We’ve been trying for years to get my father to use modern-day technologies, luring him first with a cellphone and later a Kindle — but we have never quite been able to persuade him that a computer was worth his while. I came close last summer, when he and I were at the beach. I was fooling around on my laptop when Dad came in the room and asked, “Can you get the Internet on that machine?” Before I could launch into a recitation of all the things that machine could do, Dad said, “Call up www.baseball-reference.com. Someone at the Nats game told me to go there.”
Next thing I knew, we were ensnared in a world of calculations that only a baseball statistician could love. In short, the site allows you to obtain information about any play, any player, any game. What my dad wanted to know in particular was the date of a walk-off home run by Washington Senator Roy Sievers.
Sievers, a first baseman and left fielder, played for the Senators during two stretches, in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the 1949 Rookie of the Year and a four-time all-star who, as a Senator in 1957, finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting behind Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
Dad figured he was 12 or 13 when Sievers won that game, and he knew it was in April. After much sifting through box scores, we found what we were looking for: April 20, 1958, against the Boston Red Sox.
My father, about as thrilled now as he was then, whooped. That day, he’d jumped from the stands and darted to home plate to shake Sievers’s hand as he scored. A photographer from the Washington Daily News caught the moment. The next day, a photo of my father ran with this caption: “Wild-eyed unidentified sports fan.” He’s been one ever since.
He grew up in Washington and spent much of his youth at its old stadium, Griffith Stadium, where he sold hot dogs and peanuts and watched his beloved teams struggle.
And he’s tried, without much success, to make me a fan, too. I remember as a very young girl hauling off to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore to watch the O’s take on the Senators. I remember the sadness in the house when the Senators left town. I remember all the promising years when the Redskins came close to winning, only to be beaten down along the way. Our house had a burgundy roof and gold siding.
Dad’s most memorable episode of fan fanaticism came the year the then-Washington Bullets won the NBA championship. My father, through a series of happy events, found himself driving a Sports Illustrated writer in a convertible in the ensuing parade, and he eventually wound up at the White House, eating hot dogs and talking to Rosalynn Carter.
I’ve enjoyed watching games with Dad over the years, but I never quite caught the bug. Most recently, I was my father’s guest for Ryan Zimmerman Bobblehead Day at Nationals Park. I tried to be on my best game-day behavior. I knew when to stand and when to cheer, when to sing and when to be quiet. My sister, like Dad a Nats’ season-ticket holder, had given me a bag of essentials: peanuts, water bottles, a spray-mister and a mysterious towel packed in a Ziploc bag. (This proved to be one of my father’s magic towels, which he soaks and freezes before the game, then uses to cool off when the heat is on.) Still, I could not help but succumb to a nap during the pregame festivities. It was a nearly perfect day, until it was interrupted by torrential rain and tornado threats. But the Nats won when play resumed.
And then they kept on winning, enough to earn a playoff berth. A sports-loving co-worker feeds me these tidbits, which I then call my father to discuss. Dramatic comebacks, crazy plays and awesome moments — sharing in them is a way to share a joy with my father.
It is ironic that Dad, who has waited nearly 70 years for this magical season to arrive, won’t be in town when it reaches its apex. He and my mother are off on a long-scheduled vacation, and the playoffs will have to go on without him. But Mom bought an iPad, with the idea that Dad could, finally, be persuaded to sign on and sign in. Maybe he’ll use it to watch games in real time. If so, wherever he is, this wild-eyed sports fan will be hollering and cheering, sticking around for extra innings, and singing, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”