The Process of Saying Goodbye
There are times when baseball takes a back seat to things in your life. This week was one of those times.
My dad took me to my first baseball game back in 1979 to see a minor league game at Wolfson Park in Jacksonville. I do not remember anything about the game, but I do remember the plastic Suns batting helmet he bought me as I wore it frequently over the next couple of years until it cracked in the Texas heat once we moved to Texas. He also brought me to my first professional baseball game when we had to go in the Standing Room Only section of the Astrodome and stare through chain-link fencing to watch Nolan Ryan pitch. Over the years in the Astrodome, we got better seats for games. I can recall one time sitting in the seats dad got from one of his bosses right behind the third base dugout and one of the umpires gave me some money to go buy him a pretzel and in return, he gave me a baseball from the dugout. Another time, I can recall going to the SkyBox with dad and he would bet colleagues up there I could beat them in baseball trivia as an 11-year old kid. I took home a $40 share of the profits that particular evening.
In later years, when I came to visit him and my stepmom in North Carolina, we went back to attending minor league baseball. We went to many Durham Bulls games at the old Durham Athletic Park when they housed the Carolina League affiliate of the Atlanta Braves or driving over to Zebulon to catch the Carolina Mudcats in their new stadium. I can recall showing Javy Lopez his first baseball card from a Bowman pack I purchased on the way to the game in Durham and seeing Ryan Klesko pitch a fit at second base after one of his laser shots didn’t clear the high fence and he had to settle for a double. Work brought him back to Florida once again in the early 2000’s and we ended up going back to minor league games in Jacksonville, but at the new stadium that replaced Wolfson and saw players such as Chad Billingsley, Reggie Abercrombie, and former Rays hero Wily Aybar. Dad was relocated back to Texas in 2005, just in time to enjoy the World Series run for the Astros and we would call to chat about the playoff games while he was traveling around Texas and I was going all over Florida working with schools.
Dad’s good sports fortune continued as he was relocated to the Tampa area in 2008 for work and immediately latched on to the Rays as the other locals did. From then until I relocated to North Carolina in 2014, I would drive over from Orlando and we would go to a couple of games together each year, and many of those were on Fathers Day. He was not much of an online reader, so he kept up with the Rays from sports radio as well as reading the coverage in the Times and the Tribune on a daily basis and would try to follow along with what I wrote at DRaysBay, Dock of the Rays, and now here. He would call to chat about what he read or heard when something had him worked up, which was usually the bad hitting and all of the strikeouts.”
Earlier this year, we adjusted vacation plans after a terrific deal from Delta hit my inbox to allow me to fly my wife and kids down to Fort Myers to see dad and my stepmom using only points. The Florida summers were one reason why my wife and I chose to relocate two years ago, but when you can get four round trip tickets for 78,000 Skymiles, you go where they can take you. I’m convinced that deal did not find my inbox by accident because it allowed me to take him to another baseball game for Fathers Day. We took the kids to what ended up being the first loss in the long June swoon, but both my son (cover picture) and my daughter each got a foul ball that game. Dad picked up yet another Rays hat (he had 20 hanging in the garage) as well as t-shirts with the logos of the Stone Crabs, Biscuits, and Bulls. What I didn’t know at the time was that it would be the last thing he and I would do together and the last time I would see him alive.
He told my wife and I on that trip that he needed to have his aortic valve replaced because it was failing him. My wife has worked as a Surgical Technician in heart and lung surgery for the past 20 years so she is well-versed in what that procedure entails. She talked us all through what to expect for recovery and that he was in the hands of one of the best surgeons in the country. The highly-regarded surgeon my wife assisted for her many years in Orlando had been trained by the surgeon working on my father. When I called my dad the day before his surgery on July 12th, he was in great spirits and looking forward to the relief the surgery would afford him. Mom said he fell asleep in the recliner that evening watching the All-Star game.
The routine procedure the next morning uncovered pulmonary hypertension, which was an 80-grade changeup to the situation. It led to complications from which dad was not able to recover from. He passed away mid-day on July 20th after an abrupt turn for the worse overnight when the previous day gave us hope he was turning the corner to a good recovery.
The hardest part for me was that he was just days away from his 65th birthday and the hardest working man I’ve ever known did not get to enjoy a single day of retirement. We had a long conversation on the drive back to Fort Myers after the baseball game in June and he wanted to downshift into part-time consulting for those interested in quick-service franchising and had already lined up a couple of options to do that while being in full control of his schedule and being able to work from home. We discussed how to put that plan in action and set up some time to further those talks once he was up to it after surgery. I even found a logo he had worked on for his future business card as I helped my mom clean up his work desk yesterday to send back his electronics to the corporate office.
While this is a personal story, I hope those of you that have read down this far learn something from it. Enjoy every moment with your father if he is still with you and do not put off to tomorrow what you can do today with your loved ones. Go see your doctor if something is not feeling right and separate work time from personal time so each gets the full attention it deserves.
Our professional lives had little overlap, but how the Rays and Astros were doing was always a part of calls during the season. I have no plans to stop writing about baseball because dad was very proud I did that and loved to direct his friends and colleagues to pieces I published online and I plan to continuing that to honor him. It just may be a little bit before my next post goes up.