A father finds that teaching his grown daughter some baseball skills, in preparation for her turn in the first-ever New York Yankees Women's Fantasy Camp, is a great way to reconnect.
Recently, one of my kids requested some baseball instruction. I was thrilled. I'm a teacher at heart, if no longer in practice. And this was a great opportunity for some quality parent-child time.
When I first taught baseball to one of my kids it was to my son Brian 17 years ago, and I was hardly a youngster then. Now, well into my 50s, it's with my daughter Laura, who is in her 20s. It made the experience a little different, but no less rewarding.
The first correction was Laura's full-fingered grip of the ball. It dawned on me that when I, and perhaps most men, hold a spherical object, even when grabbing an onion, it's with the index and middle finger doing most of the work, equally primed to throw a four-seamed fastball as prepare a jambalaya. Though it feels like instinct, it's very much a learned response, proven to me many years ago when I tossed a ball to a cousin from Holland who let it drop to the ground so that he could kick it back. But Laura caught on right away, and within a few minutes she was burning them in.
She was no slouch with the lumber either, hitting some pretty good shots virtually right off the bat, although her glove work needed some improvement. She tended to reach out her glove arm rather than move her body into better position. But this too was resolved within a few lessons. In fact, rather quickly, I felt there wasn't a great deal more that I could teach her, which was actually the whole idea. More knowledgeable coaches awaited, and all of them former NY Yankees.
Laura is a tremendous Yankees fan. Perhaps it began as a toddler the moment I first dressed her in pinstriped pajamas with the interlocking N and Y. But it definitely was in full swing at age 9 when I took her to her first game and we sat near first base - meaning close to number 24, first baseman Tino Martinez. Although obviously she hasn't been rooting as long I have, I'll admit she's eclipsed me in her fanaticism. Somewhere in a box in the attic, I have a picture that Clete Boyer signed for me in 1961 during an appearance at Mays' Department Store in Glen Oaks. But Laura's apartment looks like Monument Park. The walls are covered in player photos, many of them signed, with a disproportionate number of them devoted to her favorite player, number 24. She will not wear red socks or eat baked beans, cream pies, or anything else associated with Boston. She eschews the living room TV to regularly travel to the Bronx to watch her team live. And this year, at age 23, she kicked it up a notch by traveling to Tampa, Florida to participate in the first-ever NY Yankees' Women's Fantasy Camp.
Laura never played Little League, and that may not be a bad thing. She spent most of her formative years in dance classes and performing in competitions. The hard work, concentration, and discipline required in dance is easily one of the best training regiments there is for other forms of athletics. And because everyone is involved all the time, teamwork is crucial. There is no left field to be hidden in for an inning or two, and no coaches' kids to be deemed stars based on heredity rather than talent or work ethic. And I'm convinced it's why Laura has taken to playing baseball as well as she has.
Laura was a little surprised to find that she was youngest participant at the camp. The other women were in their 30s, 40s, and older. Though some had spent decades playing on organized teams compared to Laura's few days of practice, she wasn't intimidated in the slightest. Laura was never a stage fright type.
At the welcoming dinner, she met a host of former Yankees, including Tino Martinez, with whom she would have regular conversations over the next few days. Bucky Dent autographed a photo for me. When she wasn't having pictures taken with players, she was getting close-ups of her hand adorned (temporarily) with a 2009 World Series ring.
Laura's team, one of six, was the Clippers, coached by Daryl Strawberry. She received her requested uniform, number 24, and was assigned Derek Jeter's locker. On the way out to the field at Steinbrenner Stadium, she gave a good luck pat to a sign that said "I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee" (Joe DiMaggio, 1949). In the batter's box, she heard her name announced, "Number 24, Laura Kish, Baldwin, NY." She never hit the ball very far. But the powerful yet graceful legs that won dozens of dance medals guided her to a few infield hits, including some runs scored and batted in, earning her a smile and nod of approval from the coach of one of the other teams, Mick "The Quick" Rivers. The Clippers went undefeated.
Training camp concluded with a good-bye dinner. Although he wasn't scheduled to attend, Tino Martinez did stop in for a minute, specifically to see Laura and wish her well.
I'm looking forward to practicing with Laura again. Tossing a ball around with the old man on a weed-filled field behind a Long Island elementary school may not quite compare with playing on a professional field with real Yankees in Tampa. But we'll be fine. And one of us still needs to learn more about playing baseball. Who better to teach me than Number 24?
Vince Kish, a father of two from Baldwin, is a part-time freelance writer and the full-time director of communications for Old Westbury Gardens. Kish's first piece for New York Metro Parents, about strolling the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn with Laura in a chest carrier, appeared in June 1988.
Also see: Where to Catch a Minor League Baseball Game in the New York Metro Area