Saturday, July 14, 2012

Field of Nightmares

The summer after I completed sixth grade (yes, Pretty Boy, I completed sixth grade, and I resent the question) my family moved from Maryland to central Florida.  (And yes, they brought me with them.  One more question like that and I might just stop answering you.)  The move was exciting, although I was concerned about being so far away from the Orioles. One of the first things that my younger brother Kenny and I did that summer was look for a place to play ball.  Until we found a vacant field, we played catch on the lawn of the Lake Dot Motel in Orlando, where the family stayed until we moved into a rental house in Winter Park. 

By the way, the Lake Dot Motel was (and perhaps is again) a lovely peaceful oasis.  But it wasn't very peaceful when the Sukhia boys arrived with bags of firecrackers and cherry bombs.  We had finagled them from a fellow named Pedro a few days before at his establishment that he called South of the Border, by shrewdly trading for them American paper money.  If he knew that cherry bombs exploded even under water, Pedro would never have parted with them for a few gringo dollars.  Let's hope the fish population in Lake Dot has recovered from the Disaster of '62.

Getting back to baseball---as it happened, the Lutheran church our family began to attend in Winter Park had a pastor who had once been a Minor League player (in the Pirate organization, as I recall) and he conducted a baseball camp in South Carolina.  I spent two glorious weeks there---sliding pits, batting cages, individualized instruction, movies of old World Series games at night, and grits at every meal.  I think Kenny got homesick and left after the first week, or else he came up just for the second week.  For the facts, you’ll have to consult his future blog, Littler Loaves.   
That camp was the scene of one of the greatest embarrassments that a 12 year old could endure.  On the final day, when the parents came to pick up their kids, there was a father-son game. 
When my dad came to the plate for the first time, to my utter chagrin, he stood with the bat pointed down, as if he were pointing to something in the ground.  At that moment I had a shocking realization--- dad had never played baseball before.  It all became clear in an instant.  Dad had come to America from India as an engineering student in 1940; he had joined the US Army, married Mom just after the war, and since then, he’d been working.  When he wasn’t working at the Martin plant (now Lockheed Martin) he was working in his home office.  When he wasn’t doing that, he was generally shuffling around the house in his slippers turning off lights, folding and creasing paper bags to stack neatly in a cupboard, and talking to the dogs.
“We feed you, we clothe you---you don’t do any work around here, you just sit around all day.”  (Sukhia dogs and kids had a lot in common.)
What he was assuredly not doing was playing baseball.  The closest game to baseball he had ever played was obviously cricket, so when he came to the plate that fateful day, he had assumed the stance of a cricket batsman (evidently our seats at Memorial Stadium were too far from home plate for Dad to get a good view of the batters).  His four sons and one daughter, all thoroughly American, had utterly failed him.  We had neglected to teach him our national pastime.  We taught him other things:  how to live with ever diminishing expectations of his children’s achievements; how to resign himself to never owning anything his kids wouldn’t break or lose; how it was easier to mow the lawn himself than to have us do it and run over the sprinklers.  It’s not as if we didn’t teach him anything about American life, we just neglected to teach him to play baseball.
So there Dad stood, all five feet six inches of him, with his bat pointed toward the ground, as the pitcher wondered what to do next.  If the bat had been a metal detector, and there was cause to think there might be an old watch below the base path, two feet toward first, it might have been an appropriate stance, but not during a game!  I yelled to him from my position at first, “Dad, get your bat up!”  But he waved me off, as if to say, “I know what I’m doing.  This is how we do it in India.”  If there was any doubt about whose dad he was, my desperate plea had removed it.  All I could do then was hope against hope that somehow, as the ball approached, he would have time to cock his bat, swing and make contact.  But just as you would imagine, he began to draw his bat back as the ball approached, and by the time his bat swung around, the ball was secure in the catcher’s mitt.  The nightmarish swing was repeated, as if in slow motion, two more times, and Dad was out.  If I could have melted into the bag at first, I would have done so.  The only consolation was, this was the last day of camp, and I would probably never see any of these kids again.
As I look back on it now, I can’t help but smile.  Maybe this was Dad’s revenge.  “You kids are a constant embarrassment.  You don’t keep your rooms clean, you wear out your clothes, you lose my tools, you don’t take care of the dogs, you think money grows on trees, and you don’t know the first thing about Marconi and radio waves.  Well two can play at the embarrassment game.  Someday we’ll be in a father-son baseball match (It's not a match, Dad, it's a game) then you’ll know embarrassment!”
A constant embarrassment we may have been, but we never doubted Dad’s love for us.  We saw it in the sacrifices he made for his wife and children; we heard it in his laughter at our antics; we felt it in the ritual of his nightly “tucking us in” when we were small.  (I can still feel his day-old-beard scratching my face, over half a century later.)   In a way, having the assurance of my father’s love may have helped prepare the soil for the planting of the gospel message in my heart.  I heard that our heavenly Father’s holiness demanded that sin be punished---that he could not simply ignore our sin, but that His love for sinners was so great that He provided a way for us to be forgiven.  I heard that God’s Son was willing to leave the presence of His Father and take upon himself human flesh, in order to keep the law that we broke, and to pay the debt that we owed.  I heard that if I would repent of my sin---recognize it as vile, turn from it in disgust, and lay hold upon Christ by faith, transferring my trust to Him alone, I would be forgiven!  It is a message of a father’s sacrificial love and grace, and in a sense, on a much smaller scale, a scale of about five feet, six inches, I had already seen it lived out.

1 comment:

  1. Some believe it was the trauma of that day at Baseball Camp that ultimately prevented me from pursuing a career in baseball. Others believe it was the fact that I wasn't any good. Perhaps we'll never know.