My love for sports wasfueled by my father. How many sons can say the same thing? Probably every son who grew to love sports, right?
My dad was into sports in a big way. His first love, you will not be surprised to hear, was the St. Louis Cardinals. He listened to their games on the radio, so I listened to their games on the radio. It was our way of bonding.
My father didn’t sit me down and have those father-son chats so many dads are famous for. He never told me about the birds and the bees or explained to me the details of the Cold War. But he had me at Bob Gibson, so a discussion of “father and son things” was never that important to me.
We shared a passion for sports. And that provided enough for our relationship to be strong.
My father, Ray, took me to innumerable games. We spent our summers at the National Baseball Congress World Series, our falls at Veterans Field to watch Wichita State’s football team and our winters at the Roundhouse as huge fans of Shocker basketball.
There are pictures of me as a 5-year-old holding one of those small, plastic balls in my hand with a coffee can, its bottom removed, hanging on a wall to resemble a basket. I gleaned hours of entertainment from that cheap ball and that empty can of coffee.
Later, my dad put up a basketball goal in our backyard. It wasn’t anything fancy; just a rim attached to a backboard made from several boards that my dad nailed to together. I played so much that the bouncing of the ball and the movement of my feet created a giant dead spot in our back yard where otherwise grass would have grown.
I spent hours playing imaginary games, doing my own play-by-play radio broadcast. The neighbors must have thought I was a kid in need of some help, but those games gave me more enjoyment than almost anything else during my youth.
I was always the Wichita State Shockers playing against some other team. And in my games, the Shockers always won. So to this day when I hear from a reader or a WSU fan about a perception that I have something against Wichita State basketball, I think back to those times as a kid when I was a much bigger fan, I’m sure,than they are now. Let me tell you something, people, I absolutely loved Shocker basketball as a kid. You might love now as much as I did then, but you don’t love it more.
I became a pretty good shooter in my back yard games. And I was able to beat most of my friends in a game of one-on-one because of a tremendous home-court advantage.
As much basketball as I played as a kid, I might have even played more baseball.
Now, of course, it was harder to get up a game of baseball just because of the number of kids it took. But we managed to pull it off on most summer days, when we would play games at Pleasantview Elementary, just down the street from where I grew up in Derby.
The baseball day started just after breakfast, though, when a group of us would gather on our street and start to warm up for the game that was to be played around noon. We played catch, swung bats, played some “500″ and had imaginary bullpen sessions, during which that day’s starting pitcher got loose. We probably threw about 100 pitches each, so “getting loose” wasn’t really an apt description.
Our days – especially our summer days when we were out of school – revolved around sports. We were consumed.
Is it like that any more for kids? Have organized sports become so prevalent that unorganized sports – the best kind, in my opinion – have mostly disappeared?
I fear I know the answers to those questions.
I get asked a lot where I got my passion for sports, and I cannot point to a specific time or day. Nor can I remember a time when I wasn’t knee deep in sports.
One of my earliest sports memories is watching some of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees on a small black and white television while I ate lunch after my morning Kindergarten class. I remember being entertained by Bill Mazeroski’s name (he was the Pirates’ second baseman who became the hero of that World Series).
One of the first Shocker basketball players whose name I remember is Wayne (Bull) Durham. I was probably drawn to Durham’s nickname; he played during the early 1960s. My dad and I started going to games in 1961, I think it was.
Sports have always been important to me. As I approach 60, they still are. And I’m happy to say that I have passed down my love for sports – if not for the St. Louis Cardinals – to my soon-to-be-30 son, Jeff. I hope he has similar recollections about his father’s role in his love for sports that I have for my dad.