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Here’s To You: Lorne and Rick

Baseball is much more than just a game.

Usually, when I sit down to write, it’s about the game of fantasy baseball. Twice a month, I get the honor and the privilege of writing about injuries in baseball for Pitcher List, but now I’ve been granted the time for something else.

Baseball is something that has been rooted in me since I was a baby. My first memory as a child took place the night that I got sick on the day of a Blue Jays game that my family was to attend. Instead of going to the stadium, I fondly remember sitting with my Nonno, watching wrestling, and having my first sip of beer. It’s my only memory of him, and it’s one that I cherish.

This sport has been ingrained in my ideology for quite a while, and something that is meaningful to the people that mean something to me. My father, Lorne, and my father-in-law Rick, both have been fans of the game, the history of baseball, and of the Toronto Blue Jays for the entirety of the team’s existence. They have watched and listened to more games than I can count, and can remember more about baseball than I ever will.

 

 

Just recently, both men were diagnosed with separate illnesses that may either shorten their lives or make what’s left of their lives a blur. Lorne, at age 80, was at the hospital for Covid-19 and through some tests, it was discovered that he has many complications that may, as of this writing, result in his passing. Rick, at age 69, was recently diagnosed with dementia, which will eventually overtake his mind and make it difficult to remember things as simple as his name. Nonetheless, both Lorne and Rick share a passion for the game, similar to mine, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on that.

 

 

Entering into a relationship with someone can be difficult, but meeting the in-laws has its challenges too. I met my wife, Caren, back in 2006 and we hit it off immediately. We grew to like and then love each other, with baseball being one of the bigger parts of it. We played on a softball team together and also went to see Blue Jays’ games. When it was time to meet her family, I was nervous. I wanted to make a good impression on both parents and was scrambling to find a common ground on conversation topics. Caren mentioned that her dad loved baseball, so I grew to be more excited than nervous. We hit it off immediately.

 

 

Throughout the years, Rick has been an avid fan of the game of baseball. From watching every baseball movie imaginable to sitting through the “Ken Burns’s Baseball” documentary multiple times, Rick has always made time to appreciate the game. He used to work at many baseball card tradeshows and would collect memorabilia. In fact, he has in a storage locker somewhere, a ridiculous amount of baseball cards, card sets, jackets, and shirts. One of his most prized possessions is an autographed and framed Nolan Ryan jersey, that we have had hanging in our house as a gift for years. Rick’s love of the game didn’t stop there.

 

 

He eventually started to work at the Major League Baseball All-Star games, as he would help at the trade shows. He was and still is an incredibly personable person, in that he’s always aware of what others may need and will be prepared to offer it. In doing that, he grew to know many Major League Baseball players throughout the years. One of my favorite stories of his involves Caren’s brother Lucas, who was given a one-on-one private pitching lesson from Steve Carlton, based on the relationships that Rick had developed at all of the trade shows over the year.

Caren has also shared stories of her interactions with various players such as Fergie Jenkins, Iván Rodríguez, Reggie Jackson, Joe Carter, and many more. These were all because of how kind, caring, and thoughtful Rick had been throughout the many trade shows and proof that he is a one-of-a-kind gentleman. Rick always made time for his family but ensured that baseball was a part of his life. I can remember many family gatherings where we either had a game on the TV for everyone to watch, or he would schedule time with family around when the Blue Jays were playing. What made him as cool as a cucumber in his own way was that listening to the game on the radio brought him as much joy as watching it onscreen. In either media, baseball was an important part of his life.

 

 

Lorne’s baseball influence on me goes back much further. While the aforementioned memory of my Nonno is my first real memory of anyone, it was my dad who actually introduced me to the game itself. He was the T-Ball coach for my first ever team, and for many years at that park, he would guide and care for me in his own unique way. Whether he was teaching me how to swing a baseball bat, giving me ground balls to the field, or tossing me a ball, my dad’s love of the game bled into me through his dedication to fatherhood.

