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.