As I thought about my dad, Jesse and me, I realized that the common denominator in these relationships was baseball. Though my dad and I would throw a football around and shoot baskets, my fondest memories of him occurred from playing baseball.
From the time I was 5, we would go to Riverside Park in New York and have a catch. We did this every weekend, without fail, even sometimes in the winter. He would always stand behind the only bare patch in the grass field, using it as home plate (sometimes we shoveled snow to find it). My dad died when I was 14, and 30 years later, our family went to New York City, where we were staying with a friend who lived near that park. Jesse and I brought our gloves. I took him to the same field and, amazingly, that bare patch was still there. I couldn't believe it! I stood behind it, using it as home plate and Jesse pitched. As our catch went on, I was no longer a 44-year-old man playing ball with his 8-year-old son. I was 14 again, having a catch with my Dad. It was truly an eerie feeling.
The next year, the movie "Field of Dreams" debuted and it became a huge hit. It is a great baseball movie, perhaps the best ever, and without a doubt, the best father-son flick ever. In the movie, Kevin Costner's character's dad died when he was a teenager after they had a bitter fight. Years later, he realized that his dad was one of the players on the field with all the other deceased stars. He said to him, "Dad, do you want to have a catch?" He answers, "I'd like that" and they did.
In the great book, "The Ultimate Book Of Sports Movies," written by Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow, they quote Sports Illustrated sports writer Peter King, who saidm "Every kid who grew up playing baseball at some point played catch with his father. You don't think of it as an emotional experience, but when your dad is gone, it really is. Every time I see that movie, I bawl. I can't help it!" Me too, Peter, me too.
Jesse turned out to be a very good baseball player who might have played college ball had he not decided to play lacrosse in high school. Recently, he and I went to Phillies Phantasy Camp (a great experience!) and he got the most hits of anyone during the 5-day tournament.
The better news is that Dean, my 2-year-old grandson, throws well with either arm and pounds the batting tee with his toy bat. Not the ball, just the tee, so he'll probably be a pitcher for the Phillies.
So in honor of the role baseball has played in the lives of fathers and sons, I thought I'd recount some of the best father-son combos in MLB history. There have been about 200 pairs of fathers and sons who both played in the majors.
The two best pairs were clearly Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., and Bobby and Barry Bonds. The Griffeys actually got to play together and in 1990 hit back-to-back home runs - the only time it has been done! Other pairs worthy of being listed among the best were: Cecil and Prince Fielder, Felipe and Moises Alou, Ray and Bob Boone, George and Dick Sisler, the Alomars (Sandy Sr. and Jr. and Roberto), Mel and Todd Stottlemyre, Tony and Eduardo Perez, Flash and Dee Gordon, Gus and Buddy Bell, Jose and Jose Jr Cruz.
Some duos didn't make it, because either dad or son wasn't very good, such as the Berras (Yogi and Dale), the Ripkens (Cal and Cal Jr.), the Laws (Vernon and Vance) and alas, the Gwynns (Tony and Tony Jr.).
Usually, it is pretty clear who is the better player in the father-and-son pairs. But with some cases, it is awfully close. Whom do you think was better for the Fielders, the Alous, or the Bells (Gus, a four-time All-Star, or Buddy, a five-time All-Star)? I would have loved to have heard that debate around the dinner table.
Our Phillies have had a number of players, including Gary Matthews (son Gary Jr.), Terry Francona (dad Tito), John Mayberry Jr. (dad John), Jonathan Pettibone (dad Jay), David Bell (dad Buddy), and, of course, the Amaros (Ruben Sr. and Jr.)!
So tomorrow, kids, (daughters, too), take the old man out for a catch! He will love it! And for a few seconds, he might just morph into a kid throwing to his dad!