Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Dad’s Day Tribute, 2005

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there, wherever you are.
Once again I’m taking a short break from my current series to write this, despite the fact that it was totally unplanned and spur-of-the-moment.

However this morning I felt compelled to write by as much sudden inspiration as I have ever known during the 12-plus months in which blogging has become my outlet for the thoughts and expressions that ramble around in my head.

I felt a genuine pang in my gut as I read the Sunday Tennessean newspaper this morning and saw an article with a photograph that nearly spun my head around. As usual, I was browsing through the sports section. The article was a large, two-thirds-page pick-up from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution featuring three figures well-known by anyone who has followed Major League Baseball in the last 30 years with more than a passing interest.

With the proliferation of cable TV in the 90s in general and the notoriety of the “Superstations” in particular, two National League teams became adopted as “America’s Teams.” They were the Atlanta Braves, featured on WTBS, and the Chicago Cubs, featured on WGN. Both stations were, and still are, included in 99% of all basic cable packages. And while it's no longer the case now, throughout the 80s and 90s, both Superstations carried most of their respective team’s ballgames on the air.

So naturally, not only did the teams themselves gain notoriety outside their city’s general market, but their announcers did as well. And those announcers just happened to be father and son. The immortal Harry Caray broadcast for the Cubs, and his son Skip (whose real name is Harry Jr. but has never used it because of his famous father’s notoriety), called the play-by-play for the Braves.

The third person in the photo was Skip’s son, Chip, who has worked for both the Cubs and now has joined his Dad as a member of Atlanta’s five-man rotating broadcast team. At first glance, the three smiling faces, caught in a happy, but apparently rare pose together taken in 1991 (Harry Sr. passed away in 1998). Front and center in the picture I of course immediately recognized Harry, whose full head of white hair and large, thick Elton Johnesque glasses had become his signature nearly as much as his famous broadcast exclamation of “HOLY COW!”

(left to right) Chip, Harry and Skip Carray, 1991
File Photo © 2005 Nashville Tennessean

But even before I fully recognized Harry and in turn, Skip, my eyes were drawn to the young man flanking the elder Caray on photo’s the left side. I didn’t recognize him for whom he was, quite frankly because with the exception of maybe a half-dozen occasions over the years, I don’t believe I’d actually seen his face on television. But believe me, I was shocked when I saw it in this newspaper photo. It was a young, 26 year-old Chip Caray, at the very beginning of his career following his father and grandfather into the broadcast booth. But what grabbed my attention was how in this picture he appeared to be the absolute spitting image of my brother Alex at that same period of time in the early 90s, the time in his life that Alex’s image is most prominent in my mind. I literally did a double take.

The article spoke of the fact that today on Father’s day it will mark the first time that Skip and Chip will have spent the holiday together in nearly 20 years. They’ll be together at mic-side calling the game between the Braves and the Reds in Cincinnati on WTBS. The article went into painful detail about how divorce has split two generations of the Caray family. It told of the pain that Skip has endured watching his two children go through the same thing he went through as a child when his father Harry’s marriage broke up when he was a mere five years old. It spoke about the fact that as Skip had to do, his son was forced to “get to know” his Dad by watching him on TV and listening to him on the radio.

I have to admit to sucking back the tears a few times as I read through the lengthy article. What a sad story I thought. I had never known that about the Carays. It made me ponder and even more appreciate the incredible way that God has blessed me with a family, though certainly embattled by tragedy, has managed to avoid the harsh emotions and gut-wrenching damage that is usually caused by divorce.

Today I am truly thankful that I didn’t have to learn of how to be the man I am from a voice on the radio or from a relative stranger I only saw every fourth weekend. And while my Dad wasn’t able to spend the time with me individually while I was growing up that I would have liked, I never once felt abandoned or shut out, because his actions made his words count, and I never once doubted them.

And naturally I also thought about Alex, whom is heaviest upon my mind at this moment. He is of course in the mid-stages of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The image of Chip Caray in that newspaper photo was so haunting because it so well captured my mind’s-eye image of Alex: young, handsome, vital; a man who seemed to have the world by the tail. My once-indestructible little brother, who now because of the family curse, may or may not even fully grasp the significance of the day in which we celebrate the love and gratitude we hold for the men in our lives whom we call Dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Pop; Happy Father’s Day, Alex. I love you both from the bottom of my heart.