Thursday, October 14, 2010

Richard A.(Dick) Weiland(aka Dad) taught me to love baseball

Dad threw out the first pitch on kids first trip to the "Show"


I had a dream  last week of Pedro Martinez standing on a towering mound throwing an inside pitch at my body and as I backed away so as not to get struck by the pitch my bat swatted at the ball   and I hit it over the fence in my parents back yard and into the cemetery.I went over the fence to get the ball back and some ghosts from the graveyard chased me all the way back to my door and I screamed for my mommy!
Then I woke up and my heart was beating like a drum and I lay still for a very long time  and remembered it was the morning of my fiftieth birthday. and then I fell back asleep .....relieved that it was only a dream.
If I ever make it to a cornfield in Iowa in the afterlife  then maybe I would get to take on Martinez and go yard on him without getting chased away by a spirit then again maybe not.
But in the present tense....
 "Oh Lord give me the strength  to get through extra innings ............. or a three set tennis match that could last  for over  four hours".
I have made that statement many times in my life.
When I was a little boy I wanted to be a Cincinnati Redleg.
My dad took us to plenty of games at Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium where we witnessed the metamorphosis of some guys  into a unit collectively known as the Big Red Machine.
You do not spend time around my dad, Dick Weiland and remain clueless about the game of baseball.
To my dad baseball is more than a game.It is a  religion.Maybe not as holy as an actual organized religion but nevertheless it was presented to us  as a sacred ritual.The "us" I mention being my brother Dave and  my sister Jeanne.
We were inundated with stats,strategies,scouting reports.
Analysis of every move made by the manager and front office were presented to us many times and the  afternoon Cincinnati  Post was picked apart for news on dad's beloved Reds.
So through osmosis my brother Dave (now a Giants fan),my sister Jeanne(still a Reds fan) and  myself (now a Yankee fan) gained a great amount of insight into the inner workings of the game.I also remember that many of those games we sat on the third base side.Sometimes in left field but rarely if ever on first or in right field.
My dad is a lefty is my only thought on this one.
Dad had pitched in college at Williams and was an acquaintance of  fellow Williams student and sports fanatic
George Steinbrenner.They had a mutual friend named Pete Smythe.
I really believe like many sportsmen my dad would have loved to own a baseball team.
He chose real estate,law,lobbying and has all along followed baseball with that same fervor.
I have heard that he has on occasion spoken to the  management of his favorite team to suggest player moves or trades but I will not go as far as confirming whether or not this is true.
After I moved away from Ohio I lost that voice in my ear.
"Go the distance"? "If you build it he will come"? "Ease his pain"? ......Nope not that voice.
My voice said," follow your passion in life and find something you really love because you are going to do it every day".It was my dad's voice.
The voice spoke wisely and I did follow my dream.But things do change in life.By choice sometimes and other times by circumstance.
It's really not how hard you can hit.It's how hard you can get hit then get up and keep going at it .....
going forward.
So here it began in  March of 2008.It was spring training in Florida and my  seven year old son and I were off to our first ever experience that was setting the stage for a memorable year of baseball when both New York teams were ending their runs at their old stadiums and rebuilding  new temples for future generations of baseball worshipers.
My son and daughter at the time liked both teams in New York (even though I was edging them towards the Yankees)  and I took it upon myself to allow them to see as much baseball as my busy work schedule would allow.I bought partial packages to both the Yankees and Mets with one of the games at Shea  being a "Subway Series" .
So our "Journey of Sentimentality " as my wife called it had begun.One of the games was scheduled on my son's eighth birthday in the Bronx and I had arranged to have his name on the scoreboard two times during the game.
Our seats for both stadiums were on the left side.Yankee Stadium at third base. Shea between third and left field foul pole.Dad's influence has rubbed off apparently.
Every visit to games in the Bronx or Queens was like turning a page to a book that you really did not want to finish.
So many things that I connected to had happened at both of these buildings.
