By: Kurt Snyder
Tuesday was my dad’s birthday. He would have been 93. It’s been a couple of years now since he decided 7 months was long enough to be away from my mom, who passed away in September of 2012. They were married for 62 years.
My dad died on April 6th, 2013, three days before my mom’s birthday. We proclaimed at his funeral back then that it all made perfect sense. Throughout all of those 62 years together, he had never missed her birthday and he wasn’t about to start.
He was just always about being with her and loved it when we were all together. He was happiest when he had his family gathered around him.
And strangely enough this week, his birthday reminded me of how much he honored family and baseball at the same time. Even at the ballpark.
When he managed Tiger Stadium, he was a great ambassador for the game, because he respected it so much. And during games, he was all business. There was much to be concerned with, but above all, the game was center stage and the field was sacred ground. Anything or anyone that dishonored the game or disrupted it, would be dealt with immediately. And we found ourselves covering our eyes sometimes when Dad took action.
Opening Day back in the 70’s and 80’s always seemed to mean at least one fan would run on the field during the game, someone with a full dose of liquid courage; some with clothes, some without, halting play until the fool could be corralled and removed so the game could resume.
If those people knew what they had waiting for them after being taken away, maybe they would have stayed in their seats. It was made crystal clear afterward that running onto the field was a no-no. Let’s just say that the red carpet wasn’t rolled out for these folks after they reached the police room.
But what made all of us cringe was when Dad would have fans removed who found themselves on the field after trying to reach for a foul ball rolling along the wall. It didn’t matter who they were. On most occasions it was the guy trying desperately and unsuccessfully to not spill his beer while reaching for a ball at the same time, ultimately finding himself in a puddle of suds on the field. That guy would undoubtedly earn his escort out of the park.
But what would you think about a man who could throw a dad or his son out of the game because they slipped over the wall, onto the field, trying to reach a prized baseball? It could have been a young family of 4 attending a ballgame for the very first time, it didn’t matter, so it seemed.
The crowd would be furious, booing loudly and understandably so, when a dad and his son or daughter, with puzzled looks on their faces, would be escorted by security from their seats. What kind of cold-hearted soul runs this place anyhow?
But we knew our father. Dad loved family and he loved baseball. So you might ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?”
Dad was sending a message. To him it was quite simple. You bought a ticket to sit in a seat and enjoy a baseball game and the field was for the players, not the fans. And before every game, it was announced that anyone interfering with a ball in play was subject to dismissal; anyone entering the field of play was subject to dismissal. Anyone. There were no qualifiers. The message was clear, stay off the field. And what would send a better message than watching a young family escorted from their seats?
But do you really think my dad would disappoint a kid? Do you really think he would ruin a family outing to his ballpark because they wanted a baseball so badly?
When a family would be removed, suddenly Dad was gone and headed to his office. You see, security knew who to throw out and who to take to Dad’s office. Families visited Dad. The guy spilling beer all over the place found himself walking to his car.
Dad would invite fathers and mothers with their kids to his office. He sat them down, learned a little about them, asked the kid(s) who their favorite player was and explained to them why it was so important to never go on the field. He then gave them new seats somewhere else in the park, and often better seats than they had purchased. But no one ever knew. No one else needed to know. Message sent.
There were people he wanted in those seats. And he wanted to spread the gospel about the great game of baseball. He wanted the game to be respected by everyone. And families were the target audience. He wanted them there most. And he wanted them back. Kids grew up playing baseball; and going to a Tiger game especially to a baseball treasure like Tiger Stadium was a dream come true for a lot of them.
So, the ones that had the “pleasure” of being brought to Dad’s office during the game more than likely went on to tell the story about the great guy who ran Tiger Stadium and what he did for them.
These are the kinds of things that happen during a baseball game, things you never knew were going on. And if you did know, it wasn’t always what it seemed. In every walk of life, my dad, Ralph Snyder, was all about family and baseball. What a great man. What a great father. Happy Birthday, Big Guy!
And Happy Mother’s Day Mom!