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"That 90 Foot Gap"

The warm weather has finally returned to the northeast. Whenever I think of summer, I think of many things: birthday parties, swimming at the beach, grilling on the barbeque, fishing in the bay, the smell of fresh cut grass, the sounds of birds chirping early in the morning, rabbits running in the yard, walks in state parks, family vacations, fresh vegetables from the garden, Jones Beach events, trips out east (of Long Island), and so many other things. But there is one thing that definitely reminds me of summer and that is baseball.

At the age of seven, my father got the opportunity for me to meet the entire New York Mets baseball team. New York is known for it's sporting teams. Yankee fans dislike the Mets and Met's fans don't care for the Yankees, but it's all in good fun...I think.

I'll never forget how awestruck I was as I walked into the Met's locker room, into the dugout, and then out onto the field. It was a dream come true. Everything was larger than life. The field was impeccably groomed, the grass green, the lines straight, and the infield without a footprint. I got to meet many of the players including Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, two famous Hall of Famers. The team even signed an entire baseball for me which I still have today. From that day forward, I was a lifetime New York Mets fan. At that time, they weren't a good team, but that didn't matter. My world was changed permanently by my experience.

You would think that this is the reason I enjoy the game of baseball, but it's only a small part. A lot of it has to do with my father teaching me how to catch and throw a baseball. I remember the first baseball glove I had. He showed me how to break the glove in and how to oil the leather to keep it soft.

We would throw either in our driveway or on our front lawn. As we threw the ball around, I would ask my dad questions about when he played ball as a kid, all the way through high school. From what I've been told, he was really an excellent ball player and had a lot of potential to go on and play in college.

There was something special about having a catch with my dad, which made the sport even more meaningful. Sure, I loved collecting baseball cards and watching the games on TV. But I got more excited about throwing a baseball around with my father, a round ball, covered in rawhide.

During the summer season, I would ask my father each week if we could have a catch. I knew he was tired after a very long day at work, yet he found time for me. And when he couldn't play on a particular day, he promised me some time later that week, which he always kept true to his word.

I was always amazed at my father's power when he released the ball from his hand. As he threw it, I could literally hear the ball whistle because of it's velocity. And then when the ball landed in the sweet spot of my glove, I could hear it pop. Because of the speed behind the ball, the leather made a loud cracking noise. Dad and I would look at each other with a big grin because of the sound.

I was equally puzzled at how accurate my father could throw a baseball. I could hold my glove in any location and he would hit the target almost perfect every time. He was that good. He showed me how to hold the ball properly and even throw a curve ball. I loved when he threw a curve ball to me. Because the arc was so big, it would start in one location and land in a totally different spot. Sometimes I could barely catch it because the curve would catch me off guard, even when I knew he was throwing it.

The more we played ball, the more I looked up to my father. To me, he was my sports hero. As good as Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and the rest of the players were, I didn't need anyone else to look up to. I had my hero at home. I had a relationship with him. We knew each other. And it paled in comparison to what I knew of the player's statistics or their backgrounds. I think it's wonderful to have sport heroes and positive role models. But these are heroes that, in most cases, can only be known from afar. There isn't really a relationship there. It's more of a dream and sometimes just a fantasy.

What could be greater for a young boy or girl than to have their own father or mother be their greatest hero. Each day, children are watching their parents. They're looking for someone to run to, to look-up to, and even spend time with. And the greatest gift you can give them as their hero is your intense love for them. They need to see and hear how much you mean to them. It needs to be shown both in your words and in your actions. We often lack in one area over the other. And sometimes, we fail to give them anything, a trend that is becoming too apparent these days. Nevertheless, both need to be present.

As I kid, I just loved throwing that leather ball with my father. But now, I'm quite older and see that what I really loved was being with a man I trusted, looked up to, and loved. That 90 foot gap between my father and I was more than just empty space; it was the place where a relationship took root and developed into a lifelong bond of trust and respect. So now whenever I think of baseball, the first thing that comes to my mind is my father. And if you ask me what's in the trunk of my car, you'll find both my father's catcher glove and my glove waiting to be used again. Perhaps it's just an indicator of how much those times meant to me.