Learning to field grounders — and to be a dad
I had a baseball glove and a ball and a bat and just down the block there was a grassy field smooth enough that only rarely would a grounder take a nasty hop and smack you in the nose.
But none of those things made me a baseball player.
Or want to be a baseball player.
You need a dad for that.
And not just any dad.
You need a dad, like my dad, who can wield a glove with his left hand and a bat with his right, hit a ground ball, catch the return throw, flick the ball out of the glove and rap another roller with just enough speed to test your mettle.
And then repeat that routine until you and your older brother have had their fill of fielding practice, even though dad had been at work all day and probably would have preferred a nap.
It’s been something like 30 years since I snared a liner off my dad’s bat but I can conjure the scene as effortlessly as I draw my next breath.
I can remember, with the clarity that’s reserved for our favorite memories, the instant of anticipation just before the aluminum bat struck leather with that peculiar ping, and I had to judge whether to shuffle left or right to get in front of the ball, as dad taught me.
He taught me much else besides during those spring and summer evenings, as the sun dipped behind the gentle Coast Range hills in the distance.
At the time of course the only lessons I recognized were the ones about baseball.
I learned to keep my head down and to keep my glove on the grass and to charge the ball rather than let it come to me, lest it carom wildly while I waited.
None of that matters much now.
I don’t play baseball, or even slow pitch softball.
But many years later I came to understood that what my dad was teaching me, along with the fundamentals of the great game, was something infinitely more valuable, and lasting.
He showed me what dads are supposed to do, and be.
My dad and mom were the most dedicated fans of their kids’ hobbies, sports and otherwise that I’ve been around.
And they weren’t obnoxious about it, either.
If I ran out to take my customary position as the second baseman, or if I walked onto a stage, holding my acoustic guitar, I knew, without ever pausing to consider the significance, that either mom or dad, or more likely both, would be sitting in the bleachers or the auditorium.
Wherever we went to play or perform, they followed.
I had reason this spring to reflect on my parents’ consistent loyalty after I noticed that pretty much every time I phoned their home in Salem, they didn’t answer.
I should have figured out what was going on.
Two of my nieces — Victoria and her younger sister, Hannah, who also live in Salem — play softball.
Two nephews — Jack and his younger brother, Jon, who live in Gates, about 30 miles east of Salem — play baseball.
Little wonder my parents’ spring schedule was as hectic as a campaigning politician’s.
One day they were in Waldport.
The next day they were in West Linn.
On Memorial Day weekend they drove all the way to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a tournament Victoria’s team was playing in.
My dad would on occasion complain about all the games, and the hundreds of miles of driving, but his annoyance was as believable as the heroine’s scream in a ’50s B movie.
They go to the games because they want to watch their grandkids play.
And because it’s what they do.
They did it when my older daughter, Rheann, was playing volleyball and when my older son, Alexander, played sax in the BHS jazz band, and never mind that 700-mile round trips were required.
My dad turns 69 on Saturday, the day before Father’s Day.
I don’t know whether any of his grandkids has a game either day.
But if any member of the Jacoby family takes the field, wherever that field might be, I know at least two people will be watching.
And one will be paying particular attention to the infielders, to see whether they keep their heads down and their gloves scraping the dirt.
Jayson Jacoby is editor