An Ode To Baseball Dads
Guest Post By Jennifer P. Skinner
Blogger and Baseball Mom
A version of this article first appeared on the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League website in 2016
In our family, summer is inextricably linked with baseball. When the pandemic hit this spring, we were particularly saddened to lose our time at the ballpark with other baseball families. One of the best parts of being in this community is that I’ve had so many chances to witness father-son relationships, not only between my husband and our sons, but also between other players and their dads.
As the mother of three ballplayers, my experience has predominately been witnessing dads and their boys at the baseball field, but I must mention that I’m also a big fan of moms.
We have our own way at the ball field – lining up lounge chairs along the fence, discussing the best stain removers for white baseball pants, and handing out gallons of Gatorade. Incidentally, I know some moms who throw a mean fastball, too.
I’ve also seen countless supportive dads encouraging their daughters in athletics over the years. One of our friends spent numerous evenings running from his son’s baseball games at the bottom of the hill to his daughter’s lacrosse games at the field above, so determined was he not to miss a moment. My 80-year-old daddy still brags about my "blinding speed" on the soccer field even though it’s been 40 years since I wore my cleats. To be sure, the relationship between daddies and daughters in athletics is special.
But even before we had our boys, my husband coached Little League. So, before I became a writer hailing the merits of "baseball moms", I spent afternoons at the ballpark with all kinds of families. I’m aware of the stereotype of fathers in youth sports. They are labeled over-bearing and ill-behaved. That can be true, but most often I've seen the opposite. Stories about well-behaved dads don’t make the Monday morning watercooler gossip, but the majority are just that.
While many sports fathers are portrayed as intensely serious, I’ve found they are the best at lightening the mood. Many dads yell encouragement at every single play. They come up with nicknames that stick with kids well into high school. They shout silly phrases to diffuse tense situations.
I've noticed how a boy going up to bat might only look to one other person besides his coach. He’ll often steal a glance outside the fence to lock eyes with his dad. Some dads instruct too much from the bleachers, but most often they simply give an encouraging nod or positive word. I've seen how a player can relish that eye contact – can, in fact, crave it.
One man might stand watching far beyond the outfield to relieve the pressure on his kid. One might sit assuredly present behind home plate. One might jump high out of his chair, raising his arms in victory as the strike crosses the plate. One might stand stoically quiet, watching the ball sail over the fence, grinning and shaking his head in wonder, not uttering a single word.
And what of those dads who are their player's most ruthless critics? Sure, I've seen that. But I've also seen something else. I remember a young man, taller than his father, stand before him blinking back tears after he struggled during a game. I heard neither instruction nor criticism from the dad. He simply wrapped his son up in a bear hug, swaying him back and forth. By the way, that boy hit two home runs the very next day.
I have heard fathers of athletes praised. I have heard them criticized. I know there is no perfect father. But there is a strand of truth that runs through every single one I have encountered. Each is earnestly doing the best he knows how to do. Each will muck it up a time or two, but I've no doubt that each loves his child to the ends of the Earth.
Of course, there has been much loss in our country of late and there are those who will grieve their fathers this summer. There are boys from six to 60 who would give anything to see their dads in the bleachers or across the lawn again – whether cheering or criticizing, sitting quietly or arguing with umpires.
I believe that in addition to ballparks and backyards filled with baseball dads this summer, there will be a cheering section in heaven. There will be high fives, subtle fist pumps, wide smiles, and eyes gleaming with pride. I imagine that though we can’t hear them, there will be a chorus of baseball dads cheering:
"Attaway, kid. That's my boy."
Jennifer Skinner is a Texas-native living in Northern Virginia with her husband of 25 years, Steve. A freelance writer, most of her musings recount her 17+ years as a baseball and basketball mom to her three sons, Joe, Kyle, and Drew on her blog, The View from Behind Home Plate. Outside of racing between basketball courts and baseball fields, she spends her time as a Bible study leader, childhood cancer advocate, and rabid Texas Longhorn fan. Her writing has also appeared in columns for Arcola Methodist Church, the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League, Dysautonomia International, and the pediatric cancer advocacy organization, Kyle’s Kamp.