Playing Catch with My Dad – Brandon Belt
Brandon Crawford and I decided to write posts about our earliest baseball memories.
In my earliest memory of baseball I’m no older than three. I know this because we moved to Nacogdoches when I was three, and in this memory we’re still at the house in Oakwood, Texas. I don’t remember specifics about the town but my parents tell the story of visiting a neighbor’s house and suddenly realizing that nobody has seen my little brother, who wasn’t even two years old yet. He went missing for about three hours. He finally was spotted down at the railroad tracks watching the trains go by. He apparently had heard a train and followed the sound.
“We just lost track of him,’’ my mom says when she tells the tale.
My brother and I still kid them about being the worst parents in the world.
Anyway, in my earliest memory I’m playing catch with my dad in the back yard. The yard is huge and covered with tall prickly-burr weeds called stickers. I have a little glove and we’re using a plastic ball.
I know that playing catch with your dad is sort of a “Field of Dreams’’ moment when a father passes his love of baseball on to his son. Except my dad didn’t like baseball. He was a high school football coach. He still is. He didn’t play baseball. He didn’t watch baseball on TV.
But for whatever reason, I’ve loved baseball for as far back as I can remember. When I was five years old and I wanted to play T-ball, my dad said I should wait because I’d get burned out. I think he just didn’t want to sit through the interminable games, to be honest.
But he never stopped playing catch with me.
Well, he stopped when I was about 13. I could throw the crap out of the ball, but I wasn’t too accurate. He started getting mad at me for throwing too hard and for throwing too many baseballs past him and into the woods behind our house. I imagine there’s still a whole stash of baseballs back there. Even though he wasn’t crazy about baseball, he came to all the games he could and was my biggest supporter along with my mom.
I really don’t know why I connected with baseball. Maybe it was because I was better at it than most of the other kids I knew. Maybe it was because it’s a summer game and I loved being outside during the summer. I played football, too, of course. There’s no getting around that when you grow up in Texas and your father’s a football coach. I played quarterback for a while.
But I loved baseball. Nothing could pull me away, not even breaking my finger during my very first season. I was eight years old and playing shortstop. A line drive hit my left index finger.
When I looked down, the bone was sticking out of the skin. It was disgusting. By coincidence, the surgeon who repaired it was the father of the kid who hit the line drive.
I wonder if all sports are like baseball in that you fall in love with them for no obvious reason. I’m still excited to get to the park every day. Maybe it sounds stupid, but I love the feel of the ball in my hand. I love throwing it. Someone recently showed me this great quote from a writer named Roger Angell.
“Any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man’s hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose; it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance — thrown hard and with precision.’’
That’s exactly what I think. I’m glad someone put it into words.