My father died last year at the age of 63. His cause of death was glioblastoma multiforme, a long, ugly name for brain tumor. It was same type of tumor that killed two of the greats, Gary Carter and Tug McGraw.
My dad and I always had a special bond. I looked like him, and I had a softened version of his personality. My dad never had a boy, so I was the one who played catch with him. I was the one who debated with him on politics and history, baseball and the environment. He was a man of passion and opinion, earnest and sincere. He didn’t know the meaning of the word cynicism. In that way, my dad and I differed. I am a little more jaded than he was. His politics ran ultra-liberal and although I definitely lean to the left, I’m more moderate. He thought Democrats were too conservative. In spite of his personality traits, everyone liked my dad, even people who were much more conservative than him. He was respectful of differences, so even if people didn’t agree with him, they respected his opinions.
My dad changed his team allegiances almost every year, depending on which team had the most Dominican players. Initially, his favorite team was the Los Angeles Dodgers because they integrated first, but that all changed once the Dominicans came on strong. Having been born in the Dominican Republic, where baseball is even more popular than it is in the United States, my dad was a devout fan of the game. I would tease my dad and say, “Do you look at the roster and count all the players to see which team has the most Dominicans?” Like I said, for a period of time, it was the Dodgers. Toronto for a while had the most Dominicans so the Jays were his team. As he grew older, his reasoning for cheering on a team became more nuanced. He became a Rays fan too, from afar in NY. He liked their style and how much they did with so little resources. He also liked Joe Maddon. My dad always liked intellectuals and Maddon is as much as any baseball manager there ever was. When my dad moved from NYC to Tampa Bay to retire, he already had his tan and blue Rays cap and t-shirt ready. I still have the cap. I have worn it a couple of times since his death to Tropicana Field, but so far, it’s been a pretty unlucky cap. 0-2. I don’t wear it to the games anymore.
When my dad moved, he lived with my husband, daughter, and me for almost a year. During that year, I got to learn a lot more about my dad. My parents divorced when I was young, and there was a lot I didn’t know about Dad’s upbringing. His mother died when I was 2 years old in the Dominican Republic. I don’t remember her at all and I didn’t know much about her other than my mother hated her. My dad told me stories of how she would take him on bus trips all over the Dominican Republic to watch baseball games during the winter leagues–games to see Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, and other baseball greats. These buses weren’t the relatively luxurious Greyhound buses. Heck, they weren’t even NYC MTA buses. These buses were 1950s, rickety, non-airconditioned , and duct taped. They would sleep on relative’s floors when there was no space. My grandmother wasn’t taking my father to all these games for his sake. My grandmother, unbeknownst to me, was also a huge fan of baseball. I smiled when my dad told me these stories. I come from a line of women who loved baseball. I didn’t know there was a baseball gene.