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So why is it that as I end this trip, I keep thinking about Wonderboy?
What are you looking for?" my father had asked me. That was the day before this trip began. Steven Posnanski (no middle name; he often said his family was too poor to afford one) learned baseball in the 1960s. He learned baseball to teach it to me. He and my mother came to America three years before I was born. He had played soccer semiprofessionally on the sandlots of Poland, and he gravitated toward football (Jim Brown captured his imagination) and boxing (he was mesmerized by Ali). Baseball felt foreign to him, slow and distant. But he believed that the duty of an American father was to find fireworks on Independence Day, to carve the turkey on Thanksgiving and to teach baseball to his son.
What was I looking for? While in Los Angeles, I heard the awful news about Shannon Stone, a Texas firefighter who brought his son to a Rangers game and fell and died when he lost his balance trying to catch a baseball. In New York, I saw a young man named Christian Lopez grab Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit and then saw his father, Raul, cover him as protection from the crowd. In Arizona, I saw the determined look on Jose Cano's face as he pitched to his son Robinson in the Home Run Derby.
And in Cooperstown, I saw Wonderboy—the bat a boy carved to remind himself of his father. My father worked for most of his life in a sweater factory. When he got home each day—oil on his pants, salami on his breath—we would go to the backyard and play catch. All the while he talked: Get in front of the ball... . Put the glove under your mattress to break it in... . Don't step into the bucket... . Watch how Henry Aaron steps into the ball... . Choke up on the bat with two strikes... . Get back to your feet quickly, like Brooks Robinson... . Remember, it's easier to run in on the ball than to go back.
"They're sending you around to the country to find the meaning of baseball?" he asked.
"Something like that," I said. He looked at me with a mix of disbelief and wonder and, sure, pride. Dad's job was to keep the sweater machines running. It was a clear assignment with a clear mission—plain questions and plain answers and no time for what he always called "baloney."
"Well, baseball is fun, right?" he said.