Column: Life is full of curveballs — and home runs


Standing in right field, explaining to my daughter the merits of a productive at-bat, the awkward blend of sad and sweet hit me yet again.

The infield and outfield and dugout is, for me, where fatherhood blooms. For months bridging St. Patrick’s Day and back to school, I coach and my daughters play and watch and learn and enjoy softball and baseball more than I ever imagined they might. For a man with three daughters, the interest is flattering.

But summer, too, is where a man without a father wonders what could have been. My dad died when I was 16, not long after both sides made overtures to repair a broken relationship. Summer, this more than any, has dented my heart like a one-hop line drive crashing into an aluminum outfield sign.

Maybe it’s because he was 35 when he died and I turned 35 in April. Maybe it’s because my last good memories of my father came about the time I was 8 and my oldest daughter is now 8. Maybe it’s because the games I revere more than any — baseball and, by extension of batting 1.000 when it comes to producing female offspring, softball — formed the bond that has united so many fathers and sons.

Father’s Day hurt. Saturday’s all-American Fourth of July, thick with its ties to family and fastballs, will do the same. There will be others because the mind wanders and I wonder.

Would he have helped me coach? Would she listen when he told her to get her butt down when fielding ground balls? What stories would he tell about his Little League glory days?

I want to tell him Whitney rapped three hits Saturday night in a game that spawned her team’s first dose of real confidence, that she was right there in the middle when they did those silly pregame chants, that she woke up a few hours after the nightcap ended and was eager for more.

Four more, in fact. Twelve games in seven days.

She gets it from me. She gets it from her mother. I suspect the inheritance runs a generation deeper.

You’d have to convince me otherwise.

Nearly 20 years after the car wreck that killed him, it’s finally hitting me what it means that I’ll never see my father again. But as this summer repeatedly pushes me into yearning for my own “Field of Dreams” moment, I’ve never had more fun with my children than I am now.

The 8-year-old walked in the door last month after her own softball game and asked, “Is the College World Series still on TV?” the same week she shamed a Dubois County Bombers pitcher for panicking upon picking up a bunt. “He didn’t know where he was supposed to go with the ball,” she asserted.

The 6-year-old grumbles when T-ball peers dilly-dally on the bases and has worked hard to perfect the art of splitting and spitting sunflower seeds.   

The 3-year-old has an obsession with Jason Heyward, a St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who, in her imaginary land, goes with her and a few other Cardinals on vacations to the beach. She requests to fall asleep on the couch with baseball on TV.

Often, they all wait until between innings to brush their teeth.

Perhaps the infatuation is nothing more than that, and we do bond over far more than sports. It’s just a game, sure. But there’s another layer.

I stood in the outfield Sunday afternoon during the last game of the day, draped my arm around my daughter and hoped she might remember that day, the one where she bumped her knee, hobbled around the bases like Kirk Gibson and overcame the tears (suck it up, buttercup) to play catcher a few innings later.

It wasn’t all sappy success — after I barked at her to tag up and score on a popup, she stood at the bag, then scowled at me coaching third base and said, “I didn’t want to.” But our family spent a weekend at the ballpark and if I told them all we were headed back to the field tomorrow, I doubt they’d argue.

Life throws you curveballs. Sometimes, you hit it anyway.

Jason Recker is the news editor at The Herald. His email is

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