiting for my Pulitzer. But it was pretty cool that he got to witness a process that usually happens while I’m alone at home or at the ballpark. Far from his gaze.
Where would the sports conversation have taken us in 2020?
The NFL schedule was released yesterday, which would have led us into a discussion on the Ravens. My mother would have vented about its degree of difficulty. The world is out to get the Ravens.
We would have made a couple of Earl Thomas jokes. Sorry, but it’s true.
The cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments would have us agreeing that the Maryland men were spared the embarrassment of a second-round ouster - if they made it that far - and the women’s team was denied a legitimate shot at the championship.
What about the Orioles?
We would have scoffed at some of the suggested ideas to start the season. The absurdity of playing games in only one or two states and at spring training complexes while trying to pass it off as legitimate major league competition.
We would have debated super-agent Scott Boras’ published demands that spring camps reopen in order to allow players to begin ramping back up. Not much of a debate, though. We would have agreed that it’s flawed as long as health officials remain concerned about the virus. And can you really ramp up without a firm start date to the season?
Hurry up and wait.
We would have critiqued Brandon Hyde’s first season as manager and Mike Elias’ first as the man in charge of a rebuild. I would have stated, with my dad in agreement, that the team seems to be pointed in the right direction in terms of its commitment to the international market and the use of analytics. We also would have noted the number of detractors who are bitter about the firings and concerned about the growing reliance on video over a scout’s eyes and instincts.
We would have talked about Chris Davis. Whether he could have carried the momentum from spring training into the season or head toward another Crush crash. And agreed that he shouldn’t be judged as a person based on his stats.
We would have replayed those final days in camp. How news of the shutdown came to us and the confusion that ensued. Do we stay or do we go back home?
We would have suggested that Trevor Plouffe leave the reporting to the experts. And then wondered if he actually hit the bullseye.
We would have talked about Trey Mancini’s recovery from colon cancer surgery and the positive attitude that increases the odds of him being in right field on opening day 2021. And how news of Mancini’s surgery came to us on the same day of the shutdown, making it one of the most bizarre and unsettling days in club history.
We would have talked about top prospect Adley Rutschman and how the shutdown was disrupting the timeline for his major league debut. And my dad would have mispronounced the name. He had a knack.
He would have asked whether I’ve heard from Buck Showalter.
We would have talked about my expanded role on MASN that’s been placed on hold. And joked about “Rochy’s mother” saying that everything I did on the air was perfection. Certainly worth recording for multiple viewings.
Maybe between episodes or during commercial breaks in the Wednesday night Chicago television trilogy.
We would have talked about the pending arrival of his third great-grandchild in September, and he’d tease me about being a grandfather. He would have pretended that he wasn’t stressed out because it was more important to keep everyone else calm.
He would have checked again on my wedding plans in 2021 and offered “suggestions” to Emily. And asked again if she couldn’t find a better offer. He also would have wondered if I was part of her charitable work.
He would have warned me later to be careful driving home because “the cops are everywhere,” as if I had innocently chosen a bad weekend to travel. Apparently, they were all bad.
A rainy day would have brought another warning. Wet leaves are like ice. It became a running joke with my friends after we got our licenses.
Bless his heart.
I’m going to try really hard today to stay upbeat. To not shed tears. My dad never wanted us to fuss over him. He’d become uncomfortable opening gifts on the holidays, preferring to sit back and watch us - and gather the wrapping paper to stuff in a plastic trash bag.
I’ll remember the humorous moments. The advice he dispensed, like how I should never send a joke Valentine’s card.
While dating my mother, he gave her a card that read “It must be love” on the front and “it can’t be looks or money” on the back.
She still married him.
I still purchase a romantic card.
I’ll reflect on our conversations and how his hugs became tighter and lasted longer as he grew older. Until his diagnosis five months before he passed. He’d let go after a few seconds, as if scared that he might lose control of his emotions.
Another sentence that was hard to type.
OK, maybe there will be a few tears. But also plenty of smiles.
Because cancer took away the man and our sports talk, but it couldn’t touch the memories.