I’m in Avondale Park. I’m watching random kids play baseball. The kids pepper the field. Gloves on their knees.
“Hey, batta batta batta!” they all chant. They look like third graders. The third-baseman looks like he has to go pee.
They all look like dreamers. Because that’s what all kids are, really. Dreamers. Do you remember what it was like to be a kid? Do you remember what it was like to get lost in a daydream?
The sun is low. The crickets are out. The pitcher is maybe 8 years old. And I’m falling into a daydream myself.
It’s hard to watch baseball without remembering my old man. My father loved baseball. No. He worshiped baseball. To him, baseball was high art.
Look at Norman Rockwell. You never saw Rockwell painting soccer, or pickleball, or water polo, or the luge. Rockwell painted baseball players. There’s just something about baseball.
My dad was a ball player. As an adult, he never missed a chance to play with a guys his age in some municipal field somewhere.
I used to go with him to games. My father would consult the cooler between every major play, cracking open an ice-cold can of Ovaltine. And whenever he pitched, I heard ladies in the stands say things like, “Oh, that’s John Dietrich. I think he once played triple-A ball.”
But it wasn’t true. Not entirely. My father tried out for a professional ball club, and lasted only a few days. He was a sidearm pitcher. His pitching was too wild, they said. They rejected him.
But then, my father was a man fraught with rejections. His whole life was rejection after rejection.
He came from an abusive home. He grew up poor. He wanted to be a navy pilot, but he was deaf in one ear, so the navy rejected him. Talk about dreams. His lifelong dream was shattered.
He wanted to be a chef once, he even enrolled in a school to learn the trade. But he couldn’t afford the tuition. My father even tried to learn to play guitar, but he didn’t have time to practice. He was too busy supporting a family on an ironworker’s salary.
But somehow, the old man always managed to find time to play ball for fun. I admire him for this.
He was tall and lean. And when he stood on the rubber, he became a Renoir. His heron-like legs were graceful. His windup was special: He’d hike his knee all the way to his chin, kick out his left leg, and pitch around his size-thirteen shoe.
The batter never even saw the ball.
“HEEE-RIKE!” the umpire would say.
My father shot himself with a hunting rifle. It happened three days after his 42nd birthday.
He seemed so old at the time. But now that I’m about his age, I understand that he was a baby.
For his entire life, my father had mental health problems. Bad ones. He was depressed. He had anxiety. He tried to take his life twice during his teen years. He cried out for help time and again, and nobody did a damn thing about it.
But now that I’m at this age, I want to do something about it.
Although frankly, I don’t know what to do. I’m sitting here in Avondale Park, watching kids play baseball, and I’m thinking about how there are 1.2 million suicide attempts every year. I’m thinking about how every 10 minutes in the U.S. someone dies by suicide.
People raise money for cancer. They raise money for leukemia. What about suicide?
Maybe we could raise money, right here in Avondale, to aid suicide prevention. Or maybe we could just raise awareness.
Maybe we could have a barbecue competition to benefit mental health. Maybe we could have a suicide 5K, where people run/walk to honor a loved one.
Or maybe we could all gather in a park like this and eat ribs, or barbecue, or tacos, or whatever. We could listen to bands play good music. We could remember those beautiful souls who left this world by their own hand, thereby breaking the hearts of those of us who loved them. Or maybe, here’s an idea, we could have a charity baseball game.
No. You’re right. It would never work.
But, hey, a kid can dream.
stephenpe - March 11, 2023 11:12 am
We need to do something. Mental health counseling in this country ,under our WONDERFUL health care system, is hard to get, expensive and still looked down upon. One thing people could do and take from you is talk about their issues. Talk about that family member who took their life. We hide it. Obituraries NEVER admit it even though we know. I know it is cathartic for Sean to write about it and explore his feelings. Thats what all people should do. When I taught I tried hard to keep an eye on children that showed signs of depression and would talk and listen to them. Sounds like a great crusade, Sean. I am in.
