Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fathers and Sons: Game 28 in Memphis

For the first time in more than 25 games, I had to pay for parking near the ballpark in Memphis where private lots and parking garages surround the stadium. In similar instances at inner city ballparks, like the one in Bradenton, Florida, I had persuaded the restricted lot attendant to let me park among the staff and players’ spaces.  While I hoped for similar good fortune in Memphis, I couldn’t find its entry to the small lot of controlled parking.  So Bonnie and I pulled Toad into a garage adjacent to Rendevous, the Memphis barbecue restaurant that had been highly recommended to us. It was alive with excitement, and we could savor the ribs and pork from the aromas alone. But alas, it was Monday—a day when the place is closed, often for private parties!
The view toward the left field corner and the urban landscape beyond the ballpark's walls.
One of the reasons for the parking issues at the Redbirds' ballpark was that it is the most urban of any of the stadiums that we have seen.  Even so, the entry gates are enhanced by a diptych sculpture whose "hinge" is sixty feet and six inches of space between the pieces: A pitcher and catcher, with backstop covered by a baseball-cap canopy, draw fans in from the street to the concourse.

As usual, the participants in pre-game ceremonies gather at an appointed spot—often the Fan Assistance booth—before being escorted to the field.  When I arrived at the designated place, I met Richard Farrell who was carrying an antique glove and a paperback book about a ballplayer.  Richard was scheduled to throw out the first pitch for Greek Night at the ballpark.  One of the Memphis players—first baseman Nick Stavinoha, who is Greek—later received the loudest ovation each time he stepped into the batter’s box.
Although Richard was not of Greek heritage, his wife was.   While I wondered if his acceptance and integration into the Greek community resembled the transitions of Ian Miller portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Richard and I talked baseball more than local Greek culture.  I learned that a choir from the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, which had sponsored the Memphis Greek Festival a week earlier, was scheduled to sing the national anthem, the one for Greece.  Whew!  I was still on tap to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”  By game time, however, the choir had decided not to perform for the baseball crowd.               
Richard’s old glove and book about the ballplayer played significant roles in his enthusiasm.  The glove had belonged to his father, Doc Farrell, the second baseman for the 1932 Yankees who beat the Cubs in the World Series that fall.  Stubby and flat, the old mitt required the use of two hands for grabbing and securing ground balls.  It’s doubtful whether an announcer would have used a verb like “snagged” to describe a diving catch of a line drive since the web of the glove was shallow and barely flexible.  The glove epitomized the paternal bond celebrated in Donald Hall’s panegyric to baseball and its familial bonding—Fathers Playing Catch with Sons.

Richard displays his father's glove.

Doc Farrell in Yankees' uniform.
The book that Richard carried was a biography written about his father who was unusual because during his career Doc had been a teammate with more than twenty Hall of Fame players—headlined, of course by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  Doc had gotten his nickname because in the off-season he practiced dentistry. Inordinately proud of his father, Richard was sharing the moment with his own son, Matthew, a baseball player for Christian Brothers High School.  In a sense they also reversed the mentoring role honored by Hall’s book title since Matt was tutoring his father about how to hold and release the ball.  As Richard took the mound to toss out the first pitch a short time later, he held high the glove, a trophy from and about his father.

His huge smile was almost as wide as the pitch he threw to the plate.  His control contrasted sharply with that of the Fresno Grizzlies starter Doug Mathis, who held the Redbirds hitless through his six innings.  Finally getting hits off relievers in the eighth, Memphis scored four times in the frame, piecing together three singles, a walk, and a two-run, game-tying double by Stavinoha.  Opah!  Greek night scores!  And so did the Redbirds, who almost two hours later tallied the winning run in the fourteenth.

Joe receives blessing from a Cardinal.

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