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Epitaph For A Father
written by: Mark Kodama
One day, my eight-year-old son Nathan and I were fixing the mail box in our front lawn. It was a hot July day. Sweat was streaming down my body and down my face. My glasses were slipping down my face. The bolts were rusted. I sprayed WD-40 on them. Finally, I stripped them. So I said “Ah . .. SHIT!”
My son Nathan looked up at me and said: “Daddy, you can’t say something like that.”
Then I said: “Nathan, do you know what Grandpa used to say about swearing? Well, he had a firm rule on that. You were never ever allowed to say a swear word . . . . unless you were playing baseball . . . . and then it seemed quite natural.”
Well my dad had a lot of sayings. My dad was an aerospace engineer but his passion was coaching little league baseball. And boy could he coach baseball. Every year I played for him, we won the championship except for one year when we came in second place. And that to us was a crummy year.
My dad used to say “All of life can be learned from baseball.”
“The only kid who never makes a mistake is the kid who never does anything.”
“If you are going to strike out, strike out swinging.”
“If it does not hurt when you lose, then you did not want to win bad enough.”
For my father there were four cardinal virtues for winning.
The first was hard work. The second was to use your mind. The third, and the most important, was to have what he called intestinal fortitude. The fourth was integrity.
We worked harder than any other teams. When we didn’t have games, we ran situations, and then there was the batting cage twice a week and pitching practice.
When we had an off day, my dad worked his sons out. And then after we finished our homework, we had to swing our bats and do push ups.
One game, we were facing a fast pitcher. My dad had all the players get as close to the plate as possible. At first, the pitcher walked everybody. And then he began to lob the ball in. By the second inning, the game was over.
Now as far as the third virtue, courage, this was probably the most important. One day, my dad took my brother Mike and I to work us out.
In order to hit well, you had to step into the pitch. So that day, I was stepping out because I was afraid of being hit.
So my dad started to throw the ball behind me. Finally, he said “if you step in the bucket one more time, I’ll hit you.”
Sure enough the next pitch he hit me in the arm. He said: “Hey crybaby get up there and hit the ball. It only hurts for a little while.”
I learned some things that day. My dad was scarier than the baseball and that it did only hurt for a little while.
Well, what father would intentionally hit their sons with a baseball, I ask you?
A father who had some deep insights into things. Did not Tacitus say “In valor there is hope?” Did not Aristotle say “courage is the first of all virtues?” Without courage all other virtues are meaningless.
My father understood that you could never experience the joy and power of baseball unless you overcame your fear of the baseball.
And you could never really fully experience the joy and power of life unless you overcame your fear of it.
And he expected nothing less of himself. One time, at Halloween, a group of about a half dozen high school kids stole our candy.
When I told him, he ran outside and went around the block to find them. When we went around the block they were not to be found. Finally he pointed to a willow tree. He said that they must be there.
He ran to the tree alone. As soon as he disappeared under the shade of the tree, all those kids scattered like rats.
He emerged from the tree dragging the largest kid, who was more than a head taller than him, on the ground.
My dad’s eyes were flashing, his face was red and the veins were bulging from his neck. He put his face an inch from the boys face and said “All this candy is free tonight, why did you have to steal it?”
As we left he said “Mark, when you meet a group of people like that you go after the biggest one and the rest will run away.”
My dad did not believe that might made right. He believed, however, sometimes you had to fight to make things right.
There was another side to my dad too. When parents forgot to pick their sons up from practice, my dad waited with them until it became dark and then he drove them home.
He said: “Mark, will you please sit in the back, so Smith can sit in the front seat.” There was nothing he really said but the tone of his voice was so reassuring.
He asked the boy to give him directions home. He also asked the boy if he had finished his homework for the next day. When the boy said, he had not. My dad said he must complete his homework before he went to sleep that night.
When we go to the house, it was a magnificent house in Hidden Hills and it was all dark. My dad told the boy to turn on the porch light on once he was safely inside. We only left after the light came on.
For my dad, it was so unnatural for a parent to leave their child behind at the baseball field.
But for my dad, it was natural that as an adult in the community and as the baseball coach it was his responsibility to make sure every child made it safely home.
My father believed a team was only as strong as its weakest player. He said “Any kid could win the game for you and any kid could lose the game for you.”
He promised every kid every year that by the end of the year they would have a base hit and they would catch a fly ball.
Because most players bat right handed you put your best outfielders in center and left field and you put your weakest players in right field.
It was near the end of the year and we were fighting to stay in first place. It was the final inning of the game and we were barely ahead. The star hitter of the other team hit a towering shot to right field.
Sokolov turned ran back and then began to circle. Boom he caught the ball and we won the game and went onto to win another championship.
At the end of game, when my father gave the game ball to Sokolov it was not just a feel good gesture but was a truly earned award for winning the game for the team.
My dad lived his life boldly with a winning spirit. He embraced all of life and never feared it.
Truly all of life can be learned from baseball. It seems so natural.