The Tennessean – Jun 18, 2006 – John Glennon – In a poignant scene from the movie “Field of Dreams,” protagonist Ray Kinsella tries to mend a long-fractured relationship with his father by asking the man’s ghost a simple question:
“Hey … Dad? You wanna have a catch?”
The moment melted the emotions of many a movie-going man, those who recognized a heartfelt attempt at renewing the father-son bond in the most traditional of ways.
As America celebrates Father’s Day today, thousands of fathers and sons will reaffirm their ties in the same fashionâ€? whether it’s playing pitch and catch in the backyard, trading opinions in front of a televised game or cheering on a favorite team from bleacher seats.
While it may be a stretch to still call baseball America’s pastime, the sport remains a powerful tool for strengthening relationships between fathers and sons.
It begins with the simple act of spending quality time with one another, but can grow to include the passing on of knowledge acquired over decades, the sharing of raw emotion and the transfer of lessons that pertain to life itself.
“In this day and age, with kids spending so much time with video and computers and the Internet, I think baseball is sort of a return to more traditional values,” said Dr. John F. Murray, a sport psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.
“Baseball’s got a lot of folklore, a lot of history and it has a lot of exciting things that happen, so it’s a good way for fathers to share the joy they’ve experienced. It’s the ritual of doing something together and sharing that time.”
It can be argued that the father-son bonds formed through a shared love of baseball are no different than those crafted by any other means.
After all, fathers and sons can grow closer through any number of ways, whether through a sports-related field or otherwise.
But many people believe the baseball bond is special, even sacred.
Maybe it stems from all the tradition involved, the fact that so many men learned to love the game through their fathers. They feel as if they’re passing on a sense of the family history.
On a recent night at Greer Stadium, for instance, Rick Plese recalled what sparked his interest in the sport, even as he watched his own nine-year-old, Colin Ã¢â‚¬â€? baseball glove on hand Ã¢â‚¬â€? scramble after foul balls during Nashville Sounds batting practice.
“My love for the game has to go back to my dad,” said Rick Plese, who was born in Joliet, Ill.
“It was just Cubs, Cubs, Cubs, non-stop. And my dad also coached me all the way up to high school. He’s passed on now, but he’s still an inspiration.”
Baseball also lends itself to communication.
The sport by its nature is a slow-moving one, characterized by silent voids that onlookers can fill by dissecting details or trading strategies.
“We’re always talking about what pitches are going to be thrown,” Rick Plese said.
“I’m telling him breaking balls inside and he’s telling me fastballs outside. The catcher always comes in at the last second and he adjusts, so we’re trying to guess before that.”
Who’s right more often?
“I am,” Colin Plese says with a grin.
Nashville’s Byron Middendorf, another spectator at the Sounds last week, said he teaches his six-year-old son, Isaac, during the down time between pitches as well.
“There’s just so much strategy involved in baseball,” he said. “I’m always saying, ‘Watch what the second baseman does here.’ It’s not just the pitcher and batter who are doing things, because the nine guys on the field are always moving around.”
And what’s to prevent that all-important line of communication Ã¢â‚¬â€? one started through baseball Ã¢â‚¬â€? from extending beyond the diamond?
“Parents are always wanting to get into relationships with their kids and baseball’s a good opportunity do that,” said Nashville Sounds infielder Zach Sorensen, whose three-year-old son Jaxon cheers him at almost every home game.
“When you’re out at the ballpark watching the game, it’s a great way to create that bond that allows you to talk about other things in life that are more important.”
There are those who believe baseball delivers life lessons in and of itself.
Sounds outfielder Tony Gwynn, for instance, says one of the most memorable bits of baseball advice he recalls hearing from his father Ã¢â‚¬â€? future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn Ã¢â‚¬â€? could apply to most anything.
“The biggest thing I probably learned from him was about having a good work ethic,” the younger Tony Gwynn said. “He was really big on that Ã¢â‚¬â€? making sure that if I was going to approach something, I was going to approach it the right way and that I was going to make sure I was working hard at it to get better.”
The younger Gwynn also remembers learning about sportsmanship one day, when his father pointed out Ã¢â‚¬â€? during a one-sided contest Ã¢â‚¬â€? that Padres batters weren’t swinging at 3-0 pitches, even though they knew the baseball would likely be coming right over the plate.
“He said that when you’re up by a lot of runs, you don’t try to make the other team look bad by swinging at pitches when they have to throw you a strike,” Gwynn said. “That’s one of the first things stands out in my mind about what he’d teach Ã¢â‚¬â€? not really rules, but baseball etiquette.”
The younger Gwynn is only 23 years old and doesn’t yet have any children of his own.
But as he looks into the future, Gwynn, like many men who learned baseball from their dads, looks forward to sharing the same passion that years ago bonded he and his father.
“I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work in baseball,” Gwynn said. “It’s a big cycle. You learn from your father and then when you have kids, you do the same for them.”
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.