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Handing down Heritage: Growing up with baseball

Created date

March 30th, 2009

By Gerry Fey

As a sports fan, this is my favorite time of year.

I know that sounds strange, since oftentimes snow still covers the ground, especially where I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Sure, it s still chilly, but there is a hint of coming warmth in the air. As famous Cardinals announcer Jack Buck said: Then baseball, like the rose beneath the April snow, will force its way to the front again, and we ll have the fever once more.

Baseball has and forever will be my dad s first love after my mom, of course (although it s probably a closer call than my mom would like). He taught my two brothers and me how to keep score, how to lay down a sacrifice bunt, and the proper way to hook slide into a base.

Values and traditions were always slipped in with knowledge of the game. I remember going to one of my first College World Series games and my dad saying, Watch these guys. Watch how they sprint out to their positions from the dugout. That s the way you re supposed to do it. It s amazing how small, seemingly insignificant, moments have such staying power in a young child s consciousness.

Life through baseball

A moment to talk about why the right fielder backs up a play at first base was a time to remind me about teamwork, paying attention, and never assuming anything. I quickly learned that these weren t strictly lessons on the baseball field. It was how you talk about life through baseball.

The game of baseball itself is a lesson in how to handle failure and losing. The game s greatest hitters fail to hit safely two-thirds of the time. How a person deals with these disappointments teaches discipline, hard work, patience, and perseverance.

The extra effort

Throughout my little league days, my dad was my coach. I look back on those days fondly, and I still carry with me many of the lessons I learned from him on the baseball field.

He told the story of how he was the smallest player on the team in the Army but hit the most home runs. I was pretty short growing up, and I learned early on that making the extra effort was going to be my key to success, whether it was on the baseball field, being a student, being a father, or doing well in a job.

There were also not great days that I look back on too. When my father criticized me in front of the team for not hustling, I sulked afterward in the car. I told him how unfair it was because a bunch of the other players didn t hustle at all.

I think I told you guys up front, my dad said, that I m going to be harder on you than I am the rest of the players because I don t want anybody to think that I m letting you slough off just because you re my kid. Once you understand the reasons, then I guess it s a little easier to swallow, but maybe not at the time.

Love of the game

More than the coach-player relationship, it is the love of the game that bonds us together. Sure, there s plenty of talk about the Minnesota Twins, our favorite team. But more often it s about the game itself. We discuss what a pitcher should do against a certain batter or what a fielder should have done in a certain situation. Watching a game with my dad is still one of my favorite things to do in the world.

I have a five-year-old son, and I want to pass along that love of baseball to him as my dad did and his dad did with him. We ve gone to games together, and the pride I have watching him enjoying the game is almost overwhelming at times.

Our world has changed a lot since when my dad was growing up, but the bond between father and son stands the test of time. For me, the backdrop for that relationship was baseball, and I will always be grateful for those moments and the game itself.

Gerry.Fey@erickson.com

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