Major League Fools and Their Dads

Today was the first day of baseball’s spring training. Every Major League team played. The professionals all trotted onto dirt infields to punch gloves, swing bats, and make life a little better for those of us who are emotionally unstable enough to be called “fans.” Baseball is back.

I realize that not everyone cares about baseball, but last year, after our Atlanta Braves were decapitated by the Saint Louis Cardinals, it was like a nuclear holocaust at my house.

This pain can be traced back to my father, a lifelong Cardinals hater, who would have rolled in his grave after the upset. I will refrain from printing any unnecessary Cardinals jokes here because one or two Cardinals fans might know how to read.

Sorry. That was cheap. And I apologize. But I can’t help myself. Because I learned to love baseball during infanthood. My early days can be measured by red dirt stains and strained groin muscles. We would sweat all summer, rolling on grassy outfields, sliding into second, stealing bites of Navy plug chew and pretending to be men.

Of course, I was no man. I was freckled, chubby, and an all-around unattractive kid. But when I was on the field, I felt like I was part of something big.

I did not grow up in an era of technology and smartphones. Mine was probably the last generation to experience an electronically quiet life. We rode bicycles to practice, gloves hanging over our handlebars. There was no internet, instead our elders fed us tales about growing up with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Ted Williams.

My father grew up during a time when the Yanks were a superpower. A time when the Dodgers finally defrocked the Bronx Bombers to become world champions. When Jackie Robinson was in the twilight of his career. Mickey Mantle was the American League’s top slugger. Hank Aaron was hitting .314. Willie Mays was unstoppable.

Why am I telling you this? Especially when I doubt that you care much about trivial things like batting averages. I tell you this because my little heart is covered with white cowhide and stitched together with eighty-eight inches of waxed red thread.

At this age, I have lost almost every possession my father ever left me after he died. His hand tools. His workbench. His 492 mismatched ratchet sets. I lost it all. I even lost his ball glove—which he bought when he was a teenager and kept using until a few days before his funeral.

His accumulated artifacts slowly disappeared. Even his old photographs are fading, they are sepia-toned now, you can’t even tell his hair was red. But he gave me his game. And I still have it.

Televised games and radio games were ritual sacraments. During games the phone would be left off the hook, bathroom breaks only occurred during commercial breaks when the radio announcer would say, “Let’s pause for station identification…” Ballparks were like churches. Playing catch was public prayer.

He died on the exact day they cancelled the World Series. It was the second time in American history that Major League Baseball ever cancelled a Series. The first was in 1904, and it was a fluke.

The second time happened to land on the day of my father’s suicide. When the commissioner of baseball announced the cancellation of the Series, my father was lying in the cooler at the coroner’s.

After that, I went through a drought of the human soul. My life changed. I stopped watching baseball altogether. I quit my Little League team. I threw away my card collection. I was finished. Not just with baseball, but with him.

Until many years later.

My salvation came when I took a road trip through my father’s microscopic hometown. A place I hadn’t been since I was a snotnose. When I cruised into town, do you know what I saw first? I’ll tell you:

In the sleepy hamlet of Humboldt, Kansas, all visitors are greeted by a large welcome-to-town sign covered in paintings of baseball players. Walter “Big Train” Johnson—a pitcher who Ty Cobb once called the best of all time. And George “Sharkey” Sweatt—one of the greatest to play the game.

I had to pull over to admire the sign. This rural corn crib where my father was born, so proud of their baseball. The sign wasn’t boasting about stuff other towns would’ve been bragging about. It wasn’t saying, “Voted One of Newsweek’s Top 100 Small Towns!” No advertisements for barbecue joints. No real estate posters, no church plaques, no Rotary Club seal. For crying out loud, there wasn’t even a population number. It was just baseball.

My father’s whole life suddenly made sense to me.

That same afternoon I saw children warming up their arms on a local ballfield, not far from where my old man drew his first breath. And it broke me. It gave me a sense that, yes, life lets you down more often than it doesn’t. It is a fact.

One day you will lose the things you love. Someday, a hundred years from now, your photograph will fade, and your grandchildren will misplace all your belongings.

But not your game. It cannot disappear. Not as long as men and boys still gather on infields each season to remember their fathers. No one can kill it. Not even if they cancel the World Series. The grayness of life will pass. Last year’s losses will be forgotten. Hope lies ninety feet away from home plate. Winter is over.

Baseball is back.


