It was a bizarre coincidence.
My sister, Mary Ellen, had been storing our dad’s massive collection of baseball books since he died in 2013. No one else in our family had room. In early January, she texted me, asking me to get them out of her house. She needed the space.
I got the willies just thinking of getting rid of those books. When Mary Ellen agreed to store them, I silently hoped I would never have to deal with them again. They held a special place deep in my heart and are a part of my history. I couldn’t envision not having them in our family’s possession.
I responded “OK” to her text, but I actually planned to do nothing further, hoping she’d forget about it. An hour after she texted me, my daughter, Glenna, told us about Marie Kondo's hit Netflix series, Tidying Up.
I watched a couple of episodes of Marie helping people deal with their accumulated stuff. These people were as attached to their collections as I was to these books, but Marie was able to convince them of the good that would come in dealing with their hordes of memorabilia.
I realized that I had to finally do something with Jack’s books.
A week later, I drove to my sister’s home to deal with them. She and her husband Brian had hauled the three huge boxes of books upstairs from the basement. I opened the boxes and suddenly it was the 1970s again.
Our dad, Jack, grew up in London, Ont. in the 1930s. He was an avid baseball fan and his team was the Detroit Tigers, the closest major league team to London. When I came along in 1958, I was indoctrinated into two religions — Catholicism and baseball.
By the time I was eight years old, I was Jack’s partner in everything baseball. We couldn’t get Detroit TV in Toronto, but we could receive WJR radio from Detroit. The reception was best on a car radio, so we would sit in the car on the driveway of our suburban Toronto home on summer nights and listen to the games.
While listening, we would have copies of The Sporting News baseball books with us on our laps. He would order them every year. They included the Baseball Guide — a report on the previous season, the Baseball Register, which had detailed statistical information on the performance of every current major league player and the Dope Book, which included the rosters and team information. They were indispensable to baseball addicts like us.
We had a grand time practicing this passion for a number of years. We would play catch together, listen to the games, share those books and exchange ideas on how the Tigers could be better, and suggest trades with other teams we would make if we were in charge. We had a relationship that wasn’t cemented in being a father and son, but one rooted in a love of the game.
Then I turned 13. And like most of us at that age, I began to take the opposite position to that of my parents. What they wanted, I didn’t want. And these polar extremes were most evident between my dad and me.
I started playing drums in a rock band, but Jack despised rock and roll. I grew my hair long — he hated long hair. I stopped taking school seriously while he had loved school (in fact, he became a French teacher). When I was supposed to be doing my homework, I was actually in my room, headphones on, listening to Cream. Eventually, a report card would arrive in the mail and the lack of attention to my studies would be clear. He would be outraged that school wasn’t the fascination for me that it was for him. He would hover over me and watch me do my homework, diving in frequently to tell me my handwriting was sloppy or how I should be underlining my name and date on an assignment. I thought I was going to explode under this micromanagement. On top of all this, I was lippy and had no fear of letting him know how I felt, and he would yell right back at me.
But baseball would always came to the rescue. We would chat about what we read in the books or heard on a game and be pals again. The game of baseball created peace between us. Time and time again, the sport would show two stubborn guys that they actually loved each other.
That passion never left us. Decades later in 2013, baseball was the focus of our last interaction.
He was in a wheelchair in the hospital and full of pain medication. Jack had always been an ebullient and handsome guy. He looked like Dick Van Dyke. But now, he was frail and eerily quiet. So I started reading a New York Times feature out loud about the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera. I peeked at him after a few minutes and he seemed to have gone to sleep. I stopped reading, but he whispered, “Hey, keep reading.” He died three days later.
So here I am in 2019, staring at the over 300 Sporting News books he saved, memories flooding back. While I know they are just books, inanimate objects, they represent a bond between my dad and me that I treasure. Despite our battles, I loved that guy and I’ve missed him every day since he passed away. Getting rid of the books would be like getting rid of him.
I considered letting Mary Ellen and Brian figure out what to do with the books. But then I recalled Marie Kondo asking her clients whether a certain item brought them joy.
A light switched on in my head. Yeah, they bring me joy, I thought. But I have no actual need for most of these books. What if I just kept a few?
So I took 10 Baseball Guides from the 1970s — the decade when Jack and I battled each other the hardest. Brian took the rest to a second-hand shop.
Those books are on my bookshelf in the basement. When I pass them, I smile and say, “Hi, Dad.” And I swear I can hear him up there saying, “I can’t wait for this season to start.”
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