For me, it was the green. The color, the sheer magnitude of it, overwhelmed me. And all I could do was stare at that wall.
The first time my dad, Bruce, ever took me to a major league baseball game, it was at Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox were playing the Baltimore Orioles. And while I’m sure the outcome mattered to plenty who filled the seats at the ballpark that day, as an 8-year-old, I was not among them.
I couldn’t tell you who won, who pitched, what happened or even what else we did that day. I just remember we sat in a roof-deck seat, I had my dad all to myself — a rarity, with two sisters — and that massive green wall in left field.
Sometime during the game, we made our way down to the lower bowl for a few minutes. Our seats were fine, but there was something else my dad wanted me to see. As we poked our heads into a pricier section, we waited and watched as a pitch was delivered. You could hear it whizz by and pop the catcher’s mitt. “Isn’t that amazing?” my dad asked me. “Can you believe how fast it looks from down here?”
That was the moment that I fell in love with the game. Still to this day, it’s one of my favorite memories with my dad.
Major League Baseball spent Sunday awash in blue as it celebrated Father’s Day by using the day to bring awareness to prostate cancer. And spurred by the annual day to celebrate Dad, a few Nationals players were kind enough to share some of their favorite memories of their fathers with us.
Here they are, in their own words:
Adam LaRoche; Dad: Dave (former MLB pitcher)
“Our whole life was baseball. We had a batting cage in our backyard in Texas, outside of Houston, and he’d come out there and throw to us for hours. Hours. And then as we got older he’d say, ‘All right, I’m going to throw to you guys. If you pull one ball, if you hit one ball on this side of me, we’re done.’
“So he would throw and throw and we’re just fighting to go the other way. He might throw one inside and you’d pull one and he’d just walk out of there. Walk inside. Try it again tomorrow. This was when we were a little older. When we were young he’d let us do whatever. But it used to drive us crazy because we’d all be ready to hit and he’d bail on us, so we’d be throwing to each other. Which is funny because now I can’t hit the ball the other way, but back then that’s all I did was hit the ball the other way.
“That and all the spring trainings coming just like [my son] Drake does now, just coming to the field. That’s why I bring Drake as much as I do because I remember what it meant for us. We’d just run around and shag fly balls. We’d run to all the fields. If there was something going on on the half-field, run over there and help out, run to the cages, just running all over the complex.”
Craig Stammen; Dad: Jeff
“He would stand on the driveway and I would stand out in the grass and he’d just hit me ground ball after ground ball after ground ball and make me dive for them. He’d hit some slow, hit some hard; it was just fun hanging out. He’d come home from work [selling farm equipment] and just spend as long as I would go out there in the yard playing ball. That’s probably the best memory.
“We did that all the way until even when I was in high school. If I wanted him to hit me ground balls that was where we’d go. He would stand on the blacktop and hit me one-hoppers so all the balls had blacktop all over them from all the ground balls. I never really pitched that much. I had a brick wall I threw up against, but at that point I wanted to be Barry Larkin, so we were trying our hardest to do that. We would do that and then we’d play pepper in the yard. He’s part-owner of the business now. But he’d work all day, pretty tough work, and come home and play ball with me.”
Anthony Rendon; Dad: Rene
“When I was younger we’d have this little chalkboard. I don’t even know how big it was, no bigger than [a piece of paper], and he’d draw a little diamond and we’d go over plays and situations. It was kind of funny.
“Like, ‘Hey, if there was a person on first and you’re at shortstop and a ball gets hit to left, where do you go and what happens? What do you do?’ That’s kind of what we’d do. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. It helped me out a lot. It’s funny how I remembered that. We’d do it every now and then. It was when I was first learning the game and trying to figure out, ‘All right, what do I do?’ I was starting to take it seriously and I would go up to him and ask him to do it because I hated looking lost out there.”
Drew Storen; Dad: Mark
“When he’d come home from doing the 6 o’clock news, he’d play catch with me in the shirt and tie right after dinner. We just had a regimen we’d do. Play basketball, shoot around a little, he’d hit some grounders. That was always our dessert: catch.
“We’d always eat at the same time and it just became automatic. I think one of the funny things with him when I was like 12 or so, we were throwing at an indoor baseball facility and there was a dad there catching his [high school-aged son] in catcher’s gear and my dad was like, ‘Oh, I’ll never have to do that.’ And gave the guy a hard time. So by the time I was in high school and I was that kid’s age, I’d blow him up [with how hard I was throwing]. I played catch with him a couple years ago, he was like: ‘I don’t know how anybody ever gets a hit.’
“But that was probably my favorite thing, just when he’d come home and play catch with me. Knowing now how uncomfortable suits are, I can’t believe he did it in his. Very impressive.”
Steve Lombardozzi; Dad: Steve (former MLB infielder)
“We’ve spent hours on the baseball field training. As I grew up, he coached me. We’ve got a real good relationship. He’s like a best friend to me. But one thing he would do is he’d bring me to big league games or bring me in a big league locker room when he was done playing, if he knew some of the coaches on one of the teams or whatever.
“He’d bring me around and let me ask questions to the big leaguers or pick their brains about something. To be able to do that, that made a big impact on me. That started when I was in elementary school and then as I grew up, we’d do it.
“When it was my first big league camp, first game of spring training — I think it was against the Braves — he flew down. I didn’t know. I was stretching out on the field and he hollered at me down the line. That was really cool, since it was my first big league spring training.”
Kurt Suzuki; Dad: Warren
“He used to catch my, I guess you could say, bullpens. When I was younger, I was a pitcher and I’d always go in the front yard and practice pitching to him and I used to throw as hard as I could. Now I think, ‘God. I could’ve killed him!’ But when I was younger, I was just trying to throw it as hard as I could, trying to hurt his hand, you know? He would always catch back there. Now I’m thinking, ‘Holy smokes.’ No gear, nothing, no cup, nothing, just out there catching. I used to do it all the time.
“We used to go on trips in the summer and I’d miss practice, so we’d bring our gloves and find a grassy area and we’d play catch. Find a batting cage and go hit and stuff. … I’m sure I got him a couple times. I don’t remember a good one but I remember trying to hurt his hand all the time.”
Jayson Werth; Stepdad: Dennis (former MLB infielder)
“My stepdad coached all of our teams growing up. So from when we were 8 to 17, we’d travel around the country and kick everybody’s [butts]. We’d just roll around the country and just bang on people. He was the manager or the head coach or whatever. We had a lot of fun. Our teams were really good and it was epic.
“We just played a lot. And we had big league instruction so, it was good. … We had a guy who’d played a ton of baseball himself and knew a lot about the game and could transfer knowledge.”