Expecting a double-shot of swag for Father’s Day this year

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Like a lot of dads, my Father’s Day haul typically consists of a greeting card and a few pairs of socks.

Or maybe if I’ve been really good – defined by how much I’ve forked over for dance lessons, motocross gear, activity fees, sports equipment, electronic gadgets, vacations, etc. – I’ll get a handy three-pack of fancy designer underwear or a gardening tool from Walmart.

But this year I’m expecting a little lagniappe for going the extra mile in the Daddy Department.

As my children have reached the ages of 13 and 10, the demands are only increasing, and I’m proud to say old Pops is stepping up to the plate. For that, I expect to receive some real high-quality swag come June 21.

For example, I knew I was going beyond the call of duty when I signed up to drive my daughter to school last fall. Casey, an academic rock star – not that I’m bragging or anything – attends a junior high school that happens to be located not conveniently on my way to work, but 20 minutes in the exact opposite direction. So, that meant nearly 10 straight months of pre-dawn departures and 40 minutes of daily drive time even before beginning the morning commute through heavy Baton Rouge traffic.

Taking on the role of transit chief does have its rewards, however. On the way to school each day, we’d pick up one of Casey’s friends, and I found the conversation between two 13-year-olds can be entertaining. They would be mortified if I divulged any of the contents of those gab-fests, so I’ll just say the Avengers, derpy classmates, wacky teachers and lunch room drama were frequent topics. Though I always kept my ears open for anything inappropriate, it was always innocent, silly chit-chat. Lord knows what they talked about after I dropped them off.

So, for all that child ferrying, I expect to receive a Father’s Day bonus. Then, I expect a double-dog bonus for my contributions to my son’s activities.

Austin runs full-tilt from daylight to dark. Sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s packed so much into a single decade of life. He’s participated in just about every sport or activity you can imagine – motocross riding, BMX, basketball, skateboarding, scooters, swimming, archery, fishing, canoeing, bowling, shooting, track, flag football, whittling, volleyball, art, Scouting, you name it.

But lately he’s developed a fixation on baseball, especially since he made the league all-star team and gained a reputation as a skilled player.

When he was born, I used to look forward to the day when he would be old enough to get in the back yard and toss the ball around. But that was 10 years ago, and now, even though my spirit is still game, my arm feels like it’s barely hanging on by a single slender shred of shoulder sinew.

Every afternoon, rain or shine, he wants to go outside and practice perfecting the throwing motion they taught him at Brad Cresse’s baseball camp. And every afternoon, I have to drag myself off the sofa and slip on the old ball glove.

So far, I’m in good enough shape to survive our daily practice sessions, but my sore shoulder will be grateful when I can finally hand him over to the more youthful high school coaching staff.

Later, we’ll look back on these days as our Field of Dreams bonding experience, but right now I really just need a big bucket of Bengay.

All-in-all, as much as dads may complain, we know the dance recitals, birthday parties, awards programs, ball games and other family activities are the things that give our lives meaning.

But with my son, I have to draw the line on Major League Baseball. Austin is fascinated by the games he sees on TV and the discussions he has with his buddies who all have their favorite squads.

One day he wanted to know what team I pulled for when I was his age. I told him that was easy, the Cincinnati Reds, also known at the time as the Big Red Machine. In the local league, we called our team the Green Machine after our heroes, who won five pennants and two World Series titles in the 1970s.

The Reds’ line up included popular players such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, George Foster and Ken Griffey. I even showed Austin how to do Joe Morgan’s quirky little elbow flap the slugger did when he was up to the plate.

I recalled those days with fondness, but when Austin asked which team I follow today, I told him I hadn’t paid attention to the majors in years. Still, he insisted that I tell him which team I like best. After trying to beg him off, I finally unloaded with a lecture on greed he didn’t see coming.

I told him I remember the exact time I dropped pro baseball. It was the 1994 strike. Not the 1981 strike or any of the seven previous strikes, it was the 1994 walkout that turned many fans against the pros forever.

Grown men who got paid handsomely to play a child’s game decided to balk in the middle of the 1994 season and leave all those hero-worshipping kids – and their dads – hanging. The strike lasted more than seven months and the World Series was cancelled for the first time in 90 years.

It was an argument over money that drove players and management apart, and it was money that brought them back together – or more precisely, the fact that they lost over $1 billion in revenue and lost the loyalty of fans to the NBA and NASCAR…not that I’m bitter.

Maybe today’s players have a little more gratitude for any human who would shell out hard cash to watch a man swat at projectiles, or maybe they all take performance-enhancing drugs, I don’t know. I just know there are more entertainment options than in 1994.

Now, if Austin grows up to be the starting shortstop for the Reds, then all bets are off. Oops, sorry Pete Rose.

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