Managers of a Lifetime
Major League Baseball began handing out the AL and NL Manager of the Year Award in 1983. From Lasorda to LaRussa, Sparky to Dusty, Whitey to Zimmer – the best on the bench have been recognized for their contributions over a single season. 2 years before MLB started this tradition, 2 managers started their careers on exactly the same day – my parents. With both of them turning 60 in a span of 10 days – Dad last Thursday, Mom on Saturday – and with their 35th wedding anniversary on the same day Heath Bell turns 32 and Ken Macha reaches 59 – it’s time that these two managers of my life picked up their award.
I could read a box score before Cat in the Hat. I learned how to dribble a basketball before my ABC’s – ok, that’s an exaggeration – but the point is, my parents let me follow my passion from day 1. Grades always came first – as did please and thank you, and Mr. and Mrs. – which all led to me never doubting my parents judgment and decision making as I witnessed first-hand how they treated others and how others treated them in return. To say I’m fortunate would be like saying Albert Pujols is a decent ballplayer – it’s an extreme understatement. Since this is blog is hosted in the MLBlogs community – let me take you to the little league fields, the basketball court, the hockey rink, and to Thanksgiving Day football field.
I’ll start at Old York Road Hockey Rink because that’s the quickest story of them all. I was 5, my brother Max was 8 – and it was time for our first ice skating lesson. 45 seconds into the lesson, I determined this would be my last and that was that. My feet were freezing. We weren’t moving yet, but I didn’t care to stand on the ice anymore. All I wanted to do was go home and take off the 6 pairs of sox I was wearing. It was a fight my parents were not going to win. Of course I should have listened as they suggested that I stay, but my mind was made up. I regret that decision to this day as I didn’t put on skates again until last winter in Central Park. They were right – “once you get moving, you’ll be fine.”
Starting in 2nd grade, my dad on the bench coaching my basketball team. He was on the bench for 5 of the 6 championships (1st title came in 1st grade playing for the Bucks – didn’t miss a foul shot all year, and even jumped center once) – including a 3-peat. I was always in the backcourt with my best friend growing up with his dad next to mine as the coaches. My mom never missed a game or a moment to cheer. There was never a doubt whose voice was above the rest when our team scored a basket, blocked a shot or won a game – but Mom also cheered for the other team when one of my friends contributed. I used to wonder why she clapped for an opponents’ success, but I came to understand that despite it being a competition, it was all just a game in the end, and as much as she wanted my team to win, she never wanted to see someone that upset over a loss, and neither did I. Neither one of them ever raised their voice at me during the game – but my dad and I did both get technical fouls on the same play during high school. I went to the basket when my defender stuck his knee out to try to force me to lose my balance – he didn’t – I scored and called out “get him off me!” after the whistle blew for the And-1 situation. Another whistle quickly followed with the ref giving me a T and Dad popped off the bench, his chair hit the floor, and without swearing at the official, he made it clear that the official better get his act together before someone gets hurt. That’s when I somehow heard the third whistle over my mom not yelling, but just raising her voice enough so that the man in stripes understood what he was in for. They always had my back, and still do.
Thanksgiving day football game at Rydal Elementary School in 1999 produced a short, but classic story. After counting 5-Mississippi, I rushed the passer and his left elbow came through and hit me square in the front teeth. If Mom found out anything happened to her baby, that would likely mean no turkey for dad. And holding out the turkey on Dad isn’t a smart idea. My front right tooth was slightly chipped in the middle and a doctor suggested that when we get home to take a nail file and smooth it out – and that’s just what we did. Mom was walking the dog when we got home, so we hustled upstairs, got her nail file, stood in my bedroom and dad filed my tooth. Problem solved. Well, until right now when my mother reads this.
I started going to my Dad’s softball games when I was 3. At the time he wore the number 4 – but not for very long. He played in a modified fastpitch league with a doubleheader every Sunday morning and still plays once a week wearing the number 29 for their wedding date. The games were a family outing. Mom was always willing to have a catch while Dad took batting practice – and of course Mom had snacks for the entire team of grown adults. Those guys were my Sunday family and now, just like Dad, I pitch in the same type of doubleheader league every Sunday in New York. Aside from those games – we spent lots of time down at Veterans Stadium – especially on fireworks nights in July. My father grew up in Pittsburgh – a lifelong Pirates fan who was at Forbes Field for Bill Mazeroski’s World Series winning home run in 1960 and who has the physical box number hanging at home from his seats at the stadium. Some of the first stories I remember him telling me were those of Roberto Clemente – the ballplayer and the man. Mom finds it incredible that Dad remembers details from the 1959 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, but not what she wore yesterday – but I understand. My parents never pushed me towards playing baseball, or any sport, but always supported me when I showed the interest. Mom would put on her glove after dinner and roll me grounders in the yard with the bug zapper working overtime – and although she used to say “I know I’m not as fun to do this with as your father” – I never saw it that way.
My parents deserve the manager of the year award every season – all 4 seasons – and for many more seasons to come. Happy Birthday.
“Men are respectable only as they respect” – Ralph Waldo Emerson