Reese Kaplan -- If You Build It...


One of the most often misquoted lines in baseball movie history was, “If you build it they (sic) will come.”  The line actually ranks right up there with “Play it again, Sam!” which was never actually uttered in Casablanca.  In Field of Dreams the line was, “if you build it he will come” meaning his father.  Of course, James Earl Jones gives an impassioned, “People will come” speech to convince Kevin Costner to build the baseball field, but somehow, as Brian Williams might say, we conflated the facts in our minds.

I got to thinking about the speech and wondering which baseball field you visited actually had the greatest emotional impact on you during your lifetime.  It may have been a pennant clinching hit, the final out of a game, a spectacular achievement such as a no-hitter, or maybe it was even more relevant, such as the time spent with your father or child bonding at this great American pastime. 

That latter sentiment came to mind as I had my own special relationship with my father that transcended the game itself, becoming the conduit that allowed us to communicate.  That may not sound like much now writing as a 54 year old man whose father passed away back in 2007, but I can recall the many phases of my life, the evolution of my relationship with my father and how baseball was the one constant that transcended any conflicts we might have otherwise been having. 

As a child, I went through the normal adoration stage in which I felt my father was perfect and never more so than when he organized a trip from the country club where he worked to bring a busload of people to Shea Stadium in the late 1960s.  Back then there was no 7-Line Army nor social media to bring fans together so it was indeed a rare occasion to have 60 or so fans dressed in caps and waving pennants (back when you could still bring them into the ballpark), enthusiastically chomping chips and swigging soda on the way from the NJ suburbs to Flushing Meadows to see the Mets. 

Perhaps my most vivid memory of that day was my father acting as the emcee for the trip, making jokes, ensuring everyone’s needs were met, and generally the big man in charge.  As a child I was in awe of his charisma that day and I felt truly proud to be one of Charlie’s sons.  We arrived at the game early and before there was a name for it, we were tailgating in the parking lot. 

As we made our way into the stands in those pre-9/11 days, my father carried with him the extra boxes of Cracker Jacks leftover from the bus ride and during the game passed them out to the people from our group.  At one point security did come over to threaten him, not for bringing contraband snacks into the stadium, but because they were rightfully concerned that throwing boxes of caramel corn could injure someone and could he please just hand them out down the row?

To tell you the truth, I don’t remember the game itself at all.  I do remember the Mets won (a rarity in those days), and to hear my father tell the story again and again years later, my brother and I seemed far more interested in the hot dogs and peanuts than we did in the results on the field, but here it is nearly 50 years later and the most significant of that day is as clear as if it happened only yesterday. 

As the years passed and I evolved into that hormonal and attitudinal time bomb known as a teenager, I morphed from adoration to tolerance to embarrassment.  How out of touch was my father?  Why couldn’t he understand the things that were really important in life?  What was all this pressure about colleges and career and following rules?

Still, there was baseball.  Even when we went weeks without speaking a civil word to one another around the house, as soon as the radio or TV went on the relationship achieved a remarkable metamorphosis where politics, lifestyle, music, hair length and other issues were temporarily stashed away for the few hours until the winning team recorded 27 outs.

As I graduated college and began my career my parents had since gone their separate ways and I didn’t see much of my father anymore as I was still in the NYC area and he was in down in Florida.  However, we did speak regularly on the phone like clockwork every Monday night.  He worked in the restaurant business so weekends were pretty much impossible but Monday was usually his one day off per week. 

Everything seemed to improve and although he never spoke of this lingua franca of baseball that could bring peace to otherwise turbulent times, he felt it instinctively.  In fact, when I called him one early January and after he ribbed me about how nice the weather was down there I informed him I was getting married.  Apparently he was not sure she was right for me, so he paused for a few moments and then asked calmly, “Is there anything in the paper about the Mets?”  At the time I was livid as I felt he was ignoring this monumental news I’d shared with him, but I’d later come to realize it was his way of avoiding conflict on what would have been the knock-down, drag-out fight to end all fights by bringing us to that common ground that worked so well.  He may not have even been aware he was doing it, but it worked and years later he apologized to me and said what a wonderful choice I’d made for a bride. 

I invited my father to come live with us here in El Paso when he was already quite sick with kidney problems and congestive heart failure.  He moved here on August 1st of 2007 and spent less than an aggregate of a week in our home before passing away on his own terms in October.  I remember joking at his funeral that he'd hung on long enough to see whether or not the Mets were going to the World Series.

I’ve since visited many other ballparks – a bachelor’s party trip to Fenway, a visit to short-lived Jarry Park, the cookie cutter design of Riverfront Stadium, Veteran’s Stadium, Yankee Stadium, a multitude of independent minor league parks, Doubleday Field in Cooperstown and most recently the San Diego Padres AA affiliate El Paso Chihuahuas home, Southwest University Park, walking distance from where I sit writing right now.  None will ever have the significance of Shea Stadium for what it meant to me.   


Thomas Brennan said...

Great story, Reese. I had a father who was a Yank fan but also enjoyed the Mets. My folks had 8 kids. By my count, 2 Yankee fans, 6 Met fans. Amazin'.

Reese Kaplan said...

Thanks, Tom.

By the way, did everyone notice another Mets farmhand getting nailed for a drug suspension? This time it was a relief pitcher named Tim Peterson whose best claim to fame is a ratio of over 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. This time it was not a drug of abuse, but a good old fashioned PED. When will they ever learn?

Thomas Brennan said...

It is amazing, man. The hit a prospect takes tohis career, given a BB career's short time span, is devastating. It would be interesting to know if most users get caught, or if most still don't. If testing only catches a few, that would make their trying stuff have a lot more sense, even if completely wrong. "The ends justufy the means" to some.

Steve from Norfolk said...

Baseball is such a competitive career. I can understand the mindset a marginal player can develop that motivates him to try such a career-destroying move. If you are putting out your maximum effort, and just barely hanging on, you can get to the point where you will try anything to get that little bit of extra oomph in your performance that will get you noticed. If you feel that the chances are against you, and you need to try something, anything to get ahead at the game you love so much, to get noticed by the the powers that be, you might take the chance, even if the negatives far outweigh the positives. If you get caught, so what? You're almost back to the independent leagues or adult baseball anyway. Just like with women, you'll try anything to stay in the game. I don't condone it, but I understand why they do it.

James Preller said...

I sympathize with the PED users, especially if they perceive others using it.

Look at Marlon Byrd. He was on his way out, took PEDS, did his suspension, signed a cheap contract, and came back a serious player. How many millions has he made since?

There are so many stories like that. A razor's edge separates the "failures" from the millionaires, the car salesmen from the superstars. Right around the corner, a million miles away.

Thomas Brennan said...

Marlon Byrd is a great $$$ and cents example of why they keep taking PEDs.

Mack's Mets © 2012