I was pacing.
Stanford’s baseball team was down, 6-0, to NC State, in the fourth inning of the College World Series’ opening game and my kid, Tim Tawa, was at bat.
I’ve always been a pacer, perhaps because of my work in volleyball going from court to court to court covering the sport. I’d gotten better during Tim’s senior season, accepting the failure that was inherent in baseball, but this was the World Series and my kid was in a funk, having struck out eight times in his previous 10 at-bats, including his first at-bat versus the Wolfpack.
I was on the walkway behind the center field stands when the count quickly went to 0-2. My heart sank. This was the biggest stage in the sport and it was going to happen again! I started walking back toward the left-field line as the count went to 1-2. I would need to commiserate with my wife, who was sitting down the left-field line with the other Stanford parents…
Then I heard the ping of the bat. The NC State pitcher had left a slider inside and up in the zone and Tim didn’t miss it. The ball was coming right for me, near the foul pole. It fought the hurting breeze, but was hit too well to be denied. The ball soared over the bullpen before landing in the last row of the bleachers, only feet from me, almost 430 feet from home plate.
As Tim rounded the bases, the gentleman who came up with the ball stood to show it to the fans around him and to the television cameras.
I had to have it!
The home run was Tim’s 12th of the season and No. 28 in his career. Tim possessed his first career home run ball – a three-run walk off his freshman year versus Michigan, but none other.
If I was anywhere else in the stadium, the idea would never have occurred to me. But I was only feet away. I had to get this ball, this World Series ball, for him.
I quickly sidled up to the ball’s possessor – his name was Matt -- introduced myself and offered cash for the ball. He had no idea but I would have paid $1,000 or more for it. What’s money for a memory?
I explained what the ball would symbolize – the culmination of four years of toil for Tim in a Stanford uniform, mostly good but with a significant dose of struggle as well – and Matt handed the ball over without condition, tears glistening in his eyes. He explained that he, too, was a baseball dad – his son, Sam, will play for the University of Iowa as a freshman next year – and he understood why I needed that keepsake so badly. Because of his magnanimous gesture, Tim will not only be able to tell his offspring, and their offspring, about the time he hit a mighty home run in the CWS; he’ll have physical evidence of the feat as well.
The ball may have traveled only 430 feet, but it forever joined a baseball dad and his son from Oregon with a baseball dad and his son from Iowa.
Baseball dads and their sons, you see, are all connected, united in the promise of the sport and the hopes and dreams that it creates. Perhaps, one day, Sam will crush a World Series home run. And if the ball lands in my lap, I will give it to Matt without hesitation, just as I would to each and every one of you.
Here’s wishing all baseball dads this summer their own home run balls and the memories they represent. I am grateful to already have mine.