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Bob Burrows In the Front Row: Here's to days at the ballpark with Dad

I went to a ballgame with my dad on Father's Day.

We sat in the shade of the covered grandstand at First National Bank of River Falls Field, shared a few beers, and watched the River Falls Groupers over-35 team play the Lonsdale Jokers.

If you saw me it may have appeared I was sitting alone. But believe me, my dad was right there with me.

My dad taught me everything I know about sports. Which explains why I had the Golden State Warriors winning the NBA championship and never pick a winner at the race track. But baseball? That's a whole different story.

He gave up pitching for the Newark Bears in New Jersey's version of town ball shortly before I was born in 1961. In 1962 a new National League team-- the New York Metropolitans-- debuted, so the Brooklyn-born Yankee hater raised me as a die-hard Mets fan.

On my eighth birthday, in April, 1969, he woke me for school as usual, but instead of handing me my book bag and Catholic school clip-on tie, he tossed me my Mets hat and baseball glove and said, “Happy Birthday Slugger. We're going to opening day.”

We watched Tom Seaver pitch and Duffy Dyer hit a three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but the Mets lost by one run to this new team called the Montreal Expos. By that fall though, we were celebrating the Miracle Mets World Series championship together.

I spent countless hours as a kid watching, talking, playing and breathing baseball with my dad. He taught me how to throw a curveball (but not until I turned 12 because he didn't want me to hurt my arm). He showed me what 6-4-3 meant in the scorebook, and why the letter “K” was the symbol for a strikeout (they used the last letter in “struck” since the letter "S" was already used for sacrifice.) He told me all about this great player named Jackie Robinson that used to played for the Dodgers, barely mentioning the fact that he was black.

We celebrated another Mets World Series together in 1986, but eventually life got in the way and I moved from my hometown of Bayonne, N.J. to Wisconsin. I think he was both proud and amused I had figured out a way to get paid to go to baseball games.

Then one day we were talking about how bad the Mets were (they finished in last place that year) when he casually mentioned he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“No big deal Slugger” he said. “I'll be fine.”

But he wasn't. The cancer kept spreading, first to his bladder then to his kidneys and eventually to his spine. Four years later, just two days before Father's Day 2007, he died. He was only 69 years old.

Which brings me to the shameless plug portion of this column. Actually I don't consider it shameless at all because I would do anything to help keep someone else's dad alive.

The American Cancer Society's Relay For Life of Hudson is this Friday, June 24, at Lakefront Park. The money raised at the event helps fund a number of local programs, but in the bigger picture it helps fund research that can help save lives.

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife Kellie is the local community manager for the American Cancer Society and actively involved in the planning of the Relay For Life. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer just four months after my dad died. After surgery, chemo and radiation, she was given a drug called Herceptin, approved by the FDA just a year earlier. It's very likely the reason she's still here with me today.

It's been nine years since my dad died. Maybe there's a new drug or therapy around today that could have saved his life. I don't know for sure, but I know there are researchers around the world making breakthroughs every day. I know because my wife is living proof.

So go to the Relay For Life. Listen to the incredible stories of cancer survivors and caregivers and people currently battling the disease. Bid on a silent auction item. Throw a few bucks in a donation bucket.

Because let's face it; ballgames are a lot more fun when you're watching them with your dad.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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