published Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

David Cook: Head for home

My boy walks up with a toy stethoscope.

"Listen to my heart, Dad," he says.

Don't need to, I think to myself.

I already know what's in there.

And it sounds an awful lot like a baseball game.

On Sunday, a new baseball season started. Finally.

Opening Day on Monday around the majors felt like someone unlatched a window that had been clamped shut all winter. Now, like birds coming back to roost, all these good things return.

The green grass. White lines. Foul balls. Called strikes. Stealing third. Balks, bunts and get-some-glasses-blue! Turnstiles and $4 tickets. Cold beer in the cheap seats. Easy as a can of corn.

I love it. Love it in ways I'm not even sure why.

But most of all, I love baseball because I'm a dad.

Nights this summer, just like last summer, my boy and I will play catch out in the front yard.

Five, 10 minutes will go by, and neither of us will have said more than a handful of words. Just the thwap-thwap-thwap of the scuffed ball being thrown from one glove to the other.

Then, he'll speak.

Dad, guess what we learned today in class.

Dad, I sat all by myself on the bus this afternoon.

Dad, why does God let people die?

It's like we play catch for 30 minutes in order to build the space for those words and questions to come out.

Suddenly, playing catch has become secondary to something much larger. Baseball becomes the backdrop for figuring out life and how to live it.

(I can't text while I play catch. Can't email or write columns or watch TV. All I can do is pay attention to him.)

That's what baseball does. It carves out this place for fathers and sons to be together.

You've got your own story, too, don't you? There might be a transistor radio in it. Or some home-run ball. Or an autograph or road trip or

this one unforgettable season when they won it all.

But those stories aren't really about baseball, are they?

For my son's first baseball game, my dad and I took him to the Lookouts. Sat on the third base line. His little legs dangling off the metal bleachers.

We fed him so many peanuts and ice cream served in tiny plastic batter's helmet, he threw up in the breezeway and we left before the fifth inning.

It was one of the best nights of my life.

Last season, my boy and I went to a half-dozen Lookouts games. Some nights, we sat in the very, very top row. Other nights, right behind home plate.

We crack peanuts together. Get autographs from the mascots. Hope for foul balls to fly our way.

Those nights probably don't cost $20.

But I wouldn't trade them for all the money in the Yankees lineup.

He's got my old baseball card collection. (Too many Jose Cansecos, not enough Mark McGwires). He's started his own. One day, he'll pass it down to his own son.

I've signed on to help coach his Little League team. Just like my dad did with me.

We're working on keeping his back elbow up when he bats. Trying to remember to use his free hand to trap pop flies. Struggling over which snow cone flavor tastes the best after each game.

Inside him, just like in every kid trying to figure out how to grow up, a whole lot of something is trying like crazy to make it from first base to second.

Me? I'm trying to figure out how to be a good dad. When to hold him back. When to tell him to swing for the fence.

"Listen to my heart, Dad."

Bring it home, son.

All the way home.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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