The Guy Who Taught Me to Love the Game

Here on Girl At The Game, I often talk about what it’s like to be female sports fan and sportswriter. But today, I want to shift the focus a bit to what is kind of my origin story; I want to talk about the reason I’m here.

Today is my dad’s birthday. And even though he both loves to be the center of attention and hates to be made a fuss over, I wanted to write something for him, because he’s one of the main reasons I am the sports fanatic I am.

My dad grew up with three sisters, and his father passed away when he was in high school. Then he grew up, married my mom, and had two daughters. He’s always been surrounded by doting, overbearing, affectionate women, outnumbered since day one.

I was a pretty girly little girl, into Barbies, nail polish, and Disney movies. I was not good at sports, and I thought that because I wasn’t good at them, I wouldn’t be interested in them, either. Or rather, I was ashamed about how unathletic I was, and I avoided reminders of that shortcoming.

I don’t remember exactly when my dad starting teaching me about sports, but it was pretty early on, and when my father tells a story about something he loves, his passion is unmatched in this world. I see it when he talks about sports, about Israel, about history; it’s an absolute privilege to witness. We’d play Strat-O-Matic on Saturday afternoons after synagogue, and he’d tell me stories about baseball players as we built teams. We had every player set, literally hundreds of cards, everything from All-Stars to the Negro Leagues. Like a human encyclopedia, my dad had stories about every player. I’d listen to him talk about Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Pumpsie Green, Yaz, The Babe, and my then-favorite, Ted Williams (he’s since been replaced by Big Papi.)

When I got a little bit older, we’d play catch in the park on Saturday afternoons. He taught me how to pitch overhand, which caused some trouble when I tried out for softball; they wouldn’t let me play on the boys’ baseball team. He came to my games and on the weekends, helped me work on my fear of catching pop-outs, since they’d stranded me in the outfield when I refused to “pitch like a girl.”

At Red Sox games, he’d teach me how to score plays. We’d bring our mitts, even though I’m pretty sure it’s scientifically impossible to hit a foul ball to our seats. On my last night in Boston in September, we sat in the rain for all nine innings. I knew he was totally miserable – we were all soaked and freezing, and the game seemed endless – but he never complained. He knew I’d never leave a game early, and he wasn’t going to leave me, especially on my last night at home. I didn’t say it at the time, but it meant more to me than anything.

I’m getting more into football now, and one of my favorite things to do when I’m sitting in LA traffic is to call my dad to get a little Patriots education. I know he likes it even more than baseball; he’s watched last year’s Super Bowl at least twice as many times as his friend Bob Kraft. He alternates between waxing poetic about plays and rapid-fire questions about blocking and passing. Last month, “Football For Dummies” showed up on my doorstep here in California.

I’m a sports fan and a sportswriter who happens to be a woman. Most men don’t take me seriously; they think they know more than me just because we’re anatomically different. But my father never treated me like I was anyone other than someone who might love sports. He talks to me like a person and taught me these games the same way I’d imagine him teaching a son. He brags about my writing and puts it on his social media constantly, and I love that this is something we share; I cherish it. He’s been my teacher, in life and in sports, and never let me believe for a second that I was inferior in this field simply because of who I am. If anything, he says, the chip on my shoulder motivates me to keep going. “Kadima,” he always says. That’s Hebrew for ‘go forward.’

Happy birthday, Daddy. Thank you for teaching me and inspiring me to be the girl at the game.

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