  1. Dawn A Bratcher - February 23, 2020 7:04 am

    I love baseball…and I am a Yankee fan! Let’s play ball! ⚾️

  2. Steve Winfield - February 23, 2020 8:11 am

    I may have told you this already.
    I’m 5′ 3 1/2″ & 125 lbs. You can imagine what a wimp I was at 8.
    A nearby town had a little league club. You paid a fee, bought a uniform & got assigned a team with kids your age. There were probably 4 teams in each age. Once a week you played against one of those. All our friends joined so my brother & I did too.
    I sucked. Bad. Terribly afraid of the ball. Stuck in left field & no way I could hit those fast pitches. Once in a while I’d get walked & occasionally I’d actually get to score.
    The coach’s teenaged son was an assistant coach. He came up with the idea to teach me to bunt. We practiced & practiced & practiced until I sort of got the hang of it. About 5% of the time I’d actually send the ball bouncing toward 3rd base like they wanted & I’d get to 1st base, sometimes.
    Friday night game & tonight I’ll show my stuff. Dad’s fired up. Smoking a King Edward, got him a Schlitz in a Pepsi cup.
    Other team’s pitcher was a terror. You could barely see the ball it moved so fast. 1 strike, 1 ball & this time I’m gonna make it work. He let go of the ball & I dropped the bat into position. But. I was so nervous that my right hand was wrapped all the way around the bat & the ball nailed me dead on the thumb nail.
    After a couple minutes rolling around in the dirt crying my eyes out they brought me a cup of ice to put my thumb in & walked me to 1st. After that inning I spent the rest of the game in the dugout crying & freezing my thumb.
    Never tried to bunt again. Decided not to play next year.
    My team was the minor league Cardinals.
    Love you. Counting the hours til the March 12 book signing.

  3. GaryD - February 23, 2020 11:10 am

    I quit watching all sports many years ago when the players off-field antics overshadowed their on field talents.

  4. Jennifer John - February 23, 2020 11:58 am

    Your most heartfelt piece yet, Sean. I can almost smell the roasted peanuts and Ballpark franks … ⚾️❤️

  5. Mary Carol Miller - February 23, 2020 12:21 pm

    Sean, thank you so much for this wonderful column. I look forward to your words every day but this one is especially special. Since you will soon be coming to my little hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi, on your book tour, I thought I might share a different twist on a “dads and baseball” story. My father and I, just like you and yours, shared a common love for The Game. He taught me how to throw a 3/4 arm pitch, how to slide, how to fungo (which is still my specialty). Much to his dismay, though, I lacked a “Y” chromosome. I was a girl (still am, just a gray one). Didn’t matter, we played in the back yard every chance we got and he sat with me on the back steps for a good cry every spring when the neighborhood boys got their Dixie League uniforms. No self pity, life wasn’t fair, just get it out of your system.

    Fast forward to 1991. I was living in Jackson, where the Houston Astros (the National League version, not the trash can bangers) were introducing their new AA minor league team to the city. They held a contest to name the team and I won with the “Jackson Generals.” The prize was a trip to the Astros home opener, season tickets to the Generals and a chance to throw out the first pitch of the season. They were very concerned that a young lady had won the contest and were afraid I would be unable to fulfill my pitching duties. So, the night of the first game rolls around, my husband and kids are there and so is my 74-year-old dad, right behind home plate. I’m in the dugout when the announcer introduces me and as I walk with the catcher out to the field, he asks me how far up between home plate and the mound do I want him to stand. I stopped dead still and stared at him. He stared at me. The whole stadium stared at both of us. “I want you behind the plate,” I said, feeling my face turn about the color of your beard. “Ohhh, K,” he replied, probably sending up a prayer to the Gods of Baseball to save me from everlasting shame.

    I was in a skirt, in front of several thousand people, in front of my father, with a slick new baseball in my hand, on a professional pitchers mound. Time stood still, literally, and I mentally put myself back in that yard in Greenwood, Mississippi, whipping it in to my father. Focus, windup, release, perfect strike, right over the plate. The catcher stood up, looked at the ball in his mitt, gave me this huge loopy grin, and sent the ball sailing over my head to the second baseman. I looked up toward the stands and my father was dancing in the crowd, grabbing my children and hugging my mother and living the dream.

    I have so many precious memories of baseball season, though I never did get one of those Dixie League uniforms. I got something better: I made a good man proud.

    Looking forward to your visit to the Mississippi Delta, my friend~

  6. Paula Beard - February 23, 2020 12:29 pm

    I am a new fan. Thanks for curing my “dry eye”.

  7. Shelton A. - February 23, 2020 12:49 pm

    Go Yanks!

