Baseball can create special bond between fathers and sons

News-DemocratJune 15, 2014 

Collinsville's Tanner Houck pitches against Missouri during the 2014 Ilinois-Missouri All-Star Game.

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It's not easy being a sports dad these days as the challenges seem far different than when I was playing ball decades ago.

Dads are usually the ones who first played catch with their sons, showing them the right way to put on a glove and to hold the bat. They showed them how to take leadoffs and hit the cutoff man and to make sure they backed up the plays.

But getting their sons from those happy but frustrating tee-ball games to stepping onto the field at Busch Stadium for an elite high school event -- such as the PNC High School Baseball Showcase, which was Thursday at Busch Stadium -- could not have been easy.

It was the culmination of many years of work, hope, dreams and travel that had brought them to this point. The all-star game served as a fitting reward for the entire family.

But those families have a lot more on their baseball minds than they did in previous decades. Dads of today now have to decide when to make the step from Khoury League and Little League to select ball and travel teams.

It's not an easy decision since it involves politics, finding coaches, paying for uniforms, paying for leagues and a lot of tournament travel.

There's tough decisions at every turn.

Which select team? Which coach? Do you keep players from the same town together, or do you put together an all-star team of players from several communities?

The financial investment in playing sports these days cannot be overlooked. There's lots of money for equipment and league fees, but dads of today are sometimes asked to dig a little deeper.

Many pay for private hitting and pitching lessons and send their sons to summer camps or rent batting cage or mound time.

Some elite level summer travel teams for high school players charge as much as $3,000 to participate, and that doesn't include the cost of traveling to tournaments around the country.

There's gas and meals and hotels and a lot more.

What does it all guarantee?

Nothing.

While a lucky few do reach the major leagues like Jake Odorizzi, the former Highland High School star pitcher who more than held his own against the Cardinals last week, there's a lot more that don't.

For some ballplayers, the final game of their senior year or their American Legion summer season might be their last one. For others, it's college baseball or maybe the Mon-Clair League or Clinton County League.

Even being drafted, like Collinsville senior pitcher Tanner Houck was recently by Toronto, just gets you one more rung up the ladder toward the big goal.

That's the rough thing about being a baseball dad. You know at some point, the whole process is going to end.

And when the games are over, you might remember a few scores, a few big hits or strikeouts. There were probably some championships involved.

But more likely than not, the favorite memories shared between father and son will involve something that never even happened on a baseball field.

Maybe it was something funny that happened at a hotel or restaurant or the time a uniform or glove or spikes were forgotten. Maybe it was being in the stands together for a Cardinals' World Series game or participating in a regional or sectional championship.

Maybe it was a quick hug shared after a big moment or a tough loss.

Baseball has always created a unique bond between dads and sons. Maybe it's the passing down of that special baseball knowledge from generation to generation, or just the time spent together at games and tournaments and practices.

It doesn't come without its share of arguments and disappointments and tough times, but the memories created will always be there.

And all it takes to tap into those memories again is a game of catch in the backyard. That doesn't cost a thing.

Norm Sanders is a sportswriter at the News-Democrat. He can be reached at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders.

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