ONE SATURDAY morning a few weeks ago, I walked into my 8-year-old daughter's room to inquire what was taking her so long to dress. I anticipated what had become her morning litany: "Dad, I can't find anything to wear! This shirt doesn't fit me! No, I can't wear the white sweater; don't you see the spot? And how come Mommy won't let me put gel in my hair?"
As a seasoned warrior to this daily repartee, I entered her room armed with all my usual answers. "Sweetheart, you look terrific in that sweater; nobody will see the spot; and if you don't tell Mommy , you can put one little dab of gel on your hair." She has always been able to manipulate me in this fashion. After all, she is my little girl.
But on this particular Saturday my daughter was mesmerized by her appearance in the mirror. She didn't notice my grin. For what I stared at was not her Guess? shirt or her Esprit pants but rather her new, white Mets uniform with a proud number 14 on the back. She was engaged in a silent debate about whether her blond ponytail should go under her cap or dangle down outside. Ron Darling never looked so good.
That Saturday started an adventure for both my daughter and me, one which I've thought about far more often than the ones I had shared with her older brother when he was in Little League.
Now don't get me wrong: I was the one who taught my daughter everything she had to know about baseball. She knows how to stoop down to pick up grounders, she bats like another Babe must have batted when he was 8, and in a pinch she can even hook slide. But that was when we were playing in the backyard, and when her older brother needed a left fielder so we wouldn't have to retrieve balls ourselves. Now she was a Met.
What do fathers, deep down, really want their daughters to be? As a liberal who had spent his college days marching against injustice, I grew up supporting equal rights for women. I have always expected my daughter to get straight A's, go to college, go on to medical school and then discover the cure for cancer. However, I have also become enamored by her sweet, soft and feminine personality. I enjoy the taffeta and ribbons that she wears. I wasn't so certain I didn't want her to bail out when the hard ball was being pitched too near her face. A son's broken nose, I began to realize, is not a daughter's broken nose.
The season began on a rocky note. My daughter was teased by her teammates, and the coach placed her last on his lineup card. In the second game, however, she lined two shots into the outfield and collected the winning RBI. The teasing ceased.
As the season wore on, my daughter became the starting catcher. She volunteered for the position and developed a passable throw to second base. After one game, she told me she wanted to grow up to be Gary Carter.
One recent Saturday the Mets played the Astros. My daughter was behind the plate as usual. As we went into the last inning, we led the mighty Astros by one run. Soon the tying run was on third, and I decided to walk up to the fence to suggest some ideas to my daughter. "Remember, the guy is going to tag up on a fly ball. Take off your mask and try to block the plate."
"But, Daddy," she said, without even turning around to look at me, "I have to wear this until the pitch comes in."
She didn't make the play at home, and the other team won--but she did take off her catcher's mask to try to tag the guy out.
It was easier with my son. After the game was over, we both knew what to expect from each other: a pat on the back and a man-to-man talk. But winning and losing isn't so important with my daughter and me. She's captured me just by the crease in her cap and the smile on her face.
As I wrestle with this feeling, I realize I'm not alone. After the game, the coach gave a pep talk to his Mets. My daughter was the only one he called "sweetheart."