Bonding With My Boys Over Baseball

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Generation after generation, fathers and sons have bonded over a shared love of baseball.  Some of a boy’s fondest childhood memories are times spent with Dad either at the ballpark, watching the game on TV, or playing catch in the backyard.

Unfortunately, my Dad was an alcoholic, whose lifetime of drinking contributed to his early death at age 59.  Consequently, we had a troubled relationship, much of which was rooted in painful early memories of his unwillingness to share his love of baseball (which I briefly touched on in this magazine article I wrote several years ago:http://otisburg.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/geeklove.jpg).

Back in 1994, when I first learned that I was about to have a son of my own, I was overjoyed at the prospect of being able to finally experience a true father-son bonding over baseball.  Little did I know that what at first seemed to be merely a speech delay of undetermined origin would eventually be diagnosed as Autism.

Then, after years of fearing he would share my fate as a lonely only child (having a brother to share my love of baseball would have helped fill the void willfully left by my Dad), I was ecstatic to find out in 2002 that I’d be having another boy.  However, I would soon be faced with the crushing reality that my second son was also afflicted with Autism.

My oldest son (Randy) is now 18 and his younger brother (Brian) is about to turn 11.  They are on different ends of the Autism Spectrum, with Randy being significantly more profound than Brian.  Randy is about to enter the 12th grade, but is in a Special Ed program, as he is mentally the approximate equivalent of about a 6-year-old.  Brian is higher-functioning than Randy, but also has certain limitations – much more socially/emotionally than intellectually.

Both boys were able to play in a Special Olympics-type of baseball program called The Miracle League for several years, where they began to develop a very slow and gradual interest in baseball.  I volunteered as a coach for their teams, and we finally were able to start enjoying baseball together somewhat, though not yet to the same extent most fathers and sons get to appreciate this bond.  Much of it was still very alien to my sons.

After almost 20 years of marriage, most of which was spent (rightfully so) focused more on our childrens’ special needs than our relationship as husband and wife, we sadly reached the mutual decision to divorce back in 2011.  My ex-wife would maintain primary custody, while I would get the boys every other weekend, as well as one week each year around the holidays and one during the Summer.

I married my new wife last July.  While we were still dating, we went to a Rangers game with my boys and her son and daughter (neither of whom have the slightest interest in baseball or sports of any kind, and who are both too set in their teenage ways to convince otherwise).  As a result, it ended up being much more of a generic family outing than an actual father-son trip to the ballpark.

But this Summer, while my stepkids are visiting their Dad in New Mexico, I finally got to take my boys to a Rangers game as a true baseball-focused endeavor.  And to get them in the right mindset, the day before our trip to Arlington I took them to see the movie “42.”  My younger son, Brian, excitedly mentioned how he had not too long ago learned about Jackie Robinson at school, which made my baseball-loving heart soar.

As for our visit to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, we got to see an elite pitching matchup between The Dutch Oven and King Felix.  I focused on those nicknames when preparing my boys for the game, because nothing is funnier to Brian these days than fart-based humor, and I have to admit that my own love of that line of humor hasn’t much subsided – even as I sit just a couple of years shy of 50.

They’re still more interested in what’s available at the concession stand than what’s happening on the field (especially Randy), but the game action is able to keep their attention much longer now than it has in previous trips to the ballpark.

Regardless of the final score Wednesday night (dissapointing as that outcome was for our Rangers), I will always remember it as an amazing victory – a chance to make up a childhood rained out by tears and season upon season lost to the DL due to dislocated father-son relationships.

Bob Bland is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Bob.Bland@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @SDIBob.
Bob Bland

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