Fathers must be the most frustrated species on the planet. From the time tots are old enough to insert the cat's tail into a wall socket, dads have big plans for them—and are bound to be disappointed. For instance, my dad, a mechanical engineer, wanted me to be a rocket scientist. No sooner had I been toilet trained than he began surrounding me with technical toys. While other kids were getting baseball gloves and bicycles for Christmas, I was getting Erector Sets, chemistry sets and microscopes.
What Dad failed to realize was that I hadn't even the faintest interest in science or physics. The only thing I cared about was the Milwaukee Braves. From the time the Braves blew a three-games-to-one lead to the Yankees in the 1958 World Series—and even after the Braves skipped to Atlanta—I was hooked.
Radio station WTMJ in Milwaukee was my primary link with Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Del Crandall, Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette. The radio became my constant companion after my parents sent my older sister away to boarding school. My room became a sanctuary in which I would listen to distant baseball games and fantasize about future glory on the diamond. I would dream up games between the Braves and my other favorite National League team, the slugging Giants of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Jim Davenport.
While listening to a game between the Braves and the Giants one day, I was toying with a marble on my desk. The marble got away and rolled to a stop against a pencil. My imagination took over. I wondered if striking a falling marble with a pencil was as difficult as getting a bat on one of Spahn's fastballs. To my satisfaction, I discovered the same hand-eye coordination was required. At first I barely made contact. Then I managed a few dribblers. With practice I was stroking soft liners. Soon I was smacking high drives off the bedroom window. The resulting ping brought Dad into the room.
"What was that?" he asked.
"How can you write holding a pencil upside down?"
"I was just tapping to the music."
"What music? All you ever listen to is baseball and rock 'n' roll."
"I was tapping to the organ music in the background of the game."