Updated: Jun 10, 2018
My dad just loved Harrison Bader. There was something irrational about a 70-something-year-old’s man love for a minor leaguer but he never shied away from it. When Bader was drafted I heard about how good Bader was going to be and how excited my dad was that the Cardinals had drafted him. Seemingly every time I spoke to my dad on the phone I heard about what Bader was doing in A ball, in the Florida St. League, wherever. My dad lived in Midland, Texas – home to the AA Rockhounds of the Texas League. Every time Springfield came to Midland my dad would go out and watch them play but he was really watching Harrison Bader. He loved his speed, how he could play center field, his power. He was going to be a .280 hitter who could hit doubles, hit 20+ homers, and steal 20+ bases. One of us would call the other and he’d get to talking about Bader. “Bader’s got 14 home runs!” “Bader’s hitting .280.” Batting average…my dad was in his 70’s and still talked in terms of batting average. I couldn’t tell you what any Cardinal’s batting average was last year but, by God, my dad could always tell me Harrison Bader’s.
My dad and I could always talk about the Cardinals. It was one of the great failures of our relationship in that that was just about all we could really talk about…and so we did…and it almost always included something about Harrison Bader. In the last year or two before he died, I had pretty much given up on us having any kind of more meaningful relationship because we couldn’t talk about anything other than the Cardinals and so our relationship really deteriorated. It was like that “friend” you’ve had for a lot of years but you’ve both kind of moved in different directions in your life and all you can talk about when you do get together are the good times you had when you were kids. You just don’t have that much in common anymore. That was my dad and me. All we had in common were the Cardinals. I became very disenchanted with how superficial our relationship had become.
My dad passed away in the early morning on the same day that the Cubs won game 7 of the World Series. My brother and I did the stuff we needed to do and then went out to dinner and to toss back a few while remembering our dad and watching game 7 on TV. After the Cubs ended their century-plus long drought by defeating the Indians I made the comically dark comment on Twitter that I was glad that my dad didn’t survive to see the Cubs win the World Series. It’s dark, I know, but it’s how we all joked and, had he been alive, he’d have found it pretty funny, too.
So clearly my father and I had a bond and the Cardinals were that bond. It was the Cardinals that brought us together and most of the time when there was nothing else we could talk about and all the times I was bitter that he didn’t take an interest in the other, non-Cardinal parts of my life, we still had this bond. I’ve wished for too many years that our bond was stronger and that there was more connecting us than the Cardinals, but the Cardinals provided that bond when both of us needed one.
So last season, when the Cardinals called Bader up, I texted my brother to let him know. (He’s a Dodgers fan. Yes, I know. Don’t start. We all have flaws. I hate strawberries and he’s a Dodgers fan. At least it’s not the Cubs!) I texted my brother to tell him Bader was called up and that my dad would’ve been so happy and proud, as if it was his son that had been called up by his team. Bader was his guy that he had followed since he was drafted and I know that had my dad been around, I’d have heard about Bader’s promotion from him before I heard about it from Twitter, or my MLB app, or from the Post-Dispatch. When Bader got called up, I felt a little closer to my dad. I was happy for Bader, obviously, but I was happier for my dad. It makes no sense, I know.
He had a double and scored a run in his first game and he was just flying around the bases. I know I would have heard about it from dad. He would have told me about it as though I hadn’t seen it. “I know, dad. I saw it. Yeah, he was really flying. That ball was hammered!” There were a lot of phone calls where he was just talking and I was on the other end…”um hmm. Yeah. I agree. Saw that, too…” and he would’ve said a lot about that first game.
Bader got sent down and returned to St. Louis at the beginning of September and he crushed a hanging something off of long-time Cards’ nemesis Johnny Cueto for his first home run in his first game back with the club. I know I would’ve heard about that, too. I can hear him now…”he’s going to be really good!” “I know, dad. You’re right.” Of course, I texted my brother to let him know and told him how happy dad would’ve been. He knew, of course. As a Dodger fan, he couldn’t really care less about Harrison Bader but he knew what a fan dad was.
It was announced recently that Yairo Munoz was going to make the opening day roster for the Cards and that Bader would begin the year at Memphis. That was the smart decision due to Munoz’s versatility and the fact that he hit everything throughout the spring but I really wanted it to be Bader. Opening day is special, but especially in St. Louis. All the Cardinal greats are there, and all decked out in those fantastic red sportscoats. Ozzie will be there, and Gibby, riding on top of those red convertibles. Jim Edmonds. The players will all be introduced one-by-one and the stadium will be packed, red as far as the eye can see. And I so wanted Bader to be a part of it.
My dad had been retired for several years and would’ve been able to watch all the festivities on TV and would’ve been so happy that Bader had made it. He would’ve loved hearing Bader’s name called for the 40,000+ fans and hearing all those fans cheer for him.
Every time something good happens for Harrison Bader – and there aren’t going to be too many days better than his first opening day in St. Louis – I think about what a fan my dad was and it brings me closer to him. Truthfully, I don’t often miss my dad. I do miss the relationship I wish we had had but I don’t often really miss him. But I do miss him at times like this. For all my life, the one real connection my dad and I had was through baseball and through the Cardinals. We’d go and play catch or he’d pitch to me or we’d sit and watch the Cardinals – sometimes on TV, sometimes here in Houston, and one time we all went to St. Louis to watch a series together. We’d play whiffle ball in the backyard against one another and we’d both be the Cardinals’ lineup.
So I was hoping that Bader would make the opening day roster because that would also mean that my dad would be there, too. It would have been a tribute to Bader and his ability but it also would’ve been a tribute to my dad and the faith he always had in Bader. Sure, he’d have watched the game anyway even without Bader on the roster but Bader was his guy. When good things happen for Bader, it brings me closer to my dad because it makes me think about what a fan he was.
Obviously, no one wanted Jedd Gyorko to be injured or go on the D.L. We need him as part of our 5-man infield. He’s a very good and versatile player. But when I heard about the injury, I kept saying to myself, “if he goes on the D.L., please let it be Bader. Please let it be Bader. Please let it be Bader.” There’s just something about opening day in St. Louis. It’s so very special and it would’ve been special to my dad and while I just absolutely love opening day – and especially the home opener – I’m going to feel my dad with me just a little bit more when Bader’s name is called over the PA.
And that’s part of the beauty of baseball. It can be coolly analytical – and I’m that guy. Most of the way I view the game is from that coolly analytical perspective. One of the reasons I’m a big Jose Martinez fan – and make no mistake, I am – it’s because the numbers tell me he’s going to be really good. But I also just really love baseball and I love the Cardinals and I miss playing catch with my dad. This game brings people together. It brings families together. It brings my son and me together. We sit and watch Cardinals games the way my dad and I did and talk about the Cardinals like my dad and I did. It brought my brother and me together when we ate and drank to say goodbye to my father. And when nothing else in the world could bring my dad and me together, baseball could. The Cardinals could. And Harrison Bader is last real manifestation of the bond that my dad and I shared. Congratulations, Harrison Bader. Congratulations, Dad!
Man, I really love this game and this team. Thanks, Jedd, for what you did for my dad. (But, seriously, get well quickly. We need you back and playing well!)
Happy home opener, Cards’ fans!
Thanks for reading.