 

 

Later in life, he became an umpire in my league so that our league would be able to play. He even told me, more than once, that he wouldn’t be giving me any favorable calls. Now, even though (from my point of view) his umpiring style reeked of Angel Hernandez-like decisions, he taught me to always be as fair and unbiased as possible. It’s a lesson that I have used when I referee games myself.

 

 

As the years rolled on, we enjoyed many baseball-related events as a family. We celebrated the Blue Jays together in many unique ways. I remember the 1992 World Series vividly, as I was allowed to stay awake and watch any game that went past my bedtime. In 1993, when the Blue Jays won their second in a row, we were at a family member’s house. A few months later, he had organized for members of that team to visit his school and invited me to meet and greet them.

 

 

As a teenager, I was a big Seattle Mariners fan, and we traveled to see them play both in Toronto and Detroit. I still remember the overnight vacations that we took as we stayed in Windsor, Ontario, and took the Tigers’ game bus to the stadium and back. Comerica Park is a beautiful venue and seeing Ken Griffey Jr. play in person many times was tremendous. I owe those experiences to the love of my dad.

As I grew older and into parenthood myself, we took my children: Tailor, Harrison, and Daniel, to games of our own, and always returned home with foul balls. Despite his aging body and preference to watch the game on television from home, he took the time to do what was important for his kids and grandkids, with baseball being centered around it. Even watching the games live, he would explain the game of baseball to his grandkids. As their grandchildren grew older, Rick and Lorne’s love of the game hadn’t died. On many occasions over the past few years, they both could have been seen looking through baseball card collections, teaching their grandchildren how to throw a curveball, oiling up and preparing any new glove that needed work, and tossing the ball around with any grandchild who would toss it back. As I have grown into a father myself, I have cherished watching them spread the same love that they showed my way.

 

 

Baseball is such an incredible sport. It is a chess game on the field, where both teams strategically guess what their opponent might do next, and offer multiple opportunities to learn from mistakes that are made. It’s a free-spirited game in that there is no time limit, and the only thing that can determine the length of the game is one’s triumphs and wrongdoings. It’s basically an analogy of life, and I’m glad that both of these men have made it a powerful part of theirs. Life is full of obstacles and things won’t necessarily go our own way. It’s how we handle the ups and downs that allow us to get better with the second chances we’re granted.

 

 

And so, I’ve been writing most of this sitting in a hospital room with my dad Lorne, and baseball has continued to be a big part of our communication. His cognitive skills have diminished somewhat, but the topic of baseball somehow brings us together. We have watched Blue Jays’ games from his hospital bed, looked through a baseball almanac together, and even discussed players from the past that he liked as a kid. While his ability to speak has decreased, one of the last things that I remember him saying to me with a clear head was “Dave, I’m so proud of you for being able to write about baseball.” Thank you, Dad, for always believing in me.

That being said, both men have been an impactful part of my life. Rick, you came into my life as an added gift alongside the woman that I love. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and support throughout the years. Our common interest in baseball has brought us together, but our love for Caren has kept us together. Dad, you are one of the most caring loving, and happy-go-lucky people that I’ve ever met. The success that I’ve had in life can be attributed to the guidance you’ve given me throughout the years. I’m the man and father that I am thanks to the role model that you were and are. I will always remember you with fondness and try to be the same incredible influence on my family as you were on yours.

 

 

Lorne and Rick, it’s been such a phenomenal journey alongside both of you, and I’m here to honor both of you. Thank you for using baseball as a tool to keep us together. I have enjoyed every aspect of it, as it helped define me in my adult years. While we might be in the later innings of our time together, just know that there is a special place in my heart for you both.

 

 

 

Graphic courtesy of Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns)

Dave Funnell

Dave Funnell has been playing fantasy baseball for years. He is a husband and a father of three up in Canada. And while is a full-time teacher inside of the classroom, he's also a student of the game of baseball. Follow him on Twitter @sportz_nutt51.

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