We Are Our Fathers' Sports

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IJune 20, 2009

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ - JUNE 04: A young fan and his father enjoy the #18 car during Mars Employee Appreciation Day at Mars Headquarters on June 4, 2009 in Hackettstown, New Jersey.  (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images for Mars)

On this Father's Day weekend, all of our thoughts turn to our dads, the shapers of so much in our lives. The lucky ones will get to hug their dads and perhaps share a silly card.

Others like me, whose fathers have passed on, can only cling to the memories of Father's Days past.

For all of us, fathers have played an instrumental role in or lives, guiding us in our growing up years and instilling important values along the way. 

But for many of us, our fathers have also shaped who we are as sports fans, engaging us in the sports they have loved, which have become the sports we ourselves have grown to love.

My dad was a baseball fan.  He loved anything baseball, lovingly cutting the grass of our local Little League field to perfection and helping out with my brother's Little League team.

That was back in the day when girls did not play sports, so although as "Daddy's little girl", I always tagged along, I was not part of the game.

But my dad always made me feel like I was, teaching me to keep score and including me in everything the team did, win or lose.

My dad was also a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball fan. Since my brother was busy with his baseball and other activities, my father would often take me off to Forbes Field and then Three Rivers Stadium in the heart of steel town to watch his beloved Pirates play.

We saw greats like Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. We rocked to the team anthem "We are Family" when the Pirates took the National League pennant in 1979.

With my dad's help, I learned every players' stats, collected their baseball cards, and counted down the days every spring until training camp opened.  Even when I went off to college, my dad and I would trade the Pirate scoops back and forth in our weekly phone chats.

But as I got older, got married and moved to other parts of the country, it became harder to keep up with our beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. Whatever city I lived in, I would try to attend that team's games when they were playing the Pirates, just to cheer for the visitors, much to the chagrin of the home crowd.

When my father passed away, two days after his birthday, it was like the air was sucked out of the room when I found out.  His death left a hole that anyone who has lost a father knows all too well.

With that loss also came the loss of the dedication with which I had followed the Pirates and baseball in general. Baseball and my dad were linked, and it seemed a bit too painful to continue to follow the sport as avidly without him.

So, as we often do, I turned to another "father figure" for my next sports passion. My grandfather had been an avid racing fan, working with my uncle to field a car at a local dirt track, and he played a pivotal role in my education about all things racing.

Thanks to the interest my Papa had instilled many years ago, I returned to the world of racing, engaging my sports passion this time in stock cars.

My interest in NASCAR has particularly grown over the last few years,. and my husband has also become completely engaged in the sport.

Although my grandfather has long passed as well, this racing passion in our family continues and our family will often gather at that local dirt track on a Saturday night, reliving those days when we followed our Papa up the bleacher steps.

And so it goes, I would wager, for almost all of us as sports fans.  Our fathers or our grandfathers introduce us to a sport that becomes our lifelong sports passion.

Whether we leave it, stay with, or come back to it, the sports of our fathers have become a part of us that will always remain and hopefully live on in our children.

It is not really so much about that particular sport, is it? It is really more about the time that we have spent together with our fathers and our grandfathers watching or participating in that sport that really matters and sticks with us over time.

It is about the times when we have piled into the car to head off to the stadium together. Or the times when we have rented that RV to spend another weekend at one of NASCAR's home tracks.

It is about the times we curled up next to our dads or granddads on the sofa to watch our favorite teams on television. And it is about the times we have called our fathers to pick apart each and every pitch, or swing or fast lap around the track.

I had the opportunity this week to interview an up-and-coming race car driver and his father, Charlie and Austin Langenstein. We talked racing and about Austin's progression in his career, particularly at Lowe's Motor Speedway, where he is racing in the Summer Shoot Out.

But what struck me most was not so much about their racing success together, but how much fun they were having together, as father and son, pursuing their racing dreams.

For them, it seemed that the bond they were creating was almost, if not more important, than winning or having the trophy at the end of the race.

Isn't that true for all of us? And perhaps that is the greatest legacy of our father's sports, not the passion for the sport itself, but the eternal bond that has been created because of sharing that sport with our best friends, our dads, our step dads, or even our granddads.

So, Happy Father's Day to all, especially to those that have taught us the game of life through whatever sport was their particular love and passion.