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In the Front Row: Nothing beats a day at the ballpark with dad

Last Saturday, the day before Father’s Day, I went to a baseball game.

That’s not all that unusual this time of year. In fact, I get paid to go to baseball games; something my dad always thought was pretty cool.

Six years ago Saturday I was on an airplane flying back to New Jersey to help my family plan my dad’s funeral. Father’s Day weekend has never been quite the same.

But something happened to me last Saturday at Red Wing’s Athletic Field, watching the River Falls Fighting Fish warm up before their tournament game against the Coon Rapids Redbirds. The sounds of the ball hitting the bat seemed different. Even the slap of the ball hitting a fielder’s glove, or the chatter between players and coaches, made sounds that can only be heard sitting in a concrete and wooden covered grandstand.

I was sitting about eight rows up, behind and to the right of home plate. It was a deja-vu-like moment. It was my first time at “THE ATH” as it is known in Red Wing, but there was something soothingly familiar about it.

Then I heard myself say out loud; “My dad would love this.”

If there was one thing my father had a passion for, other than his family, it was going to the ballpark.

I grew up hearing stories about his days at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn watching the Dodgers. I learned about Jackie Robinson long before I realized how famous he was to the rest of the world. On my eighth birthday, instead of waking me up for school as usual, he told me to grab my hat and glove because we were going to a Met’s game.

My dad and I spent some great days together at the ballpark. Whether it was Shea or Yankee stadium in New York watching the pros, or Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City watching a high school or minor league game, he always had a smile on his face at a ballgame.

When Saturday’s game between River Falls and Coon Rapids started, instead of grabbing my camera and looking for a place to take pictures like I normally do, I visited the concession stand and bought a beer and some peanuts. I know that’s what he would have done. I figured I had eight more innings to take pictures. I just wanted to enjoy this.

Eventually players from the River Falls and Hudson youth teams filed into the grandstand and lined the fence along the first row. They were playing in a tournament on an adjacent field and had a break between games. A few rows behind me their parents shared stories and laughed, just like my dad did when I was a Little Leaguer.

Before I knew it, it was the top of the seventh inning and I hadn’t taken a single picture. I didn’t want to leave my seat. It had been years since my dad and I watched a baseball game together.

That’s why I bought a plaque for a seat at the new community ballpark being built at Hoffman Park in River Falls. There was nothing better than watching a ballgame with my dad. And even though I’ve been to hundreds of games since he died six years ago, I never took the time to just sit and take the game in, enjoying the sights and sounds and smells of the ballpark—until last Saturday.

The message I’m having engraved on the plaque?

“Saved you a seat, Dad. Miss you. Bobby.”

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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