I’m a baseball enthusiast. Even from an early age, I just felt a connection with the game. I could never really put my finger on it. Perhaps it’s because baseball, like no other sport, imitates life. A baseball season is a long haul — 162 games. Each season is filled with ups and downs. The thrill of a walk-off homer and the gut-wrenching strikeout with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. Every batter has times when they’re on fire at the plate and other times when they fall into a deep slump. Teams string together victories to make that late playoff push, while others fall on their face and drop out of the hunt. The game isn’t fair. You never know if you’ll be the hero or the goat. It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting .350 or just struggling to stay above the Mendoza line. You could change the outcome of any given game on any given night. No matter what happens in the present, there is no way to know what the future holds. We go into each season knowing there will be winners and losers, but we just don’t know how it will play out — you never know, so we just sit back, watch, wait, and hopefully enjoy the ride.
In life, you’re sometimes thrown a curve. A scary, 12-6 curve that just dies in the dirt. Rarely do you hit it out of the park. You just try to make contact to survive the at-bat and hope the next pitch has your name on it. Life has tossed me a curve this weekend. My Dad died at the age of 60.
He was a doctor who specialized in infectious diseases, tropical medicine, and global health. He dedicated his life to helping others around the world. He lived in places that, to some of us, seem so far away and undesirable: Oman, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Haiti, and South Africa among others. I lost count of how many countries he had actually traveled too. I would bet it was well over 100. I traveled and lived in many with him. He volunteered his time and expertise to help the underprivileged and under-served. He was a true humanitarian and champion for those who had no voice. He had impressive credentials (attending Notre Dame, Yale, Duke, and Johns Hopkins) but he never sought recognition and money was not his driving force; making a difference was. There is no doubt that he touched a countless number of lives in his years on this Earth.
My Dad wasn’t quite a diehard baseball fan like me. He did follow the White Sox as a kid growing up outside Chicago in the late ’50s and early ’60s. He recounted many stories over the years of “Little Louie”, “The Cuban Comet”, and going to Comiskey in general. After his family moved to Baltimore, he began following the Orioles. Boog, Aparicio, Gentile, Brandt, and Brooksie. Boyhood idols in the making. Don’t ever try to tell him there was a better third baseman than Brooks. He could still recount the complete roster even decades later. In fact, he did this summer he did when he came to visit.
As a kid, we had regular Wiffle ball games in the back yard. He pitched, I hit. We practiced during my t-ball and little league years. He threw popups and grounders and I ran around diving for the balls. I remember him taking me to my first baseball game. I was 6. We went to old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Two seasons removed from a World Series title, the O’s still had good talent on their roster. Ripken, Murray, Dempsey, Lynn, Dennis and Tippy Martinez, Storm Davis, and Mike Flanagan among others. I don’t remember why, but on that day they had several players out in the concourse signing autographs. I was so excited. My first autograph. We waited in line for a bit and I’m sure my Dad wasn’t too happy to do so, but he did. I walked up to the table, greeted Mr. Jim Dwyer, and handed him my ball. He snatched it from my hands, scribbled his name, and just handed it back. He didn’t say a word and never made eye contact. I’m sure Jim is a good guy, but on that day he disappointed me. It was fine though and I actually wouldn’t have had it any other way. It provided years of jokes and laughs between my Dad and I. Funny how things go. I loved those times. Baseball and Dad. What kid wouldn’t?
I now know why I love the game and collecting autographs so much. It was you, Dad. In the game of baseball, we lose our boyhood idols as we grow older. So many memories of our childhood pass with them. Well today, the game of life has lost a true hero, idol, and person.
Raymond A. Smego Jr. Dad. You were a great guy. Thanks for being a good dude. I didn’t always tell you how much I appreciated it, but you taught me nearly everything that I know in life. You accomplished so much in your profession, but I hope that I was your greatest accomplishment in the game of life. Your game may be over, but I will carry everything you taught me to make sure I end up a winner. I’ll hit that curveball out of the park for you.
If you happen to know my Dad, please share a story…or if you don’t, please share a story of your Dad and baseball.