While Sunday will be for us dads, I always do a pre-Father’s Day on June 14 to remember my own late father.
June 14, 1978, was the day my Dad and I had our best moment ever: We took in a day game at Candlestick and the Giants won!
My dad had an immigrant’s passion for baseball. He loved the game and all it stood for. And he loved the Giants. His name was Willie, appropriately. Weren’t all the heroes in San Francisco named Willie in those days?
Born in the Philippines, my dad spoke English, but I spoke it better. It made our relationship a relatively quiet one. The only time we really connected was while watching baseball.
My dad was many innings older than me–50 years worth. I remember when he taught me how to play ball. We’d go to Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle–where else would a fry cook teach his son to play catch? We both had gloves that looked like the big one out in left field at AT&T. My dad wasn’t all that athletic. But he knew the difference between a basket of fries and a basket catch. And when he couldn’t do it just right, he’d bring us to Candlestick to watch the other guys named Willie (Mays and McCovey) do everything masterfully.
Baseball always gave us a context. “What’s the score?” one of us would always ask. The other would always know. We followed the score.
But of course, there were seasons when not even baseball could save us. Before I was out of middle school, my father was an aging senior, and I was going to father-son events alone. He wasn’t father. He was grandfather. By the time I was twelve-years-old, I was an ageist.
We kept drifting apart, our lives patterned like a baseball diamond. He was the first base line, I was the third base line, a field apart connected only at home.
But then I went to college on the East Coast where I learned a little about the hardship and racism endured by Filipino immigrants in the 1920s. I learned about the anti-miscegenation laws that dictated his life story. Men from the Philippines immigrated in droves, mostly as laborers. By comparison, few Filipino women were allowed to come to America.
I never fully understood why my father, after coming to America In 1927, lived a bachelor’s life until the 1950s. I thought it was by choice, or lack of social skills. I never saw it as a function of the kind of wastefulness that comes from racism. History taught me that, and through it, I found a clear path to my father. Perhaps a little late, but it set up our ninth inning perfectly.
On the Wednesday before Father’s Day, 1978, we did a day game, my treat. We were a striking pair. I was wearing a jacket and tie so we could get a businessman’s discount. He was in a Giants cap and running shoes, and acting like a rascal–cutting in line, running about, me in tow. Seats cost a buck-fifty to sit in left field back then. But the little guy wanted to sit closer. So we sneaked down past security and wound up in prime third-base territory.
During the game, we enjoyed our passion quietly. Fancying myself a broadcaster, I did play-by-play in my head. Every now and then, I would turn to Dad for a little color. He was involved with the drama himself, in between bites of his homemade adobo sandwich–vinegary pork bits on white bread, tastier than a ball park frank.
The Giants celebrated our outing with a fine performance. They fought back to take the lead from the visiting Phillies. And then it was up to Vida Blue to mow them down in the bottom of the ninth. Blue, no longer in his prime and written off as an old man in his 30s, struck out both Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt, the heart of the order, to end the game.
We stood and cheered together in wild appreciation, which led to our only real conversation of the day. Would the Giants get through June and go all the way? My dad was willing to take a psychic flyer on that one. “They will go all the way now,” he said.
As it was, the Giants didn’t. And neither did my dad. Two hours later, back home, after seeing the game highlights on the local news, my father died on that June 14th before Father’s Day.
Hardening of the arteries, the doctor said. But deep in my heart, I knew it was Pennant Fever.
The origins of this essay date back to 1990 when I first read a version of it on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Every year I reprise some of it as my personal Father’s Day salute. And then I go to the ballpark and hope the Giants win. This year, I know my Dad would have been concerned about Lincecum (half-Filipino), and Panda (all-stomach). But I also know he’d be unflagging in his certainty that the Giants would play well into October.