  8. Xan - February 23, 2020 1:04 pm

    From one girl baseball player to another, I think your “column” today rivaled Sean’s. I was the best baseball player in my family with three brothers and in my neighborhood filled with boys. And every Saturday I had to sit in the stands and watch them play. I am an LA Dodgers fan since 1959, and I hate the garbage can banging Houston Astricks! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  9. Elizabeth - February 23, 2020 1:18 pm

    Fabulous ode to baseball! Thank you again.

  10. Retired Ol' Geezer - February 23, 2020 1:50 pm

    No, Sean, no; I agree with Gary D. In addition to his reason, the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, due ONLY to the greed of both the owners and players, as well as their contempt for, and disregard for, the fans, finished me with baseball. The Series survived WWI, WWII, The Great Depression, Korea, and Vietnam only to be cancelled for the above reason. That was the last straw. On top of that, I recently found out that both Major League Baseball and the principal owner of the San Francisco Giants, Charles Johnson and his wife Ann, had both sent contributions to the senate campaign of Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi. That lovely lass actually said that if lynching was brought back, she’d be sure to be right there on the front row. Sadly, even in this day and time, she won. Nope, the combination of pro baseball’s contempt for its fans and its support of racism and bigotry have finished me with baseball forever. Sean, I enjoy your columns and really enjoyed your show in Columbiana, Alabama, including meeting you and your “Boss”, Jamie, afterwards. However, on this, let’s agree to disagree.

  11. Curt - February 23, 2020 1:50 pm

    Try being an Astros fan.

  12. Bobby - February 23, 2020 1:55 pm

    Love old baseball memories. My grandma lived in north Louisiana and was a rabid LSU and Dodgers fan. My dad died of cancer when I was a baby. I was her only grand kid and I spent summers there when I was a kid. Nearest pro baseball was the Houston Colt 45s (now Astros). We travelled there often. She thrived on arguing with umpire calls, embarrassing me to no end. Fun memories now. In summer of 62, I saw them play the Mets. Casey Stengel was manager and Rogers Hornsby was base coach. Had a baseball signed by both. When I returned home to the other LA, lower Alabama, I was so proud of the ball that I used it in a pick up game. There went the prized autographs!
    Great seeing you in Dothan recently!
    “Your favorite law enforcement buddy”
    Bobby Hamil

  13. Naomi - February 23, 2020 2:00 pm

    I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, but my father grew up in New York City so the only baseball team I knew about was the New York Yankees. My late husband was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, so he was a fan of the Atlanta Braves. When we got married, he was transferred to St. Louis, so we were fans of the St. Louis Cardinals; we even had dinner on our anniversary at Stan Musiel’s restaurant in St. Louis. In 1973, I moved back to Atlanta and became a fan of the Atlanta Braves. My daughter got married on Oct. 26, 1991, the same day as the last game of the World Series when Atlanta was playing; it was also the opening day of hunting season. During her wedding reception, as the night wore on, people started disappearing and I was standing in the reception hall by myself. Her new husband and all of the male members of his family were hunters; the rest of the people wanted to wanted to watch the World Series. The last time I went to a Braves game was when Ted Turner and Jane Fonda were there. We can’t handle the crowds, no place to park and all of the drunks.

  14. Marc Beaver - February 23, 2020 2:52 pm

    Exactly! Love me so good baseball!

  15. Melodie - February 23, 2020 3:05 pm

    Beautiful field of dreams….

  16. Marilyn - February 23, 2020 3:32 pm

    I love your blog, Sean, but also enjoy reading the comments. There are some really good stories told by you and your fans! Many thanks for giving a positive look at life y’all.

  17. emjaytexas - February 23, 2020 4:31 pm

    I’m a girl who grew up watching Roberto Clemente and Mazz at her Daddy’s knee. Oh, that 1961 World Series when Bill Mazeroski rounded the bases, arm swinging, after his historic game-winning walkoff home run in Game 7 against the Yankees! Finally something for Pittsburghers to be proud of! I was told my uncle’s dad played in a local club league with Honus Wagner. A girl child of the 50s-60s, I didn’t play the game but I grew up a baseball fan. Married and living in Tennessee, we cheered on Dale Murphy and the Braves with our sons. Now I’m living in Houston, where our proud Astros are currently doing the media walk of shame.

  18. Harriet White - Atlanta - February 23, 2020 5:16 pm

    That was excellent. I I’ve the way you describe your heart is covered in cowhide… I saw and felt that. How do you write like that. No adverbs either. No ly’s.
    And simple. I can’t wait to meet you in Atlanta. Home of The Braves.

