Like most kids, I first learned about sports from my father. He had never been much of an athlete himself, although, even in his middle years, he could throw a wicked roundhouse curve. No, he was, by his own frequent admission, "just a little guy" and therefore at a profound disadvantage in sports as in life. But he was a gritty little guy and a ferocious fan. He took me to my first baseball game, at the Oakland Oaks' old Pacific Coast League park; to my first football game, at Cal in Berkeley; and to my first boxing and wrestling matches. He tried mightily but without much success to teach me that roundhouse curve, and he never could get me to share his passion for golf or hunting and fishing. But when I was a boy we seemed to do almost everything together.
He was a young father, not quite 22 when I was born, and I was an only child, so in many ways we were closer than most fathers and sons. Besides that, our family moved around a lot, from one northern California town to another, so I was unusually dependent upon him for entertainment. Actually, I didn't even call him Dad. Browsing through a magazine when I was about 10 or 11, I came across the name of T. Truxtun Hare, who had been an All-America football guard at the University of Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. I decided on the spot that Truxtun was much better suited to my father than his given name of Lester, and from then on he became, for me, just plain Trux.
Trux coached our summer league baseball team when I was 13, and he even persuaded a friend of his, who was a Yankee scout, to watch our game against Mother's Cookies at Oakland's Bushrod Park. Had I known the man was in the stands, I doubt that I would have been able to take to the field, but in my ignorance, I actually got three hits that day, all off changeups. Prodded by Trux, the scout suggested I might be interested in attending a Yankee youth baseball camp later that summer. I told him that those three hits were my first of the season and quite likely to be the last, and that I would only embarrass myself and him were I to appear among a bunch of hotshot players. I don't think Trux ever truly forgave me for that, but in time he came to accept the immutable fact that I was not destined to be a big leaguer. And he rooted me on through a largely undistinguished athletic career, finding something positive to say about almost every game—"Well, at least you didn't fumble."
Then, inevitably, we drifted apart. No, that's not it; our split was a lot more like atomic fission. The shrinks say this is perfectly normal, that the son must metaphorically slay the father in order to live his own life. But as close as we had been, our breakup was pretty painful for both of us. Suddenly, Trux and I couldn't agree on anything. His politics seemed to me to have moved overnight from New Deal liberalism to somewhere to the right of Calvin Coolidge. The very man who had put food in my mouth during the Great Depression now looked to me like some sort of Babbitt. For his part, I was headed straight for hell in a handbasket. I didn't know the meaning of a dollar, and I insisted upon living in San Francisco, a city that, he felt, made Sodom and Gomorrah look like Peoria and Waukegan. The bay that separates Oakland and San Francisco might as well have been an ocean. We had even lost our shared interest in sports. He was an Athletics fan; I was for the Giants. He loved Al Davis's Oakland Raiders; I was a 49ers man. We didn't like the same movies. He wouldn't read the books I sent him, most of which cruelly portrayed the American businessman as either misguided or pathetic. I turned down his suggestions that I "grow up" and buy a house in the suburbs. It was not a good time for Trux and me.
Then, also inevitably, as we grew older, we found our way back to where we belonged. Sports, which had brought us together in the first place, helped reunite us. My birthday gift to him for the past 10 years or more has been a trip to Arizona for baseball spring training. As we had done when I was a boy, we went to ball games together. Never shy about approaching the famous, Trux would waltz up to the game's newest stars and hail them as old pals—"Whaddya say, Jose?" He even found a place in his heart for the Giants.
But he didn't make it to Arizona this year. And in early June he entered the hospital. His heart and his lungs were failing. When I last saw him, it was, as much as it could be under the circumstances, like old times. We both laughed at the heretofore unimaginable possibility of a Bay Area World Series, and when I called him the next day, he vigorously complained about the treatment he was getting in the hospital. "Trux," I said, "you sound like your old self again." "Whatever that was," he said. He died the next day. And so, I came to realize at last, did a very large part of me.