Baseball keeps my father's memory alive for my son
Hands gripped tight around the bat. Fingers curled around the ball. The younger version of me sits at the edge of the seat, waiting for the pitch to come.
Baseball had been an intrinsic part of my childhood. Growing up, I would tag along with my father and two sisters to watch the New York Yankees play at their stadium in the South Bronx. My dad, Massimo, scored free tickets from his job as a butcher, so he would take us to a Yankees game every year. For the first 15 years of my life, I would sit excitedly in the nosebleed seats one day out of each year, wedged between my hulk of a dad and my two sisters, listening to the crack of bats hitting the fastballs that cut through the air.
It would be an understatement to say my dad (everyone called him Max) was as diehard of a Yankees fan as you could find. The New York Mets were his sworn enemy; once, 20 years ago, he met John Franco in our South Brooklyn neighborhood and asked him to sign a dollar bill, only to destroy it later on as an insult. That's a memory forever etched into my brain; it was then I realized my dad's love of the Yankees. It was then I realized how much I loved the game too.
But our shared respect of baseball couldn't overcome the deeply complicated relationship we had. We were on our way to mending what was left of it after my son -- his second grandson -- was born in May 2015. Before we could fully reconcile, my dad passed away. He died from heart failure during surgery on Feb. 2, 2016. My son was only 9 months old. He won't remember his grandfather. He'll only know the stories I tell him.
This past Christmas, I realized how I could honor my dad's memory for my son, Kelly: through baseball. Kelly has already taken to the T-ball set his paternal grandmother bought him as a gift. Before I could even show him how to properly hold a bat, he had already picked up the orange plastic club and started to swing. I'd join him in the fun, playing one-woman pitcher-and-hitter in the middle of his bedroom. Kelly would watch, laugh and clap his hands. He'd scream "Oh, wow," every time the ball whizzed past his face. Then he'd come grab the bat and the big plastic baseball from my hands. It was his turn to score one out of the park.
I see a lot of myself in Kelly. When I watch him play with his T-ball set, I remember how much I enjoyed running the bases of the makeshift diamond in my elementary school's parking lot. I think of this picture of me from when I was a kid, standing in our concrete-padded backyard, head-to-toe in a Yankees uniform, pretending I'm at-bat. I go back to the times when my father watched me as I swung and missed. I remember the pride knowing that, when I watched Yankees pitcher David Wells throw a no-hitter on May 17, 1998, that I was part of history.
There's no way to know if Kelly will grow up loving baseball the way I did -- the way I still do -- but I do know I want to pass down my love of the game the way my father had to me. I want to be able to make baseball a part of our family traditions. He won't have the opportunity to see the Yankees as often as I did -- after all, we're thousands of miles away, and who can afford a ticket nowadays? But I can at least tell him about his grandfather and that time he insulted John Franco. I can tell him about watching the Yankees win the World Series four years in a row and how proud it made me to be a New Yorker. I can teach him about foul balls and home runs and bases loaded. I can tell him that, if his grandfather were alive today, he would take us to the park to play baseball together.
My sisters and I posted the Franco incident on my dad's Facebook page the day after he passed away. It's a ridiculous story that I could never forget, even if pieces of it become jumbled. What happened that day will forever symbolize who my father was when he was alive, a person without couth but with a lot of passion.
I could hope that Kelly would one day have the same stories to tell.
Annamarya Scaccia is an award-winning freelance journalist. She's based in Austin, Texas.