This guest column was contributed by Aaron Meyer, a Wilton resident who has viewed the baseball field as a father, a son, a Little League and collegiate player, and a Wilton Little League Baseball coach. He’s pictured, above left, during his playing days at Dartmouth, with his father, Neal.
Baseball and fatherhood are so undeniably linked to me. Whether riding the ups and downs of a Little League season, basking in a day at the ballpark of your favorite team or re-watching the end of The Natural or Field of Dreams for the millionth time, baseball can carry fathers and sons through a myriad of emotional highs and lows. As fathers, our son’s successes can bring us elation, pride, relief, or even peace. Their failures hit us like a gut punch. I once asked my co-coach, “Why do we care so much?” He said, “Because we love them.”
While I hope my sons carry my love with them onto the field, as a former ballplayer I also know how lonely the batter’s box can be. There are no teammates to pass to, or blocks or picks to execute for a fellow player. In the batter’s box, you alone step up to the plate to try your best, and if you are lucky you know exactly where your dad is sitting in the stands or standing on the sidelines, and you hear his voice above all other sounds. Even as I write this 20 years past my own baseball career, I can still hear my dad shouting each time I stepped into the batter’s box, “Let’s go, Big Guy.”
I fell in love with baseball at four years old. My brother, five years my senior, was already playing travel baseball at that point and I was dragged to most games. After a year of tee ball solidified my passion for hitting, my dad began a 14-year run of batting cage token purchases, the likes of which had never been seen and will never be matched. Batter Up batting cages in Bristol, CT became our home away from home. I hit until I could barely lift my arms, and my dad would keep loading up on tokens until he saw the exhaustion set in. We would ride home in a red Subaru that smelled of pipe smoke, listening to “Centerfield” by John Fogerty or a mix tape in the deck that included songs like “Eye in the Sky” by the Alan Parsons Project, “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John, and “Your Wildest Dreams” by the Moody Blues. These were the greatest moments of my childhood.
For a man who splurged on clothing for himself only if it was customized with a picture of his kids on it, he spared no expense when it came to baseball equipment, purchasing multiple top line bats, gloves and batting gloves each year. I got whatever I needed to feel confident and comfortable. But in baseball you are never completely comfortable–the ups are always followed by downs and vice versa.
As father and son, together we traversed the baseball performance roller coaster through my early teen years, many times with passionate post-game car exchanges. He cared, I cared, and we worked through some difficult seasons together. When most coaches had completely written me off, he still brought me to the batting cages. We still sang to the mix tapes on the way home. We still shared our love of baseball together, even when baseball wasn’t loving us back.
By the time I reached the summer after my junior year of high school I was enjoying the game less, trying harder, yet performing worse. After one particularly miserable game, I remember walking down a long side road from the field to our car, a path we had travelled after games hundreds of times before. I said to my dad, “I guess college baseball is out for me.” His response, which provided great comfort at the time and I now realize was pivotal, was, “It’s okay, you will find your own path in a school that is right for you. The rest doesn’t matter. Just have fun with however many baseball games you have left to play.”
My perspective righted, a year later I hit a home run over the Green Monster in an All Star Game at Fenway Park and went on to break game, season and career home run records at Dartmouth College. My dad was there for almost every one of those home runs, and for the few he wasn’t, he and my mom were my first call, no matter what time of night. By college, I was no longer calling my dad for approval, but to share the ups and work through the downs.
We rode that roller coaster together, and continued riding it long after my baseball career was over. Our post-game calls turned into 2 a.m. calls as I was finishing my work day as an investment banker, which turned into 2 a.m. baby up-all-night calls, which turned into calls about anything and everything that was good and challenging in life. And when I coached my own sons’ games, I once again knew exactly where my dad was in the stands.
And then, in an instant, he wasn’t.
My dad passed away a year and a half ago. I feel closer to my father on a baseball field than almost anywhere else. I feel close to my sons there. As a coach I feel a tremendous responsibility to other fathers to create an environment where they can share, bond, celebrate, and work through the inevitable failures with their sons. I carry all of this with me every time I step on a baseball field. I am haunted by it, I love it, I am overwhelmed by it and I appreciate it.
And when the great moments arise, a quote from my favorite movie, The Natural, quickly enters my consciousness:
“I wish Dad could’ve…God, I love baseball.” – Roy Hobbs
I look forward to sharing those moments with anyone who dares to dream on a Little League baseball diamond.
See you at the ballpark.