SportsMonday Column: Somebody has to care

By Gregory Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 19, 2015

Before I had the Daily, I lived for those weekends.

The ones filled with football and baseball early in the fall, when I could sit in front of the TV and watch games all day. Those were the days I could name starting lineups, where players went to college and God knows how many stats.

I was eight years old, at the house on Merrick Street. I would mimic the sport on TV because I was too excited to just sit down. Sometimes, the games on TV were too tense to run around, so I moved closer to the TV clutching my football.

I was so enthralled with the skill that went into hitting a 100-mph fastball or hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. I felt a sense of belonging, of pride and happiness, the kind you can’t get anywhere else, when I saw my favorite teams win.

Dad had been in and out on one of those afternoons, cleaning the old garage, when he returned to the living room. I began pleading, really crying, for him to join me on the couch. I hadn’t been able to attend games, so watching them on TV was the closest I could get to those moments.

“Dad, it’s the Tigers on right now,” I said. “They’re down two runs, you have to watch.”

“That’s all right, I’ll check in later,” he said, ready to turn back. “There’s plenty of work to finish up outside.”

“Well, somebody has to care about this stuff, Dad,” I shouted, tears running.

He looked at me, silent and confused. He turned to my mom for an answer. I lived for this weekend; Dad didn’t. He went back to work. I watched the game alone.

Two years later, Mom purchased season tickets to the Toledo Mud Hens for the family. I cheered the announcement, hugged her because I could finally go to a game in person. She thought they’d be good to make us get out and stay together, but Mom despised baseball games — “They just never end,” she’d say — and my sister, Elizabeth, looked for anything else to do.

So Dad and I went together, just the two of us. He’d buy me a sausage and peppers from Sofo’s, he’d grab a beer for himself, and we would watch a bunch of guys we’d never heard of. I’d be upset when they lost and chatty when they won. He was indifferent, looking at programs and chatting up the neighbors in the seats.

On weekdays in the summer, when we had moved to the house on Amsler, I’d sit outside on the brick porch steps. Dad used to call to say he was coming home, so I sped through dinner and rushed outside to wait for him.

I’d hold my new red-and-blue mitt, tossing the ball to myself while Dad’s mitt was waiting. He’d come home in a shirt and tie, as usual, and most times he’d say he had to change and eat. I’d roll my eyes and beg him to hurry.

His shoulder was almost always sore, so he threw underhand pop-ups and grounders as I kept running and running as the sun faded. I didn’t have many close friends in Adrian, but Dad was there.

I still watched games night after night. My parents put me to bed and I’d proceed to form my pillows into the shape of a body under my sheets. I’d sneak to the basement to watch whatever game was on. Dad found out, after a few weeks, but he didn’t stop me. He saw how much I cared.

And he saw how much I cared about playing sports too, so he did what he could to support me. When the middle school basketball team needed a coach, I begged him once more, “Dad, please, I can’t play unless you’re there.” I cared, and he watched the way I pouted. He coached us that season.

When I ran cross country in high school, he helped pay for all six pairs of shoes because I researched them for hours. Eventually, he’d take the stopwatch with Mom and call out times when I asked.

Really, though, no one cared like I did until I walked into the Daily in January of my freshman year. There, I found people as crazy as me.

I called Mom and Dad in January, “I know what I want to do. I want to write sports.”

I wrote as much as I could, called Mom and Dad again, begging them to read my stories “just this time.” Sometimes, they did read. Sometimes they just listened.

They sat silent when I told them about trekking back from Sault Ste. Marie in the middle of a blizzard with Laurila driving. They laughed as I told them about singing Mulan in the middle of Iowa to keep Jeremy awake. And they cheered when I told them that the great people at Sporting News wanted the kid who cared so much for an internship.

I called to tell them when I met Dan and Alejandro, who also moved close to the TV. We all groaned when Trey Burke’s block was called a foul, and we all argued about what we thought was wrong with Michigan football (but this column is already long enough). We moved in with David, we drank (a lot of) cheap beer and we all cared.

Imagine if I hadn’t started believing that day that someone had to care? How lucky was I to have a place where I had met my best friends, to find people who found the joy in watching a step-back 3-pointer save the day or 40-yard heave fall into Roy Roundtree’s hands. I became passionate about beating (destroying) The State News, about fighting in a game of chair monkey with Max and Max or breaking a light with Alejandro.

And so at the Daily, watching sports and telling stories — like Andrew Copp’s or Drake Johnson’s, athletes, students who cared enough about what they did and who they were to share — were ways for me to speak to Dad. He cared for me as I cared for the 50 members of the sports section.

Eventually, Dad even learned how to use the iPad to read my stories — he had never even turned on a computer before that.

A year ago, during a hockey game, I sat in the press box when the police officer came over calling my name (I should have stopped stealing Cokes). She announced that my father had come up, said he needed to see me. It was the first time he had come to a game at which I was working.

I left my seat, watching the other reporters snicker and stare. I found him laughing with an usher.

“Pretty neat setup you get up here,” my dad said. “What did you have to eat? And look at all these TVs. Did you see me down there at all?” He walked around and lingered in the middle of that 2-1 game, smiling the entire time.

I stayed in that moment briefly — long enough to realize that Dad had always cared. And that someone — the Daily, Dad and I — always would.

—Garno could have written 1,200 more words about his mother and sister, both of whom have shown more love and support than he could have asked. He thanks you, the reader, for caring enough to follow along.

He’ll be covering the Chicago Cubs and White Sox for MLB.com this summer, where he’s bound to run into Alejandro once more. Garno can be reached at ggarno@umich.edu or on Twitter: @G_Garno.