How my son reignited my passion for baseball

A couple of years ago I penned a column about the guilt I harbored from neglecting to teach my kids a select few skills, including the ability to play catch with a baseball and glove. That one was especially hard for me to admit given the role baseball played in my youth.

I spent a chunk of my elementary school years in Amarillo, Texas, and many of my memories from that time involve baseball. I was obsessed. My brother and I, along with some neighborhood kids, would play baseball at any available opportunity. We wore away the Bermuda grass in the front yard until dirt patches marked the bases. It was like The Sandlot, minus the scary dog and sexy lifeguard.

When I was old enough, I played youth league ball. Games and practices took place on wind-swept dirt fields that, looking back, were utterly Texan. My brother once found a dead snake in the infield and began swinging it above his head like a lasso, not realizing that he was also spraying me with reptile innards. During one game an umpire flipped up his mask, pointed at the sky and ran to his car; it was briefly confusing, but then we followed his lead after noticing the funnel cloud coming our way.

I played for one more season after moving to the East Coast. Neither my brother nor I were all-stars, but we both happened to get clutch hits in the final innings of the championship game. After we won, it poured rain. We all piled on top of each other, then ran to the clubhouse to gorge on pizza.

Then I quit baseball cold turkey. I stopped playing. I didn't watch it. I boxed up my baseball cards. For some reason soccer, basketball and tennis took its place. (Eventually those were replaced by guitars).

About 25 years later, on a Florida vacation, I began throwing a ball to my 9-year-old son on the beach. He loved it, so we did it some more, and by the end of the vacation it was all he wanted to do. That Christmas I got him his first glove, and my childhood came rushing back: the smell of the leather, the “pop” of a ball hitting the glove, the feel of that red stitching on my fingers.

My son caught the same baseball bug I did all those years ago, so this spring we prepped for his first youth league season with frequent games of catch and trips to a nearby baseball diamond. On a recent evening, some other kids were near the field and asked if they could play, too. They joined in, and my son played baseball with multiple kids for the first time.

On the way home he looked at me, completely serious, and said, “That was probably the greatest moment of my life.” Later that night he was gazing at the ceiling in bed. “I can't believe I'm going to play on a real baseball team soon,” he said.

The first practice was a little sobering. He's playing with kids who, at 9 and 10, already have years of baseball experience. We've got some throwing mechanics to work on. But he's all in. And after a decades-long hiatus, so am I.

Joel Oliphint is assistant editor of Columbus Alive and recently found himself rooting for the Indians, thus completing his inadvertent Ohio indoctrination.