  19. Linda Moon - February 23, 2020 5:53 pm

    There’s a song written by someone I’m a FAN of. Does that make me and others like me emotionally unstable? The song is, “Everything is Broken” from the album “Oh Mercy”. I like baseball, and I care about you and other little boys who were broken by a father’s suicide. I’m overjoyed that you found your mercy and salvation on that road trip there in Kansas. Thank you for sharing more of your father’s story with us again, Sean. Brokenness can be stitched back together, but maybe we really don’t ever want to forget about those foolish and flawed dads!

  20. Patricia Winters - February 23, 2020 7:39 pm

    I usually copy your columns to Facebook for my friends who don’t know how or do not have the ability to access them for themselves, but I can;t do that today. I live in Alton, Illinois, and we root for Saint Louis teams.

  21. Larry Hardin - February 23, 2020 7:46 pm

    Good one Sean.

  22. Wanda Willis - February 23, 2020 7:50 pm

    Hi Sean. If you have not seen the movie ” Frequency” you need to. Its about a father and his son and baseball. There’s also a ham radio that plays a major role. Its fabulous and I think you would love it. Check it out sometime and please don’t stop writing. 🙂

  23. Melissa Williams - February 23, 2020 8:12 pm

    My father was born in 1922. His father was British and was convinced that the only way to become a true American was to learn baseball. At the height of the Great Depression (‘34 or ‘35 I believe) his father managed to scrape up enough $ to take him to a World Series game in St. Louis. He was a diehard Cardinals fan. Until 1966 when we moved to Atlanta. Quick as you could switch on the kitchen light, he became an instant Braves fan. He went to as many games as he could. Transistor radio plugged into one ear, briefcase on his lap keeping score. The bad years I would go with him because no one else would. The games where there were only about 6 people in the stands, the WSB announcers would acknowledge him on the air when they spotted him in the stands. Thanks for reminding me of all this. Play Ball!

  24. catladymac - February 23, 2020 8:23 pm

    My Father too left me a love of the game. Even though I was only allowed to play against the garage wall, or with the other girls at recess. And we were Indians fans.

  25. catladymac - February 23, 2020 8:27 pm

    Evidently this was before all the celebrity first pitches we’ve been subjected to since.

  26. Ann - February 23, 2020 9:35 pm

    …. through the dark there is hope❤️

  27. chip plyler - February 23, 2020 11:38 pm

    Wow!!! made my eyes leak …

  28. Chasity Davis Ritter - February 24, 2020 1:01 am

    My daughter loves baseball. She started watching in high school because her crush played but it kinda got in her blood (mine too) then she got to start playing on the Dream League a team for special needs children of all ages. She has played several seasons now and we absolutely love it. Last year my grandsons started playing too. Looks like it may just be in our blood too now. A couple of days after we lost my Dad was the first day of fall season. They said we understand kid you can’t make it but sarah wanted and needed to be out there playing. My Dad always wanted to come see a game but never made it. It was so weird while we were there a hearse actually drove by. It wasn’t him but still…. I did see a dragonfly and they have always been there since at all her games. My sister in law photoshopped a picture of him that day watching over the field as she played and I have always felt his presence near by. He loved his sarah so much and was always proud of her for trying. I miss him so much. All the time. I know you miss your Dad too. It’s funny that what ever you wrote makes me think of mine too even if my dad wasn’t a baseball guy it still relates to us in this way. Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away Sean and I’ll see my Daddy again. Away beyond the blue where fly balls touch the sky…

  29. Chasity Davis Ritter - February 24, 2020 1:19 am

    Mary Carol Miller I don’t know if you’ll see my reply but I cried harder reading your comment then reading Sean’s post! That is so amazing and awesome. Yeah it’s not fair girls didn’t get to play back in the day. My daughter is special needs and she wouldn’t get picked to play these days but she had a wonderful team she does play with the Dream League made special for them and she lives for the game. I could imagine the pride your Dad was feeling that Day watching you pitch one in and how you felt knowing he was watching step out onto the pitchers mound. I bet the applause was terrific!! Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  30. sec040121 - February 24, 2020 4:40 pm

    Chasity, I hope your daughter always loves baseball and the Dream League gives her a chance to be part of something special. Aren’t we all blessed to have Sean Dietrich jogging memories for us all every day?

  31. George Cozby - February 24, 2020 6:38 pm

    As a Cardinal fan, I apologize for beating you up so badly. We’ll try to let you make it a little closer this year. : )


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