I knew the Yankees were in trouble. Down 6-3 to the Indians in the 1996 ALCS, it wasn’t looking good.
Begrudgingly, I obeyed my dad and went to bed. At just seven years old, I knew anything could happen. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the primal scream that came from the living room.
I jolted up as I heard the footsteps getting closer. My heart was racing as my dad came bursting into my room . . .
“Leyritz!” my father screamed with his hands up in the air as he came sprinting into my room. “The Yanks tied it up! Jim Leyritz just tied it up!”
Little did I know at the time, but that scream was the beginning of my love affair with sports. It was also the beginning of the most special relationship in my life.
My father, Tom, ripped me out of my top bunk and carried me into the living room. We watched in awe as Leyritz rounded the bases after a three-run homer in the ninth. We jumped and hugged as the Yankees went on to win Game 4 in Cleveland.
My dad is from Yonkers, N.Y. The Yankees hadn’t won a World Series since 1978. The scream that I heard was the scream of a man that had put everything into his team. It was a scream of joy mixed with years of frustration. It was a scream that I would replicate throughout my life many times over.
When I look at my life, the best moments include three constants: sports, my brother and my father. I don’t necessarily mean happy moments. As any true sports fan knows, it’s as much about joy as it is pain, especially when your favorite team is the Jets. But each moment is special in its own way.
That’s the unique thing about sports. The moments that bring us to our knees can often create stronger bonds than the ones that lift us up.
For the most part, my father has been present for my painful sports moments. The Diamondbacks walking off the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Curtis Martin fumbling three times in the 1998 AFC Championship game. Doug Brien clanking two field goals off the post with a chance to send the Jets to the 2005 AFC Championship game. The Celtics blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Lakers. And yet, I remember those moments of agony because of who I shared it with.
Those moments led me to the realization that I needed to watch more sports with my father. I needed him in order to handle all that sports has to offer.
The LeBron James chasedown block in the 2016 NBA Finals, Villanova’s buzzer-beater in the 2017 NCAA National Championship game, the Patriots’ 28-3 comeback in the 2017 Super Bowl – I watched them all with my father.
“Watching this game with my two sons,” he said midway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51. “BBQ on the grill and beer in the fridge. There is nowhere in this world I’d rather be.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. I can’t imagine watching a sporting event in any other place. Super Bowl party? Get out of here. I’m going to my dad’s. NBA Finals? Don’t even suggest another option. Sports has shaped my relationship with my father. We’re going through the ups and downs together.
Sometimes I will get a pang of guilt that I’m missing out on all those beautiful things that have nothing to do with sports. My friends are going to concerts, hiking and eating out at fancy restaurants. And I’m inside glued to the TV screen because I know there would be no way I could live with myself if I missed out on an incredible sports moment.
Then the guilt goes away because, almost without fail, I look to my right or my left, and my father is sitting right there beside me.
Just as sports are constantly evolving, so is our relationship. But it’s almost always centered around a sporting event, which is what gives it so much meaning to me.
I understand that not all fathers are nuts about sports, but if you’re reading this, odds are you’re at least a casual fan. I firmly believe that the foundation of my relationship with my father is our shared loved of sports and our insistence on experiencing them together.
So, to all the fathers reading this, grab your son or daughter today and take a seat in front of the TV. Put on a game. Watch the U.S. Open. I promise that when you look back on this particular Father’s Day, you will remember it fondly. All because sports, if even for a short period of time, brought you together.
To my father, thank you for bringing sports into my life. Thank you for allowing me to openly show the emotions that come with it. Thank you for allowing me to love something so very deeply. It’s all because of you.
Now, let’s get back to what we do best. The game is on.
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