Mom, Dad and Sports

We were going to get Mom an ice maker. The kind that makes the Sonic-style ice that she loves so much.

So we went in with my sister and got Mom the ice maker for Christmas. The last couple of years, we had gotten her tickets to a Thunder game for her Christmas present. She loved those, but with the team trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the offseason it seemed like a good time to get her something different.

The ice maker was still sitting in its box a couple of weeks after Christmas. Mom said it was too tall for her to reach on her kitchen counter. I said it was no problem to take it back and asked what she might want instead. Of course, she said she didn’t want anything. Of course, my sister and I were not going to give mom nothing for Christmas.

I asked if she wanted to go another Thunder game. Her face lit up. “Well, if you want to. That would be fun.”

So we went. And it was a lot of fun, even though the Thunder got behind by quite a bit early and lost to the Toronto Raptors.

We posed with a cardboard cutout of Steven Adams, Mom’s favorite player.

This season was supposed to be something of a bummer after trading away the two big stars. Instead, fans have really embraced this squad that shares the ball and plays hard on both ends of the floor.

No one has gotten more emotionally involved in this team than my mom. I think the only reasons she owns a TV are Fox News and Fox Sports Oklahoma, and not in that order. She watches every game (at least the ones that aren’t played on the West Coast after her bedtime) and is very concerned with the health and well-being of the players. I get texts asking about Andre Roberson and Terrance Ferguson on a regular basis. Her favorite player is Steven Adams, whom she said she’d like to have dinner with.

These Thunder aren’t the first sports team my mom has been obsessed with. My dad was also very into sports. So I suppose I come by my attraction to sports honestly.

When Mom and Dad were growing up, baseball was king. And since MLB.TV hadn’t quite been invented yet, there weren’t a lot of options when it came to which teams to follow.

Growing up in Enid, Okla., Mom latched onto the New York Yankees and their Oklahoma-born superstar, Mickey Mantle. They were frequently on TV for the Game of the Week, and there were plenty of stories about the team and the Mick in the newspaper. Mom made a scrapbook of many of the newspaper clippings, which we still have. It’s pretty cool.

If you weren’t a fan of the Yankees in those days, the St. Louis Cardinals were probably your favorite team. Growing up in Jones, Okla., dad could pick up Harry Caray’s radio call of the Cardinal games and became a fan.

Both made treks to see their favorite teams before meeting each other. Mom got to go to a Yankee game in Kansas City and followed Mantle and a few of his teammates to a local watering hole after the game before avoiding further trouble. Dad joined the military and was stationed close enough to St. Louis to get to catch a few games when he was on leave. He said the longest home run he’s ever seen in person was hit by Willie Mays at one such contest.

When I was growing up, Dad put a basketball goal in our driveway. I used to throw the ball onto the roof of our house, wait for it to bounce off and then catch the “pass” and shoot. My goal was to be able to beat Dad at one-on-one, which was no easy task since he was 6-foot-4 and pretty good at basketball. I quickly learned to put a lot of arc on my shots since that was needed to get them over his arms.

Mom and Dad were great sports parents. Very encouraging and always attending our games but not berating the officials or telling us all the ways we messed up.

As far as their favorite teams went, Mom more or less abandoned the Yankees after growing up and having kids of her own. She really didn’t have time to be a fan of anything other than her kids. Dad never wavered from his Cardinals but didn’t get to watch many games.

One of my first sports-related memories was the 1987 World Series. The Cardinals were playing the Minnesota Twins and I was 7 years old. My bedtime was well before these games ended, but I snuck out of my room and into the hallway, where I could catch a glimpse of the small TV in our living room where Dad was watching the games. It was a great World Series, with Minnesota winning in 7 games. I loved the atmosphere in Minnesota for the games there, with the “homer hankies” and Kirby Puckett making great catches. I asked for something Twins-related for Christmas and got my first ever ballcap, a snapback with the Twins’ “M” logo.

Every Twins fan waved one of these at the Metrodome in 1987.
This is what my first ever baseball cap looked like. Now I have way too many of these things.

The 1987 World Series got me hooked on baseball, but there weren’t many ways for me to get a fix in those days. The only teams that were on TV regularly were the Chicago Cubs on WGN and the Atlanta Braves on TBS. Both teams stunk back then but the Cubs were on during the day and had the always-entertaining Harry Caray (the same guy that got my dad hooked on the Cardinals) calling the games, so I picked them.

