Baseball and Other Life Lessons

“Show me how far you can hit the ball,” I challenged Dad that day in the park when I was ten. I hadn’t planned to say it. It was an impulse, a child’s rare curiosity to see her father as an individual, apart from his role as a parent.

Dad studied me for a moment, hesitating, then, with a look of amusement, he reached over and took the ball from my outstretched hand. He rested our old family bat against his shoulder with his other hand as he positioned his body, scuffing the dirt into little puffs of dust as his feet found their familiar stance. Then, in an instant, the toss, the coiled torso, the crack of wood against taut leather—a blur of sound and movement that stands out in movie-style slow motion in my headful of childhood memories.

I think of the movie The Natural when I recall the incident now. There’s the leading man Robert Redford standing at the plate, the fans in the stands and the background soundtrack suspended in dramatic anticipation. Then Redford tears into the pitch and it’s slow-mo, fast-mo, the whole laser light show—they pulled out all the stops.

My dad would have laughed at the comparison, being the unassuming man that he was. My memory of that day in the park probably has become exaggerated with time, taking on larger-than-life proportions. It was so unlike my dad to show off, but I was his young daughter, and likely he felt comfortable catering to my whim. Knowing him, I’m sure he would never have overtly tried to impress another adult by grandstanding in such a way.

The incident stands out in my memories of Dad because it was one of the few times I recall seeing a glimmer of ego. Dad was a quiet man, a modest man, one who rarely talked about himself, told stories about his upbringing, or bragged about his accomplishments.

When I was a young adult, I often wondered if Dad’s reticence about putting himself forward was a form of weakness. I’ve since decided otherwise, realizing that Dad was comfortable in his own skin, a man with a quiet self-confidence who didn’t feel the need to impress others. But his reserve could be frustrating. He knew I wanted to put together a story about his life. I often questioned him about his past, wanting to know more about his childhood, his military service, and his baseball career. He wasn’t much help. He frustrated my need to know with short answers that only skimmed the surface. It’s likely he felt his life wasn’t important enough to write about. His daughter always thought otherwise.

My father, Donald Glen Parrett, was born to Glen and Ethel in Los Angeles, California, on March 5, 1922, ten months after their marriage. He took his middle name from his father, but Donald seems to have been chosen simply because his parents liked the name. There were a number of Donalds in his high school year book, so it must have been a popular boys name at that time. His relatives affectionately called him Donnie, though, even when he outgrew the nickname. On the playing field he was always Whitey, Whitey Parrett, the platinum-haired athlete who seemed to shine no matter what kind of ball he held in his hand.

Early pictures of him show a cute little boy, with blue eyes and a thick shock of straight blond hair. His chubby baby face would lengthen as he grew older, as he developed a long jaw line like his mother’s and that thick blond hair would thin considerably as early as his mid-twenties, for he had inherited his father’s baldness.

 

Donald Parrett, age 1.jpg

From somewhere in his gene pool, Dad also inherited a gift for athleticism. Baseball, basketball, tennis, or golf, Dad was a natural at all of them, but baseball was his game.

An old wooden trunk sat in the corner of our one-car garage when I was growing up, a curiosity to a young girl. Its large rusty hinges opened to reveal an array of interesting old clothing. Stashed among Dad’s Navy uniforms and tattered sailor hats was an assortment of heavy flannel baseball uniforms, the big blousy-legged variety you see in old photographs of Babe Ruth. Baseball caps, leggings, and flattened, old-style leather gloves had been stowed away in treasure chest of memorabilia from a life before I was born. I’ve often wondered what happened to that old trunk. It was probably thrown away in one of our moves. Why didn’t I ask Dad about it?

As I grew older by a few years, I picked up snatches of conversation at my grandparents’ house that remain with me still. There was talk of Dad being the star of his high school team. “The outfield often moved back when Donnie came up to bat.” “They were always writing about him in the school paper. Sometimes even the local paper.” It was mostly Grandma who said these things.

My father’s sister, our Aunt Virginia, lived with my grandparents. Constrained to a wheel with multiple sclerosis, Virginia made a hobby of preserving her brother’s newspaper clippings in a photo album. After Grandma and Virginia died, the album must have been stored at our house, though I don’t ever remember seeing it. It wasn’t until I began collecting old photographs for my father’s 65th birthday celebration that my mother brought it out.

I flipped through the heavy black pages covered with tattered sports clippings. I had to smile at the glossy black and white photos of Dad in his 20s, 30s and 40s, Dad in the prime of his life. He had played shortstop for the Redondo Beach High School Sea Hawks and was captain of the team his senior year. Turning the pages, I marveled at the number of awards and press clippings that honored him. “One of the most consistent players in recent years….” “Unselfish, a real sportsman on and off the field….” “As a team man, he couldn’t be beat….”

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