How baseball keeps me close to home

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Instead of Mother Goose and Cinderella, my bedtime stories mostly consisted of Randy Johnson and Will Clark.

I love baseball because the strategy is fascinating and because failing seven times out of ten is bizarrely acceptable — but mostly because it’s the foundation of my relationship with my dad.

Going away to college means communication with family becomes more scarce, but as long as there’s an interesting MLB headline somewhere, I’ll always stay in touch with my dad, who taught me the details of baseball the way parents teach their children manners: over time, carefully, patiently. I was taught to say please and thank you and never to talk about a no-hitter in progress. I was raised to dislike the Yankees but to respect the greats, such as Yogi Berra and Mariano Rivera, because they changed the game forever.

The image of the young son playing catch with his plaid-wearing father is about as All-American as John Deere and apple pie. Of course, I’m female, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen my father wearing a flannel shirt. But appreciation for baseball is passed down through generations the way dimples or double joints are. It’s simply stitched along a baseball rather than along my DNA.

Growing up, the customs of baseball were just as much tradition as Christmas and the 4th of July. In some ways, my strongest memories from childhood revolve around America’s pastime. The small-scale recklessness of middle school summer camp was fun until I realized being in the mountains meant not being able to watch baseball for three weeks.

My 17th birthday was spent watching Madison Bumgarner’s first career complete game and falling asleep during the car ride home in the midst of a heated debate about Cooperstown, N.Y., and the wretched state of the most beautiful sport’s Hall of Fame. I remember Barry Zito’s massive contract announcement a few months after my 11th birthday and that contract’s eventual transformation into a $126 million albatross. I remember watching Armando Galarraga’s 28-out perfect game with my dad, both of us aghast and sitting in horror as we watched history being denied in front of us.

My dad likes to tell me that his father had to explain the infield fly rule multiple times before it began to make sense. It’s a strangely complex little rule for many of us who don’t actually play the sport. There are a lot of futile hand gestures and vague jargon involved, and unless you see it played out, there’s a sliver of confusion that remains. It is a safe bet that some only understood it after it arguably brought Chipper Jones’ storied career to an end in the 2012 National League Wild Card Game. This rule was irritating to try and grasp, but knowing I had the same puzzled look on my face as my dad did when he was young remains an oddly comforting memory — a small family heirloom.

So as Spring Training rolls around and the “Countdown to Opening Day” ticker has made its way to ESPN.com, I may call my dad a bit more frequently so I can lament about the state of the Giants farm system and complain about Carlos Beltran, because every baseball fan has that one trade he or she will never forgive. My dad will ask me about my day, but I’ll ask about the 23 ways a batter can reach first base because the recitation is soothing and rhythmic the way a lullaby is.

Contact Michelle Lee at [email protected].