I didn’t know that the Cardinals were the Cubs’ chief rival, and by the time I figured it out I was too entrenched to do anything about it. Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player.

Eventually I was able to beat my dad at basketball, mainly because he wasn’t great at dribbling and I could steal the ball from him. But he could always shoot it about as well as I could and I definitely couldn’t guard him in the post. Unfortunately, he had a bad back and was worried about making it worse so we didn’t get to play too much after I finally beat him.

We did, however, start golfing together. That was the one thing he almost always did on his day off from work if the weather was decent. He was a pretty good golfer, usually scoring around 85-90. Once at Earlywine he was hanging around even par for 9 or 10 holes, which was exciting. He tailed off at the end but still broke 80 which was a rare occurrence.

Once, we thought I might have hit a hole in one. Turns out the ball had either rolled into the pin and not stuck into the hole or it rolled just behind the hole. Either way it was about 6 inches from the hole directly behind the pin, but it was exciting nonetheless. I was never as good as dad but on a couple of lucky days I did manage to beat him, and that was always a good feeling. I very rarely golf anymore and the main reason is that it brings back so many memories of rounds with dad that I’ll never be able to play again.

When I graduated from high school in 1998, my graduation gift was my first ever trip to Chicago. Mom and Dad both went with me and we went to a pair of Cubs games. We sat in the bleachers for my first game ever, arriving early enough to sit on the front row in right field. I leaned over the wall and snatched a piece of ivy. I was scolded by security but I got to keep the ivy. That was a special season as Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs and the Cubs made a rare playoff appearance. Sosa didn’t homer in that first game but we had a great view as he made his trademark sprint to right field to start the game, and the Cubs won.

Dad and I both got into the home run chase of 1998, which was eventually won by Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. In 1999 Dad planned a trip to St. Louis for the two of us to watch a Cubs/Cards weekend series at Busch Stadium. On the drive up there, dad said he hoped to see McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals win two out of three. (This was generous of him, wanting me to get to see one Cub win. I of course wanted the Cubs to sweep the thing.) Sure enough, McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals won two out of three. It was a really memorable trip and a great time.

Around this time, perhaps because of some of the home run hype, Mom started getting back into baseball. All of us kids had graduated and she finally had some free time on her hands. If she had any struggle over which team to support, she didn’t show it. She got really into the Cubs.

In 2004, the three of us went to St. Louis for another Cubs/Cardinals series. While eating lunch before the game, we saw Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone. I was too intimidated to bother him but Dad walked right up and introduced himself. Stone was very generous and told us that if we wanted to see the Cubs players up close, we could go to such-and-such hotel at some specific time, as that’s when they’d board the team bus to head to the game.

Mom’s favorite player was Moises Alou. Let’s just say he was the Steven Adams of 2004. Mom was kind of obsessed with him. Anyway, Mom really wanted to see the Cubs up close so we went to the hotel at the time Stone told us to. Sure enough, we got to see the team. When Alou emerged from the building, Mom started yelling, “Moises! Moises! Moises!” and blowing him kisses. Mind you, we’re only standing a few feet away from him. Alou glanced our way and gave a wink, then started chuckling as he boarded the bus.

Dad passed away in November of 2004, which naturally changed everything. As far as the Cubs were concerned, Mom still rooted for them but not with the same vigor, especially since Moises left the team after that 2004 season.

Dad’s favorite Cardinal that year was Albert Pujols, who was emerging as a superstar. At first, Dad didn’t know how to pronounce his name (Pu-holes). But then, even after he learned, he would purposely mispronounce it (Pu-joles) because he thought it was funny. Dad did things like that a lot. It’s kind of crazy that Pujols is still collecting paychecks and home runs in the major leagues, more than 15 years after Dad quit calling him Pu-Joles.

Mom was never an NBA fan, but that changed when the Thunder came, as it did for many Oklahomans. When Kevin Durant left us for Golden State on July 4, it ruined Mom’s Independence Day. Truth be told, she probably didn’t get over KD leaving until Russ got traded this summer.

At the Thunder game we went to, Mom made fast friends with the young man sitting next to her. Between talking to him and yelling for the Thunder, I don’t know how she had a voice left at the end of the night. It was really cool to see how much fun she was having.

I think I know what I might get her for Christmas this year.

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