If football is analogous to war - players hit, kick, throw bombs - what does the gentler game of baseball represent?
Jack Petrash has discovered the answer. When he sat down to write a book about fatherhood, the comparison to the national pastime was irresistible.
"It was the best way to explain what I wanted to say on the subject," says Petrash, a twice-married father of three who lives in Kensington, a suburb northwest of Washington.
Petrash, 51, a teacher for 25 years at the Washington Waldorf School, a private school in Bethesda, took a year off to write "Covering Home" (Robins Lane Press, $19.95). The book points to "lessons on the art of fathering" that can be extracted from baseball.
One of the author's favorites came from former Orioles outfielder Ken Singleton, who developed a habit of picking up three pebbles from the batter's box when he came to the plate. The ritual was intended to remind him that he was entitled to three good pitches.
Fathers need a similar ritual when they come home from work, says Petrash. He recommends they pick up an imaginary number of stones - each representing one hour they will spend with their child before bedtime.
"At this moment we should remind ourselves that we are going to spend these hours with the most important people in the world," he writes.
Petrash's love of baseball infected his children. Jonathan, 27, is a high school baseball coach and teacher. Twenty-three-year-old Josh's college team nearly won a national title. Daughter Ava, 11, plays Little League.
With the premier event of the baseball season, the World Series, set to start later this week, the author sat down to talk about his book and his deep affection for fatherhood and baseball.
Q. When did it really hit you that fatherhood was like baseball?
A. I remember listening to a Garrison Keillor monologue, and I heard him speak about how a father who makes a mistake becomes a better person. What is it we need to learn from our mistakes? Baseball teaches that perfectly. It's all about what you do after you make a mistake.
Q. What would be the fatherhood equivalent of a home run?
A. Those moments when everything comes together. In the book I write about how you can't anticipate the magical moments in parenting. You have ideas about what's going to be terrific, and it just doesn't come out as you'd hoped. When my oldest son was 6, I bought Opening Day tickets at Memorial Stadium. I thought this was going to be so good.
It was one of those cold April days. Jim Palmer was pitching. It was so cold, and the wind was blowing. My son was eating his sandwich with his mittens on and hood up, and it wasn't what I expected.
Then another time, I took my daughter to the Orioles game, and there was [former Orioles pitcher] Scott Kamieniecki handing her a carnation as she came through the turnstile. That just won her heart. We were there for batting practice, and Ken Griffey Jr. hit this slicing line drive and we reached up and caught it.
Q. How about a strikeout?
A. Or the wild pitch. It's so easy to say the regrettable thing or to respond without thinking or to lose your temper with your child. Those are really the errors.
I'm a believer that as we become experienced parents, we can minimize those situations. We can stay out of the big inning. We can cut our losses and get the sure out. We all have those situations where it's not proceeding as we'd hoped, and it's going from bad to worse. We need to stay level-headed, step back and make the next smart step.
Q. You make me wish there were a spring training for fatherhood where you could test your skills but the results wouldn't count in the standings.
A. Shouldn't there be? I became a teacher and a father the same year. I had all this preparation to be a teacher but none to be a father. There should be a way to help us get ready for something so significant.
Q. Could you have a father who is a good bat and a poor glove?
A. I think there are dads like that. I imagine that there are dads who are really good in one area only. However, I believe that our children will ask us to become complete parents, especially during the critical teen years, when our one-sidedness will disappoint them and disturb them. I do, however, believe - or maybe I should say hope - that it is easier for a dad to work toward balance and completeness than for a Mark Belanger to become a .300 hitter.
Q. Ever imagine what the Babe Ruth of fathering would be like?
A. Roberto Benigni's character in "Life Is Beautiful" is so joyous that he is a possibility. Bob Cratchett in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is another. His love for his children is so pronounced. He shows clearly that what you have in your heart is more important than what you have in your pocket - or your stock portfolio.
Q. You've experienced divorce - a change in the lineup, so to speak. What did that teach you about being a father?