By Korie Pelka
My dad didn’t go to church. He drove us every Sunday, dropped us off and faithfully picked us up. But he never attended. He opted to put his faith in the Golden Rule. It was as simple and profound as he was. When I got older however, I realized he was religious about one thing; the game of baseball.
In that arena, he was a deep believer. Having played “straight up the middle” as a catcher, second baseman and center fielder in high school and the army, the baseball field was his church of choice. I was his disciple, learning the rituals and nuances of the game. In addition to being my teacher, he played several other key positions in my life.
First, he was my scout. In fact, he was a scout for many people in the Bay Area who created email folders titled something along the lines of “Max’s Scouting Reports.” My favorite report was from Fall Ball in 2009. It read:
“Your Mighty Midgets (which is what he loved to call the San Francisco Giants) have a couple of good prospects, including a young catcher who looks like he’s twelve. They all look like they’re twelve at this stage of my life. He’s good behind the plate, strong arm, potentially good bat and best of all, he has a good old-fashioned baseball name . . . Buster Posey.”
If dad hadn’t been an engineer, he would have made one helluva scout.
He was also my coach, especially in the past few years when I took a huge leap of faith, leaving the Corporate World for a new league of self-discovery, unsure how to best use my talents. He made it very clear in his last few months what he thought I should do with my life, doggedly repeating his advice when I attempted to brush it off as parental favoritism. Eventually, I took his coaching to heart and know I am guided every day by his deep belief in me. That belief also made him my biggest fan, which hit home for me several years ago.
I was working for a company that did a major trade show every September in Chicago and finally, the stars had aligned with the Cubs playing at home while we were there. I called Dad and asked him to come to Wrigley Field with me. At age seventy-five, he was more than reluctant, but the lure of Wrigley, the mecca for any true baseball fan, was just too much. After some cajoling and a healthy dose of guilt-tripping, he agreed to come.
I could tell he was nervous when he phoned me from the airport after landing. It was odd thinking my dad was nervous and it made me realize how much this adventure pushed him out of his comfort zone. By the time he arrived at the hotel, he seemed in better shape. He got settled and came out to dinner with a group of my colleagues.
Well, he obviously acclimated pretty well, because he proceeded to charm each and every one of them. His well-timed humor, deep listening, genuine curiosity, gentle nature and the way he teased me, won them all over. As we walked back to our hotel on that warm Chicago night, I was left in the dust, trailing behind them, because they all wanted to talk to him! For years afterward, they continued to ask me how he was and told me to be sure to say hi to him.
The next day was the final day of the trade show, and God love him, he sat through every presentation in our booth – right next to all the hungover sales people, slumped in their chairs. By contrast, he was alert, truly interested in the demonstrations, absorbing enough technical jargon to make a normal person want to poke their eyes out. But he sat there because he was my fan. He wanted to know what I did and he wanted to know my team mates.
In the late afternoon, we left for Wrigley and were, literally, the first in line, waiting eagerly with our little tickets in hand for the old metal gate to slowly crank up. Once inside, we breathed in the smell of dirty water hot dogs and soon-to-be stale popcorn. At the top of the ramp to our seats, Dad paused, savoring the sounds of batting practice, balls hitting leather, the low murmur and hum of pre-game camaraderie. He turned to me with a faraway look. “I need a minute,” he quietly requested.
I would have given him a lifetime if he asked for it. I took a deep breath, eyes threatening to spill over with tears. “Remember this moment. Hold it close to your heart,” I intoned silently.
Taking in the hallowed field, he marveled, somewhat quizzically, “This is exactly the way I pictured it, in my mind’s eye, listening to the games on the radio as a young child.”
Home run, baby! That moment is my personal version of a World Series, game seven, bottom of the ninth, walk-off grand slam by a pitcher.
Years later, neither one of us could remember who won the game. It didn’t really matter. We were together, sharing our own version of heaven here on earth.
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