It's the play-offs and at this time of year I always find myself wishing I could watch a game on TV with my Dad. He loved baseball and because he was my hero, I loved it too.
In his later years, Dad suffered from Alzheimer's Disease. Sometimes when I went to visit him, he would be really happy and when I asked why, he would grin and say,
"We're gonna play ball today."
I knew then that he had gone back in his memory to happy summer days when the grass was green and it never rained til the game was over. It was a nice break for him to be able to escape the problems of an aging body and a mind that often betrayed him.
He was born in 1916, the youngest of eight kids. They lived on a farm and were poor, so poor that he and his brothers had to share a pair of skates. He was the youngest so he got them last. By then his feet were frozen, but he didn't care.
Those kids had a lot of fun. In the winter they played hockey ( with or without skates ) and "jam pail" curling . They used an old jam pail full of frozen water as a rock. In the summer, it was baseball. And that was Dad's favourite.
When he grew up he played on a pretty good team in a small prairie town. He loved his baseball caps and wore one almost all the time, sometimes even in the house, to my mother's chagrin.
When he got too old to play he worked as an umpire. I would watch him with wonder as he was getting ready to go ump a game . He wore a big spongy chest protector, grey pants, a navy shirt and of course, a cap. He also had a really cool counter that he kept in his pocket and clicked to keep track of the balls, strikes and outs. I wasn't sure what an ump did but I was convinced it was very important.
One day I sat down to watch a game on tv with him, happy just to be around him. I watched the ump behind the plate and figured out what he was there for. Suddenly, the umpire made a call that the hometown fans didn't like and they started yelling, booing and calling him names. I was horrified.
"Dad!" I said, "do people ever do that to you?"
"Sometimes," he said.
" Does it make you feel bad?" I asked.
"Nope" he replied. "I just call 'em as I see 'em and I dont worry about what other people might say. If I do what I think is right I have nothing to feel bad about."
I filed that away in my mind and thought about it many times over the years. I finally came to the conclusion that my Dad's umpiring philosophy provided pretty good words to live by.
He's been gone for fifteen years now. I still love baseball and sometimes when I'm at a game I catch a glimpse of an older man, with white hair, a shabby old sweater and a ball cap. For a brief moment I think it's him. I feel sad for a bit but then I just have to smile.
I don't know if there is a heaven, but if there is, I hope there are baseball caps, jam pails and enough skates for everyone.