Fathers and sons and baseballs

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Owen baseball
Owen Graziano snags a baseball at a New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ game.

While the MLB was on the All-Star Break, I took my son to a minor league game. Like a junky, I need baseball in the summer—my cells crave it.

We drove into downtown Manchester and watched The New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto’s AA team) play the “Future Red Sox” as NESN and the Liverpool Soccer Club like to sell it to fans.

They’re also called The Portland Sea Dogs.

While my son and I ate soggy and delicious ballpark hot dogs soaked in ketchup and relish on a muggy summer night game, watching the boys of summer take the diamond, it occurred to me that this was an authentic baseball experience, the sounds and smells and nostalgia of the game passed down from father to son.

For the past five years, I’ve been a big advocate of minor league baseball and supporting these local organizations, especially with the exorbitant Fenway prices. At the minor league level, the kids can get close to the players who seem like superheroes to my son in their crisp and clean uniforms.

We experienced this more profoundly last year when our family went to a Fisher Cats’ game, and my son—who has always been a willful boy—got it in his head that he wanted a baseball as a souvenir . While I tried to explain to him that getting a baseball contained an element of luck that we couldn’t control, my son refused to leave it to the cosmos.

So Owen draped himself over the fence on the first-base line, his arms hanging down and his baseball mitt secured to his left hand. Not even twenty yards from him, the pitchers in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ bullpen sat on an aluminum bench next to a bucket chock full of the things my son wanted most: baseballs.

For a 7-year-old boy—still half a decade away from discovering curves—the desire to procure a baseball in a half-filled AA ballpark was more than a whim; it was a real desire, a passion. However, by the seventh inning, he resigned himself to nihilism—a trait he inherited from me.

“I’m not getting a ball,” he said, which might as well been translated to: Life just doesn’t work out.

“Keep trying, Owen,” his mother encouraged. “I have a good feeling about this.”

Still draped over the fence on the first base line, Owen waited.

Then, as vicissitudes played out, Owen was tossed a ball between innings from a player warming up the right fielder. That player was Koby Clemens, the son of Roger Clemens, the former Red Sox legend who is the generally reviled in the region for a plethora of reasons, some of them stemming from an acrimonious departure from Boston and later a defection to the Yankees.

Oh, and he cheated then lied about cheating under oath, at one point throwing his wife under the bus and pinning steroids on her. There’s that, too.

Long before any of the fracas that would taint Roger Clemens’ career, I had a poster of Koby’s dad in my bedroom. In 1986, when Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in a game, won a Cy Young, an MVP and took the Sox to the World Series, he might as well been curing lepers, turning water into wine, and resurrecting the dead. Like millions of New England boys at the time, I worshiped Roger Clemens with the dogged devotion of an 11-year-old boy who was still a couple of years away from discovering curves—the fleshy kind that didn’t involve the rotations of a baseball.

Of course, Roger Clemens’ legacy in Boston—and as an athlete in general—has now been poisoned by his arrogance and hubris in the face of incontrovertible evidence. But he is a rich athlete, and he got away with perjury.

But when I was a boy, The Rocket was beyond reproach, a superhero. And then, over twenty years later, Roger Clemens’ son, with a simple flip of a $3 baseball, became my son’s hero.

For two nights, Owen slept with the baseball that Koby Clemens gave him. The baseball now sits on top of my son’s drawer, like my Roger Clemens poster hung in on my bedroom wall for years.

Baseball—and the crazy compulsion to experience the game—is something that can be shared between father and sons (or daughters) in any number of unexpected ways. Without these intangibles, baseball becomes “just a game,” and for the casual fans, another plan on the social calendar. But it is also a way we connect with each other, fathers and sons, spanning generations. And there is a beauty and symmetry to the game that can’t be explained, only experienced, one generation after the next, a baseball in hand.

And, Owen, by the way, son, here is a lesson from the ballfield: sometimes life does work out.