On September 16, minutes before the Detroit Tigers, the current American League Central division champions, took the field against the Seattle Mariners, I found myself standing on the deep outfield grass of Comerica Park, waiting for my almost-seven-year-old daughter to throw me her best approximation of a fastball.
It was a heady, surreal moment, a moment where – thanks to my surroundings, my daughter’s determined scowl, and the scuffed Major League baseball in her tiny hands – all I could think about was how wonderful it was to be a father.
It’s amazing how intertwined baseball has become with the concept of modern American fatherhood. There’s just something about the game that feels paternal, that crosses over from generation to generation. And, while there are a number of father-son teams sprinkled throughout the history of Major League Baseball – looking at you, Griffeys and Fielders – probably the single most powerful, tangible example of the emotional connection between baseball and fatherhood takes place in the closing moments of a Kevin Costner movie.
That’s right – Field of Dreams. You all know what I’m talking about. The music swells. Costner’s voice cracks. “Hey Dad… you wanna have a catch?” I know people who despise organized sports and yet that moment always, always reduces them to a pile of quivering emotional jelly. They wipe their eyes, sigh, and you can see them mentally promising themselves that they’re going to call their dads in the morning.
Even if your only familiarity with the game comes from movies, there are some undeniably deep cultural resonances between fathers and baseball. Maybe it’s the uniforms, maybe it’s the simple act of playing catch. Who knows? But that connection is there, so it’s really heartening to see Major League Baseball taking such an active interest lately in promoting the importance of being an engaged dad.
Earlier this month, the MLB and Dove Men+Care debuted a new online video series called “Big League Dads” in which players like Torii Hunter, Chris Sale, and Ben Zobrist talk about the impact of being a dad and what fatherhood means to them. The video series is set to continue through October and, while the video spots definitely fall into the category of “dadvertising”, that doesn’t mean that they’re not also earnest, heartfelt, and endearing. Dads and baseball go together like…Kevin Costner and baseball movies, so, with a campaign like Big League Dads, it’s nice to see the MLB acknowledging and celebrating that bond.
I grew up in the shadow of a major league stadium – Detroit’s Tiger Stadium – so baseball pushes my nostalgic emotional triggers harder than I’d care to admit. I have so many memories of sitting on my front porch with my dad and just listening the sounds of the game. The announcers, the organ, the crowd letting us know the fate of the Tigers via their cheers and groans. Tiger Stadium was always this shining temple of baseball at the end of my block and, even though I had a knack for sneaking into games after the fourth inning, I never got to step out on the green, green grass of the playing field until long after the stadium was retired and demolished.
So, as a part of the Big League Dads campaign, when MLB and Dove Men+Care offered to have me bring my daughter to a Tigers game AND play catch with her on the field of Comerica Park, the worthy successor to my beloved Tiger Stadium, I jumped at the chance…after I cleared the lump from my throat.
The experience was fantastic. Even though my daughter is only a casual baseball fan, even she gasped when I told her that we actually got to go down onto the playing field. We watched batting practice from directly behind home base, we meekly waved to Prince Fielder (who waved back, bless him), and, eventually, we were ushered through the tunnels beneath the seats until we emerged onto the grass, deep in right field.
Now, before you start mentally scoring the moment to James Horner’s Field of Dreams soundtrack, I was tossing the ball with a second grader, not the guy from Dances with Wolves. We laughed a lot. She refused to wear her glove and screamed “OW!” almost every time she caught the ball bare-handed. We made silly faces, pitches went WILD (often almost hitting people), and, at least once, the ball was caught in her hat. Our time in right field was silly, chaotic, and exhilarating, and, throughout it all, I kept thinking, “It is amazing that I’m a dad right now and that I get to share this with my kid.”
So, thanks MLB and Dove Men+Care. Thanks for taking the role of fathers seriously. Granted, the notion of “Big League Dads” might ultimately just make for a good promotional hashtag, but, in those moments on the field playing catch with my daughter, like I was an Oscar-winning actor and not just some schlub with ballpark mustard on his pants, I definitely felt like whatever a Big League Dad is supposed to be. And it felt good.