Every once in a while, this blog gets a bit personal and veers away from baseball and the Dodgers. Today's posting is one of those moments as I reflect about my Dad, who turns 83 years old on March 11th. Happy Birthday Dad!
Two triples, a double and two singles. Quite a day for any ballplayer, regardless of the league they play in. And that was the first prominent highlight of my athletic life. My dad was there. The first time he ever came to see me play. I was nine years old.
Have you ever been in a zone? A mean a real zone. When the baseball appears to be the size of a grapefruit. Everything slows down. The senses come alive. All that happens goes your way. That’s the way things were for me on this Saturday morning in May, 1971. It happened because my dad was there.
I didn’t know dad was coming. Most of the time he was off doing some community service on a Saturday morning. He was a Scoutmaster for the local troop, and that meant Saturdays were dedicated to outings, overnight activities or an activity. But this particular Saturday morning, I got my blue Royals uniform on early for my 9:00 am game. My dad peeked his head in my bedroom and said he would be taking me.
That was really exciting to me. Dad was gonna see me play.
|photo from 1975|
I loved playing ball with my dad. I remember waiting for him to come home from work so we could play catch in the backyard. Dad wasn’t a great athlete, but he could hold his own. He worked very hard and long hours. It was rare getting to play catch in the back yard with him, because often he’d pull in the driveway after dark. My brothers would sometimes join in and we’d have a game of pickle. We’d all inevitably end up tangled on the ground laughing on some crazy run down.
|My father taking a swing during a family baseball game in 1991.|
Earl George Bladh is a good man. He never swore. The closest word he ever used that even approached profanity was the word “stink.” “Oh, stink!” he would utter when he was disgusted with something. We’d laugh and mock him sometimes when he did that, and later as a teenager I can remember using the same expression. He didn’t care, he’d just smile.
He grew up during the depression on the streets of East Los Angeles. He graduated from Garfield High early to join the Navy at the tail end of World War II. He attended church, participated in scouts and athletics, and his home was a gathering place for the neighborhood kids because of his popularity. It also helped that his Swedish mother and grandmother would cook amazing meals for everyone.
He has always been a jokester. He loved to laugh and practical jokes were always a part of his life. Once in church as a teenager, the girls he was sitting with spoke of the pain they endure when they get their ears pierced. He and his friend Bud asked the girls if they had safety pins in their purses. When they produced two and handed them to the two boys, to the horror of the girls, they stuck pins through their ear lobes and said, “You mean like this?” Whether he was a victim of a practical joke or the perpetrator, he loved them.
He served as a church missionary to Sweden for almost three years. He loved Sweden and he never lost the language, using it whenever he could. Religious beliefs played a role in his life. He was devout and giving of his time with his church assignments.
He is a man of prayer. I remember many times when I’d walk by the master bedroom of our old house and he would be kneeling in prayer. He’s start the day with prayer, he’d end the day with prayer. He would regularly gather the family together to kneel in prayer. When he’d drive to work, he would turn off the radio and ponder of what good he could do in the world that day.
|My parents, dancing at their 50th wedding anniversary reception, 2001|
He loves his wife, my mother. She is the only woman he has ever loved. He has constantly praised and complemented her. He never neglected to express his love to her, even in his senior years. When I was growing up, I’ll always remember when he’d come home from work and my mother would greet him at the door and they’d embrace. There was never any doubt that they loved each other and their affection has always been open.
He met mom singing in the church choir. That in itself was a pretty funny because he’s completely tone deaf. Yes, he was in the choir to meet girls, and he hit the jackpot. I remember sitting next to him in church as he sang a melody so far off tune, that I’d burst out laughing. He never got offended, he just kept singing.
|Bladh Family photo, 1968|
He loves his family. His seven children are his pride and joy. He taught them by example. On days off from work, he would have the family work on projects at home together. Yard work was a chance for him to talk with his kids, teach them life lessons, joke with his them and fool around with them. He was quick to praise them and reluctant to criticize them. He taught me how to crank up a lawn mower and use an edger. When I botched the edging job on my first try and my siblings made fun of me, he pulled me aside and said that for the first time, I did a great job.
