Today was a big day for my favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. They signed one of the biggest free agents in baseball, Prince Fielder, to a nine year $214 million deal. Absolutely staggering, ridiculous money, but what do I care, it’s not my money. All afternoon my coworkers and I were talking about the big news, I read newspaper accounts, checked out twitter, listened to all the news I could on the radio. There was only one thing missing – the phone call I would have normally had with my dad when something big like this happened.
My dad and I were both huge sports fans. We loved the Lions, Red Wings, Michigan football, and most of all our beloved Tigers. We would talk about sports for hours on end. He had got me started very young, taking me to my first Tigers game at Tiger Stadium when I was about three years old. I don’t remember that particular game, but I remember plenty of the probably hundred or so we went to together after that. When I think of memories from the house that I grew up in, the soundtrack that plays in the background is George Kell and Al Kaline on Tigers broadcasts on channel 4. My dad yelling at the TV when Steve Kemp struck out, or cheering when Kirk Gibson hit a home run. I remember sitting on the couch, dad sitting in the chair, in our living room in 1984 when Larry Herndon caught the final out of the world series. The Tigers were World Champions! We both jumped up, hugged, and I’m pretty sure I even cried.
1984 was a pretty tough time in my life. I was twelve years old, my parents had just divorced less than a year earlier, and my dad and I were not living in the most pleasant environment. But for that magical summer the Tigers gave me and my dad a distraction.
Fast forward 22 years later, to 2006. My dad had some health and financial issues and he asked me if he could move in with me. I agree, and dad moves in on March 18, 2006, two weeks before the start of baseball season. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me. At the time I used to travel almost constantly for work and my house was empty most of the time anyway, so I thought it would be nice to have someone to watch it while I was gone. Then, in a strange twist of fate, my job gives me a one year assignment at GM Hamtramck. Local work for a year! Dad and I return to our old positions and watch nearly every Tigers’ game together that year, only this time dad is on the couch and I’m in the chair, and the Tigers go on to have their first winning season in 13 years. They made it all the way to the World Series again, for the first time since ’84, but this time they fell short and lost to the Cardinals. It was another magical season, both for the Tigers and for me and my dad.
I thank God for his hand in giving us that magical ’06 season together. Little did I know, but just three short years later my dad would pass away. On September 25, 2009 my dad died suddenly of a massive coronary. The Tigers, as fate would have it, were in a pennant race once again. And I was just beginning my Christian conversion. RCIA classes had started at our Church, but I hadn’t attended them. I let my wife, Emily, go on her own. My heart wasn’t in it, I still didn’t believe in the whole Church/God/Jesus thing. But after dad passed away things began to change. I still talked to my dad during baseball games, only now I guess you would call it praying. I hadn’t prayed to anyone since I was 11 years old, and now at 37, I was talking to my dead father. “Why” I had to ask myself, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, who are you talking to?” That was the first spark of my conversion. From there I went on a journey to find out who I was talking to, and where that person was. Imagine my surprise when I found the Catholic Church had the answers I was looking for.
So, now whenever something big happens in the world of sports, I am both happy and sad. I’m sad because my first inclination is still to pick up the phone and call my dad to talk about it (I still haven’t deleted his number), but I’m happy because I know that now I don’t have to dial the phone to talk to him. And on big news days like this I talk to him even more.