At times like this, memory, not camera, clicks in

May 25, 2002|By ROB KASPER

I HAD ONE of those parental payback moments the other day.

Those are times when you feel a combination of "Oh, wow!" and "Whew!" as you watch your kid pass some milestone. Memorial Day weekend, with its graduations, weddings, concerts and championship games, is rife with these mixtures of pride and angst, with these flashes that, "Hey, this parent business might be worth it."

My moment came at 5:27 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time Monday, as I sat in Camden Yards and heard the public address announcer say that my kid, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, was now standing on sacred ground, on the field of dreams.

Those were not exactly the announcer's words. All he actually said was that the St. Paul's baseball team, which was locked in a tight battle with Calvert Hall for the championship of the A division of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, had a new first baseman. By some combination of good fortune and scheduling - the Orioles were playing on the West Coast - these local high school kids got a chance to play a big game in Camden Yards. I am here to say that when a dad sees his kid standing on Major League dirt, all sense of perspective, as well as most common sense, tends to take a holiday.

Shortly after my kid entered the game, for instance, I assumed the "parental position" - bent down behind the home plate screen, with my heart in my throat and my finger on the camera shutter. I snapped photos of anything moving and many things not.

I should say I exposed film, because there is some doubt that anything printable will emerge from this bout of emotional photojournalism. In the midst of the excitement, the ancient family camera, an Olympus that has been on this Earth longer than the 17-year-old first baseman, started to disintegrate. There had been an earlier breakdown last Saturday, during another parental payback moment - the snapping of the prom pictures. I thought I had fixed that jammed camera part with a pair of pliers, but now the camera continued to shed parts, in particular the part that regulates the film speed.

I couldn't pause for repairs; I simply kept punching buttons. As I looked around at the 700 or so fans sitting in the two sections behind home plate, I saw I had plenty of photographic backup. This event had more paparazzi than a Kennedy wedding. I also noticed that Randall Perkins, a veteran baseball dad whose son also plays first base on St. Paul's team, had both a video camera and a digital camera. This guy was good.

I was pretty sure that the opposition dads - the fathers of the 20 players on the Calvert Hall roster - were busy recording this event for posterity, too. But in baseball etiquette, you never borrow bats or snapshots from your opponent.

There were two dads in my vicinity who were not shutterbugs. One was David Beach, the dad of the third baseman. He is "stat dad," the fellow who records each play in a thick and well-ordered scorebook. Every team needs a stat dad. During the season, the stat dad is a godsend to parents like me who often arrive late at a game, and want to get quickly filled in on what we have missed.

The other dad, Dave Johnson, did not take pictures because he was too busy watching his son, Steve, pitch. Being the parent of a pitcher is an anxiety-producing experience, even for this father, who pitched in the majors, mostly for the Orioles, from 1987 to 1993. After the game, Johnson said he was much more nervous sitting in the stands watching his son hurl than he was when he was standing on the mound pitching to Major League hitters.

He need not have worried. The game was well-played. Both coaches, Calvert Hall's Lou Eckerl and St. Paul's Paul Bernstorf had their squads playing smart, crisp baseball. Calvert Hall jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a sharp RBI single by John Kline. St. Paul tied it up when a crisp shot by Chad Durakis scored Tom Hermann, then went ahead 2-1 when Walter Hill scampered home from third as Durakis got deliberately caught in a rundown between first and second.

The game stood at a tense 2-1 in the sixth inning when my kid made his first and only trip to the plate, with a runner on third and two outs. Part of me wanted to yell "Hit it out of the park!" Another part of me wanted to yell, "Don't screw up!" It was a typical dad dilemma.

So I yelled nothing, at least nothing memorable, and kept struggling with my now strangely silent camera. As it turned out, the kid drew a walk, then made it to second uncontested when Calvert Hall refused to be lured into another rundown. Then Gordon Tarola, a St. Paul senior, in the last at bat of his high school career, sent a line drive single into centerfield, scoring Brendan Schreiber (the runner on third) and my kid, breaking open the game.

Years from now these kids may split atoms, write novels, conduct symphonies, run businesses or even manage their kids' Little League teams. But the image of them that I have locked in my mind comes from one day last week when a muscular knot of bouncing baseball players danced in victory across the bright green grass of Camden Yards.

It is a mental image, not a photograph. Because as we all know, the mind, not some crummy camera, records life's most vivid moments.

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