“Never go down looking.”
I only applied to one school, only wrote one college essay, waxed philosophical on only one “best advice I ever received” topic. I’m 24-years old, and now I look upon most baseball metaphors with a disdain usually reserved for ESPN writers. But I still hold my father’s sound wisdom, his insistence that I never let a fastball go by without swinging, as one of the finest gems of wisdom anyone has ever instilled into me. This Father’s Day, I’m reminded of all those countless “Keep your eye on the ball!” yelps that took up permanent residence on the sidelines of every single one of my softball games. “Good eye, good eye,” “wait for your pitch,” “Level swing!”–they all still resonate robustly in the archives of my mind.
Even back then, “Never go down looking” meant more than just that. (How do I know? Because his original on-deck pearl was, “Tis far better to dare mighty things and risk failure than to live in the grey twilight that knows neither darkness nor dawn.” I was 11, about to bat, and more confused than Boston fans in the 8th inning of the 2003 ALCS.) Once he gave me the abridged version, I could more easily wrap my head around this metaphorical life motto. He just wanted, as every father does, for his kid to try her best.
There are very few great athletes of our day that started their careers with electronic pitching machines, or by shooting hoops by themselves in the driveways of their childhood homes, or by tossing a football threw a tire and fetching it themselves. I imagine that someone’s dad was tossing batting practice, getting rebounds, and perfecting his son’s spiral.
So this Father’s Day, instead of celebrating conventional sports classics like the NBA finals or the meaty stretch of baseball punctuating my summer, instead of lionizing Ginobili’s postseason stats or Giambi’s renewed “True Yankee” title; I’m honoring another great American classic: my dad.
Some of my earliest memories involve a 26-inch Louisville Slugger bat, my backyard, and my father. And beyond that preliminary conditioning, I can’t think of a single at-bat that man missed. He remembers my career batting average from high school, every strike-out, every hard line drive. He remembers my Little League All-Star game when I struck out my 6th grade nemesis on a change-up. The day I got benched after a missing a game when he took me to visit colleges. The afternoon I unsuccessfully tried to steal second with 2 outs in the 9th, with the go-ahead run on third. The game I was one out away from a perfect game, and he remembers how enraged I was when I didn’t get “Athlete of the Week” for that one-hitter. (Well, we both remember that.)
Me? I remember a 50-year old man catching 100 pitches for me every night while my sister sat off to the side with a counter, keeping track of how many balls and strikes I threw. I remember him telling me to move up in the batter’s box on slow pitchers, and stay back on the fast ones. Never swing at the first pitch. Throw low and inside fastballs to clean-up hitters.
I remember him taking me to a pitching coach so I could get good enough to start on my high school Varsity team. I remember him bringing coolers of sodas to my game for the rest of the team, and I remember how my favorite part of any game was having our own personal post-game analysis on the ride home.
My dad and I are carbon copies of each other, and I think every win or loss affected him as much as it did me. He wanted it just as much as I did, which is why “Never go down looking” was the best advice anyone could have ever given me. Age has limited his sports to making a name for himself in online poker rooms and tearing up the competition in pool tournaments. But just last week, after going 1 for 6 at a pickup game in Central Park, the first thing I did was get my dad on the phone: “YOU NEED TO COME TO THE CITY AND HELP ME WITH MY SWING ASAP.”
See, there’s a point in your life when you don’t need your mother to dress you, and your parents can’t write sick notes to get you out of work. But I swear, I doubt there will ever be a moment when I’ll be able to cut myself off from my dad’s seeming omniscient support. Even if it WAS, “You went 1 for 6? Here’s some advice: don’t tell anyone you’re my daughter.”
I gave away my Boston/Yankees tickets a few weeks ago in favor of watching the dismal 17-2 rout on television, exchanging expletive-ridden commentaries with my dad sitting right beside me. When I was watching the Twins game with him the following week, I told him about how I had run into Carl Pavano at a New York City bar after that sad loss, and how I had pointed him out to my little sister who then walked right up to him.
I narrated to my dad, “Yeah, she just said, `Are you Carl Pavano?’ and he just looked at her and said, `No.’ Definitely him, though.”
My dad looked over and said, “Would you admit to being Pavano if you had just given up 11 hits in one inning to the Red Sox?”
And before we could turn back to the game Pavano was currently pitching, he deadpans: “You know what? Now I hope Minnesota scores 20 runs off him.”
I could only laugh, realizing that my father had thrown the New York Yankees in the same pit as our revolving door of boyfriends, as men not good enough for his daughters. And as I much as I love the Yankees, I love my father’s unrelenting desire to protect us from strange men in bars even more, (even if said weirdo was a young MLB pitcher).
Maybe he can’t watch me play in my summer leagues in Manhattan anymore, and maybe trekking to Yankee Stadium is a little too much for him now. But Dad is still the first person I call after a game, and the person whose opinions I consider to be paramount guidance.
Without those 24 years of making me laugh, driving me crazy, and cultivating a competitive edge matched only by his own, I would only be a shell of what I am today. He made me better than I ever could have made myself.
And maybe next week, ESPN will be barking about how Duncan was San Antonio’s salvation, or how Larry Brown was Detroit’s champion factor, but either option pales when placed alongside my biggest fan and my all-time starting hero–Dad.