The Final Lesson of Baseball

It is not an exaggeration to say that I wept openly last night.

It is not an exaggeration to say that as Dennise, Maria, and I leapt from our chairs, into the middle of the room —all in mutual tears, falling into a jumping bear hug— I clumsily and excitedly grabbed them so tight, it smashed their heads together like something out of the Three Stooges.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this morning, I awoke and assumed it was all some cruel dream, or post-Halloween prank.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I cried a few more tears just now, when I realized it was not.

It is not an exaggeration to say that, just like me, the first post for dozens of my social media friends were to remember their Fathers and Grandfathers, Mothers and Grandmothers…to poignantly recall those loved ones, like mine, who died somewhere in these last 62 parched years, and did not live to see this day.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I read those posts and weep all over again.

It is not an exaggeration to say that, as I tried to convey through all my writing this week, NONE OF US thought this was possible…and yet it is. Eric Nadel on the Rangers’ Network understood spoke for us all when, in his actual final call of the game, he said:

“Ranger fans, you’re not dreaming…the Rangers are the World Series Champions.”

It is not an exaggeration to say to say that I will read all these sentences a few more times before they truly sink in.

And finally, one more “it is not an exaggeration” before a few parting thoughts today….

It is not an exaggeration to say that I do not have a single picture of my Father and me at a Texas Rangers game.

Maybe this doesn’t strike you as odd, until you realize that my Father took perhaps a billion and a half photographs throughout his life. Photography was my Dad’s true passion. More than a hobby. He won prizes for his pictures several times, including at the State Fair. His family picture sessions —we never used a “professional” photographer— for various holiday pictures, were/are the stories of legends in our family.

Dad took landscape photos.
Dad too hundred of pictures, even in high school, of the students at “Dixie High School” in Covington, Kentucky.
Dad took copious pics of all his kids at their sporting events, vacations, our Lakehouse, Kentucky, East Texas, birthday parties…everywhere we ever went.
He took those pictures of his three squigly young kids, who never quite wanted to sit still as long as needed to get the shot.

But, Dad apparently never took his camera to baseball games with me, or with anybody else for that matter. So, not only did he not take pics of me, or himself, this means he didn’t take any pictures of the Rangers’ warming up on the field, or “action shots” during a game….or of players lounging in the dugouts. As I posted earlier this week, I saved ticket stubs for dozens and dozens of games, but there is not one single bit of photographic evidence that we ever saw a Rangers game together.

This, friends, didn’t dawn on me until sometime this week when I went looking for them. As you might imagine, I thought some pictures of me a Dad at some games would be beautiful for these World Series Week posts. And so, I watched with some envy last night when I saw dozens of friends posting picture with they and their now-gone parents, because that was exactly the kind of picture I’d also assumed I must have…somewhere…

But the ONLY picture that gets anywhere close is one he took with MY camera –one I did I post earlier this week– of me standing with Riverfront Stadium in the background. And that pic, I am quite confident, was taken with my little black and white Instamatic.

Therfore, the picture I *did* post last night–just after the Rangers’ first World Series Champtionship–was of me and Dad on a campout, not at a ballgame.

This lack of a ballpark picture truly, deeply puzzles me given –and this doesn’t feel like an exaggeration– the billion and a half pictures my Father took over the span of his life.
A few possible reasons come to me…

First, Dad’s camera set up was clumsy and big. He didn’t shoot on a little puny instamatic. Dad had a big rig, a big lens, a big tripod, and as my sister Dianne noted with her eagle eye: a light meter always hung around his neck.

Dad FIDDLED with his camera. Figuring out the F-stop on each shot was just another of life’s many engineering problems. This is what made those family photoshoots so maddening. The tension went up, not just because fidgety jumping little kids, but also because of the fidgety fiddling of their Father.

And I distinctly have a memory of the huge irony of all that fidgeting: That even as Dad was working to capture and image that would permanently capture some moment, Dad was actually not IN that moment. His attention, his thoughts, his concentration…was only half-present in what was happening.

My friend, David LaMotte actually wrote a song about this very phenomenon years ago:

“She’s living in his lens cap
He’s studying her light
Trying to find a still frame
Of the gracefulness of flight
Shooting up the pictures
Like a needle in his arm
Burning down the world around him
For a shot of something warm”

This was the very paradox that always struck me about Dad and his passion for photography.

He was “there” for every moment…but never fully “there.”
As he did with much of life, Dad’s thoughts were divided, as he tried to engineer each photo.

Psychologists have a term known as “spectatoring,” where a person really isn’t present in the present moment, but their thoughts and attention are pulled away. As you might imagine, this has become endemic in our time, thought the immediate distractions of phones and social media…always tempting us to be somewhere….anywhere…else.

Even baseball itself is trying to speed things up to hold our frail and ever shortening attention spans.

But all this leads me to a tender, final thought that Dennise helped me see last night:

Maybe Dad chose to NOT take his camera, not only because the rig was big; but because —there at a baseball game— Dad was making the choice to…

I had not considered this until late last night.
But it feels lovely, and possibly deeply true.

At the ballpark, Dad was too busy to fiddle with a camera. Instead, he allowed the slow pace of the game to take him away.
I absolutely remember how this was true.

He forgot about his work for a while…all that over-engineering in his mind; which was always racing, always on, always “thinking.”

At the ballpark, Dad would crack open a bag of peanuts, order a beer, pull out the scorecard, and all other “time” and “place” would cease, as he spent hours “totally in the moment.”

Buddhist would call this: “Be here now.”
Christian mystics call it spritual attentiveness.
There’s an entire contemporary moved of “Mindfulness,” that, it seems to me, tries to get at much the same thing.

So, no, I it is not an exaggeration to say I have no pictures of my Dad and me at any baseball game anywhere….even as baseball became one of the greatest and more enduring connection points between the two of us…a connection so dear that it makes me cry last night and today.

Therefore, despite all the many pictures I have posted this week, all the trips down memory lane, there are no pictures with this post today.
Just beautiful memories; far more than I have had time to write here for you this week.

And Luke’s Gospel says of Mary, I will simply “ponder these things in my heart.”

Today, I’m soaking it in, sitting with sixty-one-years the memories of this beautiful sport from the sixty-one years of my life…. and how one of its clear lessons is the need to pull away from our the endless thinking and fidgeting with life.

We practice it in baseball, so hopefully we remember to do it in life.

That just might be the last, most important lesson, my Dad taught me about baseball.

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