The Generational Joy of Baseball

This will be my first Texas Rangers World Series without my Dad. As I wrote the other day, I got so much of the joy/heartbreak of baseball from my Father. If I am honest, I put my baseball addiction away for months at a time. Sometimes it just gets to be too much. I only write about it in times like this.

I’ve thought of my Father often this week (in addition to the World Series, it’s also Dad’s birthday week) and at least twice I’ve cried for the memories.
I really wish he was here for this.

We went to so many games at Arlington Stadium, and later at the “The Temple.” In those early years, I wore the shirt in this vacation picture —the one with the OG Texas Rangers logo— until it wore out.

My sister, Dianne has sent me a new version of that shirt this week, and I’ll wear it with pride tonight…maybe every game this week.

So many baseball memories with Dad. As I wrote the other day, I really did cry a few years back, as Dennise, Maria, and I exited The Ballpark one final time, at conclusion of that final night home game. See how they’re smiling here? See how I’m not, really?

Those tears were clearly at the loss of the physical connection of that beautiful place, my Father, and me. It was overwhelming moment, and it can still make me emotional, writing about it now.

And that’s where this week’s tears came from…the sadness that Dad’s not here to, hopefully, finally see his Texas Rangers overcome the physics of the baseball universe, win their first World Series, and banish their curse forever.

Baseball was a safe thing for Dad and me. One of the only safe things.

Safe from Dad’s far-too-copious and often oppressive life advice…
Safe from his enraging, hyperlogial way of argumentation; that could simultaneously be completely right, and emotionally wrong, and tone deaf of its effect on his family…
Safe from the vast sea in between our later political or social views…

Baseball was always SAFE.
Baseball was just pure JOY, and common shared experience, from my very earliest memories to the end of my Father’s life.

And a thought comes to me this week— so it was for he and his Father too.

My Dad and his Father, “Frankie,” were Cincinnati Reds fans. Dad grew up on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, and had generations of memories of the Reds, which he also passed on to me, the way I’ve now passed on Rangers memories to Maria.

Dad, Frankie, and Me.

For example, our family’s TV broke in late 1974, and our family lived without one for months. But as the Reds made the 1975 playoffs, Dad finally broke down and bought a new color set. One of the first things we watched on it was the glory of the 1975 World Series, the greatest series of all time. (fight me)

As I’ve previously written, Dad took me to Reds games during “The Big Red Machine” era. As you see here, we’d park on the Kentucky side, and walk across the Roebling Bridge to see those games. (Thanks to Tim Wood for the reminder that this bridge is a twin to the Brooklyn Bridge. I didn’t know that at the time, but I remember in the moment sensing the HISTORY I felt it must represent…)

Strangely, I don’t have a single surviving picture of me and Dad at the dozens and dozens of Rangers games we saw over decades. But I *do* have this BW pic of us outside Riverfront in Cincy. Go figure…

“Frankie” Folkerth was front desk staff at one of the most inconic old downtown Cincinnati hotels. It just so happened to be a hotel where many visiting teams stayed back in the day. As such, Frankie met almost all of the great National League stars of the 1950s. Carried bags for some of them.These visiting players would often have no local friends to give their ticket allotments too. So, very often, they would give them to Frankie. But because Frankie was often on the clock (working class, service industry guy) he often couldn’t get free for the games.

So, Frankie would give them to my Dad, and Dad and his friends would go. Dad had a line drawing of the old Crosley Field, the ballpark of that era, that he kept on his wall for most of his life. It’s one of the only possessions of his I’ve kept. Crosley was torn down years before I was born, but I’m looking up at on my wall right now.

And here’s the generational truth: Frankie died in 1972…just before the glory years of the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine.”
Frankie never got to see any of that glory, just as my Dad isn’t here for his Rangers this year.

I am thinking about this alot today.
As is the way of fathers and sons, Frankie and Dad also generationally clashed.

Frankie was a New Deal Democrat.
Dad became an Eisenhower/Goldwater Republican.

Frankie thought Dad should have been a lawyer.
Dad was 100% sure I should have been a business major.

As with us, apparently Frankie and Dad had epic arguments, back in the day. And when my Dad moved to here Dallas for his college internship, and never looked back, it wasn’t just because of his oft-repeated line that “the weather is better.”

But Dad loved Frankie.
I know that.
Just as I loved Dad.
Baseball was their “safe” thing too.

And so, here I am today with generations of memories. Memories of my own life, of my Father’s, of the great players of baseball’s past and present; and that unique way the sport connects some of us to our own personal histories.

WP Kinsella was exactly right when he framed it in the novel “Shoeless Joe”:
“I don’t have to tell you that the one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been erased like a blackboard, only to be rebuilt and then erased again. But baseball has marked time while America has rolled by like a procession of steamrollers.”

We really DO steamroll our past…our ballparks, and our entire childhood neighborhoods. Our cities themselves desperately elevate “the new,” and tear down the old. But baseball helps us keep the score…not just of the game, but of our lives. Despite the social unrest and unrelenting change of every age, baseball keeps creating new heroes and stories in every age too. And just as surely as Fathers and Sons will always clash, they keep finding their “safe thing” in baseball’s constancy.

Just look how happy I am, in this picture outside of Riverfront! That’s not just because we’re about to experience the epic greatness of The Big Red Machine, but it’s also because of how this moment is being written down forever, deep into the box scorecard of my own personal history, as a joy I can call back, even now.

And here’s the question I’m left with…
As Dad shot this picture of me then, was he also remembering Frankie, as I am remembering him now?
A Father who never saw the glory of the Big Red Machine and Riverfront, just as I remember one who never knew Globe Life Field?

Has to be.
And in this, I find a deep, deep generational joy.

If the Rangers finally break the laws of the baseball universe this next week, everyone I know will have their own personal reasons for their current day joy.

Mine will be this…. they will have finally done brought it home for my Dad.


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