Richard Owen - March 11, 2023 1:53 pm
And where would the human race be without dreams?
Dee Thompson - March 11, 2023 3:03 pm
Sean, suicide is a horrible beast. You lost your dad. My friend Hallie Twomey lost her son. She has an amazing campaign that I hope and pray you will check out, Scattering CJ. There is a documentary film, too. She speaks out. She has great courage despite her unspeakable grief. Check this out: https://www.awarenessties.us/hallie-twomey.html?fbclid=IwAR3Q-cspb6OtxbV5pyjoqvCEA_WFx8CBvl8KvUbMkLsLGAR2lUpTUp_EMK4
David in California - March 11, 2023 3:28 pm
Although suicide has not happened in my immediate family, it’s surprising to me (when I think about it) how many people I know who have been directly affected. So thank you for writing and speaking about it. We ALL need to be more aware.
pattymack43 - March 11, 2023 6:46 pm
Never fear, Sean. You are raising awareness in the hearts of people who really do care. Perhaps each of us in our own way will do something to make a difference, saving one lost soul at a time. Have a little faith in your dreams. Blessings!
Jan Linden - March 11, 2023 8:36 pm
My father was 35 or 36 years old when he took his own life. I can’t remember. I was barely 6. At 67, I would welcome an organized walk to benefit suicide prevention so that I could walk for the dad I never really knew.
Ashley - March 11, 2023 8:49 pm
I lost a close friend to suicide the fall after my senior year of high school. It changed a part of me forever. Lots of questions left unanswered. Lots of “why’s” and wondering if she’d still make that decision today if she hadn’t made it then.
She was 19.
My son is 12 years old and plays at Avondale Park, the exact one you wrote about. I just want to say I bet there are a lot of us around here that would be more than happy to do a fundraiser game for suicide-awareness and prevention to honor a loved one. I know I’m down for it.
Eric Linden - March 13, 2023 12:56 am
My brother died by suicide as a young adult. I had ‘talked him down’ once, a few years earlier. Maybe it was an emotional illness which runs in the family; maybe it was a severe anemia of hope. Nonetheless, he is loved. I’d happily join you in a 5k – as long as there’s barbecue and a prayer afterwards.
janie morgan - March 13, 2023 2:06 am
Suicide is a struggle for so many crying for help and no one listens.It has not affected my family .A fellow classmate committed suicide 7th grade.How was that not noticed he was a loner never had anything pleasant to talk about.Got in trouble many times at school.Adults listen to what children are saying.
Paul Sams - March 14, 2023 12:12 am
I lost a cousin to suicide. At 23 years old I was diagnosed with mental depression. I remember the anger I felt when my family doctor referred me to a psychiatrist. I didn’t believe in psychiatrist. I would pray more, read my Bible more. I needed help. I contacted my psychiatrist when I was very afraid of thoughts I was having. I was admitted to the hospital. It was the beginning of learning I had a mental illness, and that everyone you know will spread the word. After being hospitalized, I remember the stares I would get at family gatherings that I hadn’t really wanted to attend. I could hear the whispers that started as I would walk away. Mental illness needs to be talked about frequently. I don’t know if the stigma will ever go away, I no longer feel ashamed of being mentally ill. I live with depression, I have had many happy years of marriage with my wife. She was supportive and patient when I would have bouts of depression where I wanted to do nothing. I won’t say I have overcome depression, but I seem to have learned to live with it. I have also had happiness, I owe much of that to my wife. She passed away two years ago. If I can help one person live, it is worth it. Sadly, there are not enough mental health professionals. That is a tragedy. But let people know they are important, their life is valuable, they are important. It is heart breaking when you reach out to a loved one, or someone you know when they do take their life. But, never stop trying. If you need help, please, please seek help. It may be hard, but please do not give up. Your life is valuable. I promise you it is.