Had cancer not claimed him years ago, my father would have celebrated his 90th birthday today. Dad handed down to me many values, not the least of which was his lifelong love of baseball.
Dad was born in western Pennsylvania in 1920, which meant he grew up a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. He was 5 when Paul Waner joined the Pirates at the start of the 1926 season. Waner, destined for Cooperstown, was the favorite player of my father, a coal miner’s son who years later would point out to me all the fields that were ball diamonds in his childhood. Dad liked to play the “hot corner,” as he called third base, and I shared his passion for the left side of the infield, playing a lot at third and even more at my favorite position, shortstop.
I can’t remember not talking baseball with Dad. Even as a toddler I knew about Waner — “Big Poison” — and Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner, who joined his older brother on the Pirates in 1927. Lloyd would also be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Dad always wanted to take me to Forbes Field to see a Pirates game, but we never made it. That was a minor disappointment, as Dad took me to scores of Cleveland Indians games over the years and we listened to or watched hundreds of games together.
From my father I inherited a trait that amuses and sometimes worries my own family: I yell at the TV during ballgames, either in elation or more often in anger and disappointment, appropriate for someone who grew up an Indians fan.
On weekday evenings or on weekend afternoons, Dad would listen to the Tribe broadcasts on radio as he did yard work. That’s in my genes, too. I can’t sweep up grass clippings or trim the hedges without having a ballgame on.
So on the 90th anniversary of his birth, I salute my father — and “Big Poison” — for instilling in me the love of the game. I am forever grateful.