Pete Rose fighting the Mets in 1973 at Shea.Seeing the Reds on television as they swept the Yankees in 1976 to win back to back titles.Moving to New York and witnessing the Mets unlikely comeback against Boston in 1986 at Shea Stadium. Seeing Ohio native Paul O'Neill. a champion with the Reds in 1990 move to New York and win multiple titles as a Yankee.Cincinnatian David Justice become a World Champion in Yankee pinstripes. Don Zimmer, the bench coach for the Joe Torre Yankees was a Cincinnati guy.There is a feeling of pride when someone from my hometown or from Ohio makes it under the the bright lights of New York City.
Hey, I'm  a simple  midwest boy tryin' to make it in the big city.
In  2001 after the 9/11 attacks  I witnessed along with the rest of America as our President bravely walked across the field as we held our breath and prayed for his safety with snipers on the rooftops protecting him as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the World Series.Baseball helped to ease America's pain even if only for a few hours.
It sounds so damn simplistic that a game could help to heal our souls.
The Yankees lost in the 2001 Series and we as Yankee fans were heartbroken by the loss.
 But it was only baseball after all.........just a game.
Our friends,family,neighbors and fellow New Yorkers  and Americans had suffered an unspeakable tragedy a month before and this Series brought us together as a nation. Baseball was  the safe haven of my youth  on the sandlot fields in Ohio......actually it was a yard or an empty lot.
To me and my friends it was Crosley Field or Riverfront or any place where the big league Reds shined
This is where I wanted to spend my free time in 2008.Honoring these memories with my family on my
"Sentimental Journey".
We went to Shea to witness the final "Subway Series" game of 2008 where my kids proceeded along with the many Mets fans in attendance to drown out the cheers of Yankee fans myself included.
The series always brings out an amazing mixing of families and friends that have sworn allegiance to their separate teams but can remain mostly civil. Unlike when the Yankees play Boston or the  Mets play the Phillies.Those can be bitter contests although compared to soccer(football) hooligans nothing compares.
The Yankees ended up losing the game but both of my kids on that day especially my son swore their allegiance to the Bronx Bombers.
It became obvious as September arrived that both teams would have a limited chance to make the playoffs.
So we bid farewell to both Stadiums and looked forward to renewal in 2009.
All along I talked to my dad about his Reds and their revival.
My dad inspired me to share some special moments  with my kids to pass on his knowledge and passion for the game.
Last year I was lucky enough to take my kids to both new baseball venues in New York.
My son and I were even able to witness the Yankees in some playoff games culminating in a Game 6 victory in the World Series.
It was a defining moment for both of us.Seeing your team fight through a tough year and win it all in front of your eyes is beyond any  words.
When my high school tennis team won four consecutive Cincinnati  and Ohio sectional championships on our way to the state championships it was pretty damn close.I wish my daughter was there as well but her dedication to her  field hockey games prevented her from witnessing the playoffs in 2009.
Her team went undefeated last year and it didn't seem right to miss a game or practice to go see another team play a game(even if it is the Yankees)  and  I  also promised her that in 2010 she would see the Yankees first game if they made the playoffs.
Last week we witnessed Game 3 of the 2010 division series against the Minnesota Twins as the Yankees swept with a 6-1 victory.It was a special night.
The next night I watched on television as the Reds got swept by the Phillies.I really felt empathy for my dad as well as all those friends and family in Ohio.
They waited fifteen years for a playoff game and then got whipped by the perennial  kings of the National League jungle (pre SF Giants) the Phillies.
I still feel bad and haven't called him yet.
Dad has invested a lifetime of passion and enthusiastic energy in his Redlegs.I am sure it stings a bit.
That old familiar refrain "wait til' next year"comes to mind.
Cubs fans know what I am talking about.
So as my team embarks on their next step towards postseason glory I hope I will not utter that previously mentioned refrain.
But as my wise ninety year old coach Bob Ryland would say,"Fred.... tennis or in this case Baseball is like life.Just when you think you got something it can vanish in a split second.Never,ever take anything or anyone for granted." Believe me Bob these days I don't. Life like baseball is too precious.
So to my dad Richard A.(Dick) Weiland
 Thank you for everything you have given to me.Thank you for your time, your  wisdom and
best wishes next year  for your Cincinnati Reds.
Grandpa Fred loved baseball too


Riverfront Stadium