Eric's Heroes: A father, a son and a game of catch going on for 40 years
SHORELINE, Wash. -- A child loves a simple game. And the father loves it because the child loves it.
And then at some point it all stops.
And so it goes through the passage of time and the turning of generations. But two men refuse to let it stop.
Steve Peters pulls his Subaru into the parking lot of Hillwood Park in Shoreline. The park, with a ballfield tucked into the far corner, is empty.
He climbs out of his car with a baseball glove in one hand and steps over a low wooden fence onto the brown-green grass. He is 51 years old and tall. And as he walks across the field he makes the motion of an imaginary throw.
He bends down to stretch his hamstrings for a moment, then makes another imaginary throw. And he waits.
Before long another man comes walking down the road into the parking lot. He, too, is tall. He, too, carries a glove. He is walking with a purpose.
The man lives in an assisted-living home a few blocks away. His name is Dennis Peters. He is Steve's father. He comes here to see his son three, sometimes four times a week.
Steve motions to his shades and says, "I've got the glasses, so you get down there."
Dennis says, "OK," and walks to where the sun is at his back.
Steve flips his dad the baseball, and the two of them begin to play catch.
They've been coming here, to this park to play catch, for 40 years.
Even at 51 years old, Steve's arm is still good. And so, surprisingly, is Dennis' arm.
They start slowly and then back up farther and the velocity of their throws starts to build.
Steve chides his dad, "What are ya, Bobby Ayala? Gimme some HEAT!"
The thing is, they're not warming up for a game. This IS the game. A game of catch.
"The best sound ever," says Steve, "is the pop of the ball in the leather."
Dennis illustrates by saying loudly, "Pop!"
And as they play catch the gloves answer back. POP! POP!
They talk as they play catch. They talk about their day and tell stories, and Steve does some of his baseball imitations. Gaylord Perry, Lou Piniella and the like.
I ask the two of them later on Steve's porch to explain just what it is about playing catch that makes the two of them so happy.
Steve says, "It's the love of baseball, but it's also the love of being together and just the simple art of throwing. The simple hearing ... and the smell of leather ..."
Dennis adds, "If you tried to turn it into a magazine article, it's just words ... but it's got to be the emotion ..."
They're going back and forth now, trying to explain this thing they do. Steve says, "We could talk about it philosophically for hours. But it comes down to a simple phrase: it's absolute joy."
"Old Charlie Hough, the knuckleballer," announces Steve, and he goes into the ex-Dodger's windup and throws a fluttering knuckler to his dad.
Then Steve holds up his glove as a target, and a couple seconds later Dennis hits him right in the pocket with a perfect throw.
"That's control right there!" exclaims his son.
In the beginning the child yearns for the game of catch because of the undivided attention of the father. He gets precious time.
And then somewhere along the way it all changes, and the father yearns for the game of catch because of the undivided attention of his son. He gets precious time.
There's a beautiful symmetry to it.
They play catch wherever and whenever they can. In parking lots and campgrounds. After work and on the beach. Or just in the backyard.
Dennis gets excited when I ask him why a senior wants to keep throwing a baseball.
"I'm 80 years old!" he says. "What SHOULD I be doing? Watching Netflix for 12 hours a day? It's FUN! It's delight! It makes a day like today even more wonderful."
And all it takes is some space. Some time. Two gloves and a ball.
And then one day a car pulls into a large parking lot.
Steve gets out.
Dennis is in the passenger seat wearing a blindfold.
With assistance, he too gets out.
There is a motorized cart waiting for them, and Steve helps his dad onto the back of it. And they go for a ride.
They are driven into a brightly lit tunnel, with pictures lining the walls.
The pictures are of Mariner baseball players. The tunnel is inside Safeco Field. The cart is taking them towards the grass.
They get off the cart, with Steve taking Dennis by the arm and saying, "The ground is about 2 inches down ... there you go."
Dennis walks gingerly through the hallway that leads to the Mariners dugout, his son leading him by the hand. There is a picture of Dave Niehaus in a tuxedo, and Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez. There's a shot of Randy Johnson pointing to the sky.
And then they are out into the daylight of a perfectly quiet morning at a perfectly green cathedral of the game of baseball.
They are walking on dirt now, and then grass.
And somewhere out in leftfield, Steve stops. Dennis stands there, wondering what is happening.
Steve pulls out a couple of baseball gloves, and says, "One... two... three... go!"
Dennis pulls off the blindfold, and for a moment he seems disoriented by all the light. He re-focuses his eyes, and realizes where he is. And then it all hits him.
"Ho-leee @#$%!!!" he says, the words barely audible.
"What the ..." he mutters as he looks around him.
"Holy crow! How the hell did you pull this one? Jesus."
There is something special about a ballpark or stadium completely empty and quiet, something that makes a person feel very small.
In this moment, Dennis Peters felt very small, indeed. And lucky.
"I'm not usually at a loss for words ..." His eyes were moist and he kept turning around looking. "Let me just feel this for a minute."
Eventually they started throwing, just the two of them. And that popping sound of leather crashing into leather bounced through the ballpark like echoing exclamation points.
Days earlier, when we'd been sitting on the steps in front of Steve's house, Dennis told a story.
"When I was a kid growing up," he said, "I saw so many guys my own age who would say, 'I don't know if my dad ever really cared about me. I don't know if my dad ever loved me', and I said to myself, 'If I ever have kids that's not gonna happen.'"
Watching them there on the perfect grass in that empty ballpark, it was easy to understand the key to all of it..
The gloves and the ball are simple instruments of expression.
The ritual of playing catch is nothing less than an expression of love.
But of course.
"So what's really important?" Dennis had asked me at one point. He didn't wait for an answer.
"THIS minute right now. THIS catch. THAT throw. Those birds flying up there right now. Live today RIGHT NOW!"
A child loves a simple game. And the father loves it because the child loves it. And then at some point it all stops.
But maybe you'll take some comfort in knowing that two men, a father named Dennis and a son named Steve, refuse to let it stop.
Why not play catch forever?
Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.