Thanks Dad, For The Love Of The Games



GORDONVILLE — A lot has happened in the last five years.

Good things, bad things and just plain things that happen as we play the unpredictable game of life.

It is enough that it would belie the notion that the time flies by.

But Father’s Day, 2008, seems like yesterday.

It was all about my daughter, Sofia, who just happens to be making me my 2013 Father’s Day card right now – asking how to spell the names of our cats to sign it for them (they’re napping, or else she might be tempted to figure a way to put their paw prints on it).

But there was the phone call with my father, and a subsequent conversation that turned to sports.

A month later, he was in a car accident and never recovered, despite signs of false hope, and he died while in hospice care that August.

He missed the Phillies winning the 2008 World Series by a few months.

Ironically, and despite having three decades of fandom on me, I had witnessed this rare gift from the baseball Gods more times in my life than he did (not counting the technicality of the Philadelphia A’s. of course).

More peculiar, though, is the fact that I find myself thinking in these terms.

My father and I had an odd relationship, and communication – although improved as the years saw me move into adulthood and he into senior citizenship – was often coded.

And that code was sports.

It was our common ground.

Even on serious topics, or ones seemingly unrelated, the analogies would be sports-centric.

While his yearbook shows participation on the track team, my father was not a natural athlete. He biggest claim to fame was returning an interception for a touchdown in a pickup game of touch football while in the military.

He would claim his broken nose and surgically repaired knee were “old football injuries” but we would usually roll our eyes.

That’s because we had eyewitness accounts to the contrary.

My Uncle Oscar, his older brother, was the team captain of Central High’s basketball team. He used to say that “Sammy was a klutz” in a matter-of-fact tone.

Everyone at the table, except my father, would laugh.

Uncle Oscar might have been overstating it a bit. My dad had the basics down. We played catch, and shot baskets in the driveway, and he wasn’t a complete “klutz.”

But the evidence is there.

Because he was left-handed, my dad made the non-athlete’s mistake of buying me a glove for my right hand when I was preschool age. My first street hockey stick was curved the wrong way (a blessing in disguise, as it helped develop my wicked wrist shot).

My first baseball bat was too heavy, so he told me just to put it on my shoulder. I knew better, which probably helped my bat speed at a young age.

But when it came to the art of being a fan, my father knew best.

He showed me how to keep a scorecard, baseball or basketball, a lost art at which I was proficient by Sofia’s age (6 and change).

It is safe to say I knew how to read the standings – usually finding the Phillies and Eagles in last place – in the newspaper before I could even read the articles.

We played sports strategy games – my favorite board games, outside of Monopoly – which enhanced my understanding of Xs and Os when I watched sports on television.

Or in person.

And that happened a lot.

It was not uncommon to attend four or five sporting events in weekend.

This was especially true in the fall. He had season tickets to the Eagles, which are now mine, and to Temple football. He shared a package for the 76ers and, to make me happy, scored Flyers tickets –the toughest in town – when he could.

The winter, as the NBA and NHL continued, Big 5 basketball – the vintage Big 5, before Villanova ruined it with its snobbery – was part of the mix.

The spring brought a Sunday package for Phillies games (my first was actually helmet day at Connie Mack Stadium, and I still remember that palpitation in my heart when we came through the tunnel and saw the diamond).

We would attend the Penn Relays each spring. It was also not uncommon to check out a high school game. In the summer, we would invariably find ourselves at Temple’s McGonigle Hall taking in double- and triple-headers of the Sonny Hill League and Baker League.

I was only with my father on weekends, so not much homework got done. If we weren’t at a game, I was outside acting out what I saw or in my room replaying match-ups via Strat-O-Matic games.

When he started seeing my subpar report cards, he became aware of the monster he created and played the dangling-carrot game, threatening attendance at upcoming games, if he didn’t see improvement.

Invariably, though, it didn’t come to pass. We would be in the car, stopping at Pat’s Steaks and heading to one of the venues.

It was a golden time in Philadelphia sports.

I was born in 1965, so we saw all four teams rise to power. Three of them – the Flyers (1974, 1975), Phillies (1980) and Sixers (1983) –went on to win championships.

The Eagles, well, it’s more complicated.

The greatest memory remains the victory over Dallas in the NFC title game in January of 1981. The worst, and the last time together at Veterans Stadium, was that bitter loss to Tampa Bay.

Disgusted and cold, he left as soon as the game ended. He stayed in my seat for a good 20 minutes, not only replaying the game but reflecting on all the good times I had in that stadium.

And he was the reason.

When my father passed away, there were the invariable things left unsaid.

For the love of sports, Philadelphia-style, I can only say this.

Thank you, dad.

Follow Gordon Glantz on Twitter @Managing2Edit

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