What Do Reggie Jackson and My Father Have In Common?

Today, Mr. October Reggie Jackson turned 65 years old. My dad recently turned nearly the same age at almost the same time. Reggie Jackson is a lover of muscle cars, my dad is as well. Reggie Jackson’s public persona seems extremely complex. Well, my dad’s public and private personas are complex as well. Reggie seemed to be one who did not believe in turning the other cheek. My dad’s advice to me was always throw the first punch because you don’t know if he’ll lay you out with his first blow. Reggie was born in Pennsylvania, my dad’s relatives are in Pennsylvania (okay, that one’s a stretch but I still counted it as a kid!).

But there is one glaring difference between the two men. Reggie made his fame and fortune from baseball and my dad hated sports. He made his fame at home and his fortune in the plant. Both men got dirty and worked with their hands, but in two very different ways.

Yet, had it not been for my father, I never would have looked up to “the straw that stirs the drink” (and Reggie did not mean that the way the reporter told it by the way).

Despite the fact that my dad never liked sports, he never discouraged my passion for baseball. As a matter of fact, two things he taught me early on that I’ve carried for over 30 years:

1.) Do not cheer for the home team, because they are losers.

2.) Look at Reggie, and how he handles himself, and that’s how you must handle yourself in this world.

 Dad knew the impact the ‘hood could have had on me. While we weren’t exactly living in the projects, many of the problems of the projects existed, just in a cleaner neighborhood. Selling drugs, or what we called “rollin'”, was still the fastest way for a kid to make a lot of money and have a lot of girls fast. Shootings across the street from our house were common along with break-ins, car theft, and fighting. Thankfully, we also had many parents working solid middle-class jobs to always keep the neighborhood a float. Since they weren’t allowed to move into traditional white suburbs, they were forced to stay in their own community so in many ways, it benefited us all as a whole.

What we also had commercially, was a lack of black athletes on television when they were not on the field. But when dad saw how Reggie mastered the King’s English and commanded respect for his knowledge of the game and demeanor, he was wise to tell me to observe. Reggie often commentated for ABC in the ’70s and ’80s if the Yankees were out of the playoffs.

Little did I know at that time that one day I would have to at least know many of the rules of the King’s English as well when I grew up. I would also have to not be the “typical nigga or black guy” that many of my colleagues would expect me to be, just like Reggie. I would have to talk a certain way at job interviews, avoid being labeled and yet stand up for myself and prove that I deserved to be in that class or office and not because of Affirmative Action. At the same time, I would have to be just as complex, for people in America have a hard time understanding how you can be pro-black and yet marry someone of a different race. I’m sure Reggie ran into this as to some black folks, Reggie was a sell-out with his proper talking, candy bars, and white girls. But Reggie seemed to always make sure that he represented himself and the black community well. He spoke out about teams that did not have enough black players and even advised former teammate Willie Randolph not to take the Detroit Tiger job. They were the worst of the worst in Major League baseball. Reggie threw out the question the black community always asks, “Why do we only get the job/call/White House when things cannot get any worse? That’s just setting us up to fail!”

I can’t say I idolized Reggie. The man never put food on my table, but he did wave at me when I yelled his name at a California Angels game…he did…really! I’ve memorized many of his stats, read his autobiography, visited the Baseball Hall of Fame to have my picture taken with his bust, and even named one of my kids after him. But my fascination with Mr. Jackson was never about him, but about what he represented. He was a man of class, determination, dependable, clutch-performer, and he danced to the beat of his own drum all the while paying homage to those like Robinson, Aaron, and Mays that bought the drum.

Overall, the man was much like my father.

Photo from: http://kevinmayle.netaidz.com/v/Realism/Steel-Worker-sepia.jpg.html

So dad, who are you allowing to influence your son? Is it a street pimp, a corporate pimp, a drug-dealer, or a prescription drug-dealer? Do those people reflect the values that you want your son to have or the values that you have or at least want to have?

Understand this, somebody and something will influence your boys. You better take advantage of the time that you have to determine what kind of influence that will be. I’m glad my dad had the insight to do that when I was younger. While I’m no where near the man that I wanted to be, I’m no where near the man I could have been.

Happy Birthday Dad and Mr. October!

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…just 15 Minutes: “Play Ball!” Style

Finally, a couple of back-to-back warm and rain-free days allowed me and the boys to get out and throw the baseball around. Now we’ve gone out a few times already this year, but now it’s finally beginning to feel like baseball season.

For nearly 10 years, I played in the typical softball league and then I even decided to see if I still “had it” and play hardball. It was good to face real pitching and play with guys who took the game seriously (too seriously sometimes). Then I broke my hand and was forced to spend the next six months in a cast and a sling. I could not play with my kids the entire summer besides running and I officially retired like Barry Sanders. My wife doubted my retirement like Juanita Jordan, but I’m yet to step on the field again. Why, because I now have my own team to play with. A team that needs me more than any other. Not being able to be a Five-Tool Dad (run, throw, catch, hit, and teach), was too much for me and something I never want to experience again.

I am so impressed with the progress my six and twelve-year old sons have made. The elder has played baseball for six years, but the sport seems to be taking on more meaning for him, especially as he reads through a biography on Willie Mays. Recently, he drew me a picture of us playing ball together and labeled the ball park as the Polo Grounds. Now, there aren’t many kids today who even know who Willie Mays is, let alone what the Polo Grounds represent!

My six-year old, aka Big Homie, is showing the quick hands of an infielder and can throw with a little sizzle as well. This is a 180-degree turn from the boy that was scared of the ball just a year ago and threw like Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. 

That’s one of the greatest parts of being a CornerstoneDad. Being there and assisting our children doing things that let us know they are “growing up”. Sure, mom keeps the teeth, hair from the first cut, and remembers the first step. But dad remembers that first game, keeps that first glove and that first model car.

Right now, I really don’t need “the fellas” to play ball with or other people to do something I enjoy. I can do it with my own boys (and my girls as I was out cruising with my 5 year old daughter the night before) as they can now throw hard and play hard. They are even able to heckle me when I make an error out in the field. Wow, these boys are learning fast. Dad does tend to crank-up his sweet-o-meter quite a bit when the ball comes his way, so the criticism is well deserved I guess.

I’ve also learned that I don’t have to spend all day outside playing with the kids, but if I can continue with starting with just 15 minutes of playing catch, throwing the ball around, or even giving occasional instruction if necessary, the payoff is immediate and appreciated. Just remember CornerstoneDad, 15 minutes is where you start. (See: http://cornerstonedad.com/2010/11/21/just-15-minutes/)

Whenever we leave the park, my 12 year old is always quick to say, “Thank you for taking us dad.” I often respond, “Thank you for going.”

Little does he know, I am the one who is far more appreciative as I have a more finite idea of time than he does.  Sons, I thank you, and will do all I can to remain on the field of play as long as I can with you.

How about you CornerstoneDad? What is the spring activity you remember learning/playing with your dad? Are you still able to play with them today?  What do you enjoy playing with your children this time of year? I’d love to hear about your experiences.