I’m not a huge fan of Major League Baseball, but one of my earliest childhood memories is when my dad — in one of his many fits of trying to have the family do “American” (re: White people) things — took me to my first Major League baseball game.
This was back in the early to mid-nineties, during that brief period when my (otherwise absentee) Dad also bought a big black BBQ grill and a grilling apron that said “Kiss the Cook” (I shit you not), and had (White people style) cook-outs where he burned the steaks because he really didn’t know how to make steak because Cantonese people don’t make T-bone steaks. And that one time when my Dad inexplicably tried to make oatmeal and it came out hard as a rock and lacking any kind of flavour. Or, that other time when he tried to make Thanksgiving turkey, and it came out inedible but we choked it down anyways.
(For the record, I now make a bomb-ass Thanksgiving turkey with cornbread stuffing.)
In this baseball episode, he had somehow acquired nosebleed seats in the bleachers of the then-newly erected SkyDome to watch the Jays, who at the time were a really, really good team.
Despite my parents’ childhood ban on all foods junky because they thought I was fat, my father bought me a hot dog and we watched the teeny tiny men throw around the ball until eventually we got bored and left somewhere around the seventh inning stretch. I don’t remember who won that game, but it doesn’t really matter because I couldn’t see the players from where we were sitting anyways. But, there’s a picture in one of the family albums of the four of us — my dad, my mom, my sister and I — smiling giddily from the bleachers of the SkyDome to prove it happened.
Later that year, the Jays made it into the World Series, and that’s when I actually learned the rules of baseball. Every game night of that first World Series featuring the Jays, my dad would gather my sister and I in the family room. He would perch cross-legged on the sofa with a beer and a canister of shelled peanuts, and the kids would sit cross-legged by the fireplace, and and we would watch and root for the Blue Jays. Why the Jays? Because they were the Toronto team, and we lived in Toronto. My Dad even bought me a Jays baseball hat from Goodwill, which is still in my closet somewhere. When the Jays won their first World Series pennant at the bottom of Game 6, we were over the moon.
That’s why I’m not really a baseball fan, but on the other hand I kind of am. For me, the Blue Jays will always evoke fond memories of my father: my father who spent most of my childhood a country away, working to send money home to the rest of the family; my father and that brief period of time when he lived at home and was earnestly trying to build an Asian Leave It To Beaver household for me and my sister.
Years later, my family lost interest in the Jays after they stopped being… y’know… good. To be fair, I was never hugely invested in the Jays. I cheered for them because they are my home team, but I never really felt specially connected to them.
But this past Saturday evening, James managed to wrangle some awesome (incredible, unreal) seats in Fenway Park to Game 2 of the ALDS play-offs between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Rays. And by awesome, incredible, and unreal, I mean “awesome”, “incredible”, and “unreal”.
Watching an MLB game on television is nothing like watching an MLB game less than 100 feet from home plate.
Let’s face it: baseball on TV is kind of boring. In real life, it’s totally not. Every 90mph pitch makes a resounding, satisfying thunk when it hits a catcher’s mit. Every crack of the bat against the ball makes your heart thump a little faster. Every flyball caught in the outfield, every out at first, even every foul ball hit out into the stands makes you jump to your feet and cheer wildly.
If I wasn’t a baseball fan before, I became a little bit (more) of one on Saturday night.
Watching the Boston Red Sox play is like watching the Miami Heat do their thing: you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer athleticism of this team. That night, the Red Sox admittedly embarrassed the Tampa Rays (who are themselves no slouches at the game). With a batting lineup structured around an unceasingly brutal series of hitters each with a batting average hovering around .3, the Rays simply couldn’t keep the Sox off-base. And then, David Ortiz, an aging power-hitter swaggered onto the field to the sounds of Jay-Z’s “Fuck With Me You Know I Got It”. And, boy, did he have it. Twice that night, he methodically hit a homerun into the stands and slowly jogged his way around the bases and back to the dugout, as if he had GTA V on pause while he was at bat and had to get back to his game.
Saturday night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the history of baseball. This is the sport once dominated by portly White men and with a history of unabashed racial segregation, that now honours integration with the retirement of Jackie Robinson’s number. This is the all-American past-time that is now wildly popular throughout parts of East Asia. Here I was, seated in Fenway Park — a stadium that once threw Jackie Robinson out with screams of the word “nigger” when he tried out for the Red Sox — surrounded by a multi-racial Bostonian crowd that spent equal time chanting the names of David Ortiz, (second baseman) Dustin Pedroia, and (relief pitcher) Junichi Tazawa.
Although David Ortiz (and his two solo homers) was the undisputed superstar of Saturday night, the Red Sox’s Game 2 victory was also solidified by Koji Uehara, Boston’s third relief pitcher. With the Sox up by 3 at the top of the 9th inning, Uehara closed the game by throwing two clean strikeouts. Facing Myers, one of the Rays’ stronger batters, Uehara pitched two strikes. Myers connected on the final pitch which was fielded by the first baseman for the final out of the game as Uehara left the pitching mound to also sprint madly for first base.
In short, Uehara sealed the victory for the Boston Red Sox. This was the image of the post-game celebration: Ortiz lifted Uehara up onto his shoulders and paraded him down the field. Two of the night’s superstars — both people of colour — shared the spotlight in Fenway Park in the heart of downtown Boston to the roar of a thousand Boston fans.
And, even though I’ve been admittedly a little cynical about the impact of Linsanity, Pac Fever, and other wild exuberance over Asian/Asian American athletic superstars recently, I got an important reminder Saturday night of the impact of these iconic athletes on the Asian American community.
As James and I walked away from Fenway Park, we found ourselves walking behind this family.
Seeing the way this father held his son’s hand, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own father, and how he introduced me to baseball. I couldn’t help but remember how my father (in his way) tried to reach out to me through the Blue Jays, and be a little sad that at the time he did it, there wasn’t an Asian face playing baseball awesomely that he could show me.
I couldn’t help but be reminded that there is no manual for fatherhood. And for all his mistakes, my Daddy, like so many Asian American fathers before and after him, are just trying to give their children a little piece of the American Dream as they see it: even if it’s sometimes through burnt steaks and busted-up oatmeal and dry Thanksgiving turkeys. And, yes, even baseball: back before there were players of colour, and now when an Asian/Asian American player can help lead a team to a playoff game victory. This is our fathers’ way of showing us all these things we can have; all these things that they didn’t grow up with; all these things that they barely understand but that are ours now; all these things they have given us; all these things that we need only dream to reach out and take.
And, for all my Daddy’s mistakes, that was kind of awesome. For all our Daddies’ mistakes, in the end, you are getting it right.
So, from a generation of Asian American kids to all of our dads who took us to see our first baseball game: thank you.