The fall is a special time of year. For me, it is an occasion for relishing the incredible beauty of the changing landscape, even as my thoughts are inevitably drawn to my own mortality. With relative ease, I find myself connecting present sense experiences with cherished memories, forming a tapestry as spellbinding as it is melancholic.
October’s cool winds are a gentle reminder that winter is not far behind. Yet, every year we are given a special bucolic treat in the form of a breathtaking floral arrangement displayed on nature’s soon-to-be barren canvas. For many of us, it is a time to disregard the changing temperatures and embrace one last gasp of summer in the form of October baseball.
I grew up loving our national pastime not only for the pleasure it generated but because it provided a unique avenue of communication with my father. We would spend hours watching in silent rapture the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford only to discuss, later, the importance of what we had just witnessed. It was more than a sport; for us, it was a connection, a tearing down of the walls between us while propping up in its place a shared experience that would be gleefully referenced as long as our memories allowed.
In so many ways, I was a lucky kid. For example, my dad was in charge of making the arrangements for an annual sports dinner for a local Catholic men’s club. In late October each year, utilizing a player’s agent whose identity he never revealed, he would arrange for a baseball player to be the guest speaker at the annual “sports night dinner.” When that special night finally arrived, my father would somehow arrange a 15-minute detour in the player’s itinerary so that he could meet “my boy, Jimmy.” As a result, I met within the confines of our living room: Moose Skowron, Art Ditmar, Jerry Coleman, Gil McDougald, Elston Howard, Jim Bouton, and one non-Yankee, Rocky Colavito. For a young man growing up in a small town in Connecticut, these occasions provided thrills beyond words and solidified even further my sports-related bond with my dad.
Given this connection, it is not surprising that decades later, as my father’s body was being ripped apart by a merciless cancer, he and I would still sit before a television in his tiny apartment watching his beloved Yankees having another storied season (1998). Although we were desperately trying to escape the sad reality of his situation, we found ourselves bonding yet one final time. Somewhat comically, we both privately shared with my sister the sentiment that neither of us really had any interest in the games but we each didn’t want to disappoint the other.
In addition to our attachment to the “fall baseball classic,” growing up in the Martorano household inevitably involved keeping abreast of current affairs. My dad was a believer in civic duty and demanded that, besides watching every Yankee game, my sister and I watch attentively the evening news as well as presidential announcements or press conferences, a practice that we continue to this day. We were also taught that voting was a sacred right and that we had a moral duty to be informed and involved. My earliest political recollection is that of my family collectively watching both the Democratic and Republican national conventions that nominated Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower, respectively, in 1956. We would dutifully follow the campaigns each fall and on election night my father and I would end up at the local Republican headquarters to follow the returns.
Eight years after President Eisenhower was elected to a second term, my father actually was on the ballot for the position of mayor of our home town of Ansonia, Conn. He waged a vigorous and spirited campaign while always making sure to avoid ad hominem attacks against the sitting mayor whom he knew and liked very much. That year (1964), on a somber and depressing election night, the returns were not as kind to my father as the consoling words of incumbent Mayor Joseph Doyle, who thanked my dad for his issue-oriented campaign, his character and community spirit. For my dad, losing an election was not as important as losing your reputation by waging a mean-spirited campaign.
Today, the Yankees are back, playing exciting and inspired baseball. Although I still enjoy rooting for my team, it breaks my heart that my dad is not around to share the experience. As for the world of politics, it has turned so negative that holding public office is no longer considered an admirable vocation.
I think if my dad were alive today he would still take pleasure in watching his team. Although times have changed, the game is still essentially the same. What’s not the same is the lack of civility in our public discourse. We don’t talk to each other, we shout without listening. Hate and divisiveness take precedence over love and unity. My dad would be very disappointed to see that we have regressed as a society, assisted by a president who promotes our darkest impulses.
What can we do as individuals? I suggest we heed the advice my dad gave me—always do your best—and isn’t that all we can do? Be the best at whatever your profession is, be the best son or daughter, best parent, best grandparent, best steward of the planet. In the final analysis, our mandate (and my dad’s hope) was that, in some small measure, we leave our planet a better place than we found it.
I know my father did.
Enjoy the fall.
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