Thursday was the second anniversary of my father’s death. But there are no tears, just memories, more good than bad.
A few days ago, I saw a news piece about a former major league ballplayer, Tony Perez, who is being honored by the Cincinnati Reds with a statue outside the ballpark.
The news swiftly transported me back to the last baseball game I went to with my father, Lorenzo "Lody" Guadalupe Gonzalez, in 2012 at Wrigley Field, against the San Francisco Giants. We took one of our last photos there.
Set against a backdrop of the Cubs statue tribute to Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” the photo reminds me where our lives were on that day and the role that our mutual love for baseball and Latino ballplayers played in bringing us together during tough times.
This snapshot in time captures two men, like so many fathers and sons, smiling happily, but trying to weather the ups and downs of life together.
Unbeknownst to either of us, my father would be diagnosed with leukemia just a few months later after we took that 2012 photo.
My mother died in 1999. The ensuing years took a toll on all of us, but particularly strained my relationship with my father. If he were here, he would admit he lost his way.
Still, we shared a passion for baseball, particularly those Latino ballplayers who found their way to Chicago - Jerry Morales, Jose Cardenal, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Aramis Ramirez - and who can forget Carlos Zambrano? These were a few of the many players that brought us pride as Latinos, although as Mexican Americans, we would always wonder out loud, “Why aren't there more Mexican players?"
It was this pride and our ability to share this one passion that kept a line of communication going. To be sure, my father and I had many moments of disconnect as I struggled to understand him after he retired. He in turn, while proud of my accomplishments, never really understood who I had become as a man.
Unable to really share my anger and frustration, the clouds would lift from our silence when we started to talk about baseball and the Cubs.
All of the sullen moments, the silence on the phone, the anger that I harbored inside as - yet again - we argued over money. Unable to really share my anger and frustration, the clouds would lift from our silence when we started to talk about baseball and the Cubs. It was like nothing ever happened. Suddenly the emotion, the connection that we could not muster burst out of us.
Many will laugh because, I mean, how much is there to talk about when you are fans of the perpetually losing Chicago Cubs who have not won the World Series since 1908? But it was in our mutual understanding of the nuances of the game, win or lose, that we really connected.
“Oye mijo, did you see that game yesterday? Pinche Zambrano, que loco (crazy) este hombre! Throwing the water cooler after they took him out of the game!”
“Yes papa, I saw it. His locura (craziness) is what makes him good.”
Small moments like this were played out between us over and over again, in my teen years, in college and into adulthood as I made decisions about my life that he did not understand. So many times we were in a deep freeze of communication, but then, baseball season would start. Former Cub Jose Cardenal would step out of the dugout heading toward the batter’s box, his memorable Afro spitting out of the side of his helmet, only to explode out of it as he rounded first base, headed for a double - and all was well again in our casa.
During those last few months of his life, when I went home and spent every waking moment with him in the hospital and then in hospice, we connected on things beyond baseball, like life and relationships.
Once we got back to talking baseball though, it was like the sweet sound of the crack of the bat on one of Sammy Sosa’s 66 home runs during the great Sosa-Mark McGuire home run chase in 1998.
It was a beautiful sound, our voices in sync, trying to outdo one another, recounting each day’s game during my father's final days.
“Híjole,” he would say, “that umpire’s strike zone was horrible and cost us the game.” Normally my father was empathetic to umpires because he learned how to become one when my brother and I played Little League, but I believe at this late stage he criticized because he missed his days of umpiring.
And so it is that on this Father’s Day, I remember our lives together, filled with errors, balks, doubles, triples, many, many home runs and all those Latino ballplayers that always brought us back together.
Larry Gonzalez works in Washington, D.C. and remains a loyal Chicago Cubs fan waiting 'til next year.