Saturday, June 20, 2015

How Great Has This Ride Been, Dad?

My father has taught me a lot of useful things. He taught me that you need to take care of your elderly neighbors. He showed me that an outdoor shower is really the only option during the summertime. He explained to me why Rockaway Beach is the nicest beach in the world. Like many fathers before him, he taught me that nothing good happens after midnight. (I've rarely heeded that advice, but it's true nonetheless.) Dad taught me how to sign my name. Later in life, my dad also showed me how to sneak beers into Beacon Theater. (Hint: Wear long cotton socks.) He taught me that sick days are for the weak, wine is for the women, and pizza is for Lenten Fridays. And on and on and on.

My father also taught me a lot of things about sports. Dad taught me that Allan Houston was the worst signing in the history of the NBA. He taught me to always look for groups of three to scalp a ticket from, because their fourth buddy had probably flaked. He modeled how to dribble behind the back and how to run the 400-meter dash at 90 percent effort. He showed me that the only place to park in the old Yankee Stadium parking lot was right by the "secret exit" in the rear. Dad also taught me that Philadelphia fans are idiots, the "freakin' Mets" will never get it right, and a summer road trip should always include a stop at a new ballpark. And on and on and on.

However, the most important thing that my dad taught me about sports is to just enjoy the ride. It sounds like a simple, clich├ęd lesson, but humor me while I try to explain what I mean. (Or don't and go watch the Kardashians. I won't be mad.)

Like life, sports is a ride. A fun, maddening, sad, wild, wonderful ride. And it's a ride we shouldn't take alone. When I'd get upset as the Yankees failed to win the World Series a bunch of times in the mid-2000s, my dad would always sort of shrug. He'd say things like, "As long as my team makes it to the playoffs, that means they gave me 10 months of joy. How can I complain about that?" As a rational human, my dad didn't really care what happened on a field full of millionaire ballplayers. He cared about watching games with my siblings and me. He cared about sipping cold Schaeffers while my brother and I sucked down sodas during Yankee games. He cared about waking us up at midnight during the playoffs to tell us Bernie Williams homered to give the Yanks the lead. He cared about taking us to the World Cup, because "you never know when you'll get another chance." He cared about taking us to the Belmont Stakes to see War Emblem try to make history. Because we'd watch him try to make history together. He cared about watching ballgames every night in a roofless living room as we renovated our house.

Aside from driving me to and sitting through all my Little League and high school games, my dad took us to countless professional and college games. And it's becoming clearer and clearer that he was really enjoying the ride. To paraphrase The Wolfe Tones, we were on the one road, and it may have been the wrong road, but we were together. If you're together, who cares?

Fast-forward to Friday night. My wife and I went to Yankee Stadium with my sister and her boyfriend to watch A-Rod try to make history. He did, poking a first-inning fly ball into the short porch in right field for his 3,000th hit. And it was even more special because we brought a brand new fan to the game with us.

It was the first Yankee game ever for our two-month-old son, and that made it so much cooler. On that night, the ride A-Rod gave us fans was special. But for me, my little passenger made it so much more so. Is it corny that I don't want anything for Father's Day because I already got my gift? Sure; it's cornier than Ray Kinsella's backyard. Like Kevin Costner's character from Field of Dreams, I understand the opportunity for father-son bonding that baseball offers. And I just hope I can give Baby Sean a ride comparable to the one my dad has given me.

In two weeks, we're taking the little guy to Cooperstown for a mini-vacation with my parents and my little brother. It'll be my first time at the Baseball Hall of Fame, as part of a three-and-a-half generation Tolan family pilgrimage. The ride continues. Thanks for making it so great so far, Dad.

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Follow Fran Tolan on Twitter @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh @btkav

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