He built the “baddest” tree house for us in all of Hacienda Heights. It was the envy of all the neighborhood kids. A fortress 15 feet up. Everybody would come over to play in it. We even had an overnight sleepover or two up there. He constructed a sandbox underneath it. I am saddened to see that that tree has since been cut down.
|My father and I, when I was 11 years old. (1972)|
He would take the family to the beach on outings. Huntington Beach was the favorite spot. Upon arrival, he’d snatch up the closest son or daughter and run directly towards the water. He’d dive in with them and laugh out loud as the shocked child would whimper because of the cold Pacific water temperature. “What’s the matter? You know the best way to get in the water is to just jump in and immediately get used to it.” Then he’d have the child latch on to his back as he’d body surf a few waves. They’d always return to dry land, hand in hand, laughing away.
He taught me sportsmanship and to always do my best. He taught me to extend a hand to an opponent and help them up after a competitive hit, and to never argue with umpires or referees, no matter how wrong they were. “Show them respect,” he’d say, “they are doing their best and volunteering their time. All bad calls even out at the end.” As I entered organized sports, I was initially surprised to see that my coaches and teammates did not live by that creed. When I eventually had coaches that were like my father in that respect, I immediately recognized their attributes as teachers and their ability to see that the big picture was not wins and losses but building the lives of youngsters.
He took me to my first Dodger, Laker, King, and UCLA basketball game. My first trip to Dodger Stadium with him was absolutely magical to me. I’ll never forget being at that amazing place with him and sinking it all in.
He taught me how to keep score. He bought me my first Dodger dog. He told us to never boo anyone. He said Dodger fans need to be above that and show respect to the athletes on the field. He encouraged us to applaud good plays by the opposition. He surprised me with autographed balls, photos and bats that he obtained through work. (Referenced in a previous posting: http://opinionofkingmansperformance.blogspot.com/2011/01/mr-marty.html )
Dad gave to his community and church. He chaparoned dances for years. For over 20 years he taught classes on religion to high school students before the school day started. A program known as “Seminary,” dad taught it consecutively from 1961 to 1984. That was every school morning with the exception of the first and final week. Those hundreds of students that he taught speak reverently of him. He was respected and loved. I never missed a day of high school in my four years. For those four years, dad was there with me every morning, my unofficial first period instructor.
I miss my dad. He’s still here, but things are difficult. A stroke has debilitated him and taken much of his short term memory. I am grateful that I can still call him and speak to him, and initially, he’s my same old dad. For a short time he returns with his wit, humor, and charm. It’s still there, but then after a few minutes I notice he gets confused and he doesn’t realize who he is talking to.
As I was going through photos, searching for some insignificant spring training photos for a blog related article, I found a letter that he penned to me about a year before he had his stroke in 2008. He told me how proud he was of my accomplishments. He gave me parental advise. He reminded me to love my wife. He gave me advise about life’s simple problems. He told me that he loves me. That was the most important thing. I cherish that letter. I’m so glad he wrote it.
Anyway, back to 1971...the Little League game.
|This Little League photo is actually from two years after the game referred to in this article.|
I looked up in the stands after I led off that game with a stand up triple. Dad had a grin that extended from ear to ear. After my fifth hit of the day, I think we both could have flown home. I can’t remember ever feeling so good. When we got home, I overheard him telling my mother, “Reba, our boy has some real talent. I had no idea he was that good.” Unfortunately, that was my best day as a ballplayer ever.
Happy 83rd Birthday dad. I have been very blessed to be your son.
Wonderful post Evan! No pic of the tree house? The picture of your parents at the 50th anniversary is so cute! Your mom's dress is so beautiful.ReplyDelete