Who Needs Instant Replay When You Have My Father?

Erik Linask : Sports Technology
Erik Linask

Who Needs Instant Replay When You Have My Father?

Henry hand ball.png 
Though each of them took place more than 25 years ago - before the rise digital television, Flip camcorders or the great Thierry Henry controversy that's still dominating international sports headlines - the two most important on-field events in my life require no instant replay.
I remember them perfectly well.
They involve two of the times that my dad, straight after his work at the auto shop and still wearing his grease-encrusted "Dinan Auto" work shirt and pants, rushed onto a playing field in our quiet Connecticut town to defend the honor of one of his sons.
The first time it was my older brother Terry's. The 10-year-old had become embroiled in an argument near second base at Gamble Field, one of two little league diamonds at Mead Park in New Canaan, Conn. I was sitting among the spectators in the little aluminum grandstands - among the well-to-do men in polo shirts, khakis and loafers and their long-haired wives, varicose vein embolisms giving courage to short shorts that, the way they were crossed on the open grandstands, led to exciting, confused thoughts in my own 8-year-old mind.
Among them and my dad. Marlboro Red dangling from his face (he would switch to Marlboro Lights in my teenage years, and finally, after re-marrying a Swedish woman whose idea of lunch was cucumber slices and yogurt, to a pipe), dad stood a little apart from the grandstand crowd, gazing intently at my brother, a natural shortstop who early in his career had a habit of "pushing" rather than throwing the ball to first base.
At some point in the game it happened - Rob Ardigo rounded second base and collided with my brother somewhere between second a third. A fight ensued, and one of the coaches emerged from the bench to where the two boys stood tussling. The coach grabbed my brother's arm and in an instant my dad's Marlboro Red fell to the grass and twisted in the wake of his sprint onto the field. More nimble than any other father I could remember (my dad remains one of the healthiest people I know, thanks in part to that Swedish woman, now his second ex-wife), dad was between the coach and my brother before many of the tawny women or sockless men in the grandstand knew it.
But I saw it all, because I knew my dad's intense gaze and what it could mean.
"You want to put your hands on someone?" he told the baffled coach. "You want to touch someone? Touch me. I dare you. I'm begging you to touch me."
When these kinds of things happened, dad's face twisted with rage and his mouth took on a tight frown that my brother, Terry, has since dubbed as "The Dad Face" (Terry pulls it out during road rage incidents).
Even before my dad dragged Terry off of the field, I was trudging around the backstop and toward the parking lot, where my brother would probably be crying in a few minutes, my dad furiously driving us back home, seatbelt-less, a new Marlboro Red dangling from his mouth.
The second most important sports event in my life happened around the same time, when I was playing soccer in a New Canaan recreational league one summer ...
* * *
The world of soccer - and this officially includes the United States, now, with the rise of David Beckham, who has weighed in on the controversy - is discussing the possibility of introducing instant replay. The talk is spurred by last week's hand ball from France's Thierry Henry, the handsome attacker whose transgression was missed by referees and led directly to a goal for the men in blue over Ireland in a World Cup qualifier.
It isn't clear where that controversy is going, but if the Europeans - or South Americans or anyone else, for that matter, whose national sport is soccer - go the way of the United States and our national pastime, then it's only a matter of time.
The National Football League ("Superbowl" not World Cup) already has instituted instant replay, and for the first time in its 133-year history, baseball allowed umpires to use instant replay in two instances (whether home runs clear an outfield wall, are fair or foul or were touched by a fan - so-called "boundary" calls) starting last summer.
None of that will appease Minnesota Twins fans or New York Yankees haters who are still smarting over a terrible call down the left field line off of Joe Mauer's bat, at a critical moment during the divisional series last month.
Nevertheless, we're told, instant replay will be a hot topic - due in part to the consistently poor umpiring during the baseball playoffs - during winter meetings and general manager get-togethers this offseason. Commissioner Bud Selig's major fear when replays were first allowed were psychological: What happens people start questioning an umpire's authority?
But it's difficult to reconcile any real concerns around that question when umpires themselves sheepishly sit before microphones after blowing calls during a game and do everything but apologize outright and beg for instant replay to be expanded.
Which brings us back to soccer in Europe - the "Old World," whose cross-jurisdictional bodies overseeing the sport yields an institutional inertia has an even greater foothold than in U.S. Congress. Will the next hand ball from the next Thierry stand? Will FIFA and UEFA and the rest of them take advantage of the technology that's now at their disposal?
* **
I was playing soccer at Waveny Field in New Canaan when I was about eight or nine years old. My father, who had played semi-professional soccer as a young man, stood on the sidelines in his auto shop clothes, face smeared with oil and grease from the underbellies of the cars he wrestled with every day, straggly, thinning hair shooting in all directions.
A kid one year older than me named Peter Hodgeman, a very good athlete who would go on to become a standout hockey player in his high school career (I believe he also would become a very good soccer player) stood nearby when a ball rolled out of bounds, off of the other team's foot.
I reached the ball first and prepared to throw it inbounds the way I was told, take a few steps toward the sideline while gripping the ball with both hands behind my head and throw it to the chest or feet of one of my teammates.
But Peter came racing to the sideline, grabbed the ball from my hands and threw it in instead.
Instantly my dad was on him and on the coach - on the field, screaming at what had just happened. It only took a minute or so, maybe less, then there I was, trailing him through a break in the crowd of parents looking on from the sidelines.
The only person who spoke to me on the way out was a kid named John Hofmann, a red-headed boy my age that I didn't know at all - we went to different elementary schools. (Years later, John and I would enter the University of Pennsylvania together, and it always struck me as strange that whenever he had to spell his name for someone, he would assure them that although it was the Jewish spelling, he himself was not Jewish.)
"Who is that man?" John asked me as I followed my father toward another parking lot.
"That's my dad," I said.

Feedback for Who Needs Instant Replay When You Have My Father?

1 Comment

Parents, huh? btw, your post title made me LOL :D