October in New York is a beautiful, special month to me. I first arrived in this city in the month of October, the air crisp and the leaves brilliant. Fittingly, as the man who inspired my desire to come here as a boy was Reggie Jackson, baseball’s Mr. October himself.
Reggie Jackson’s name comes up often in New York City baseball circles. Even with no team in the World Series, Mr. October always makes New Yorkers feel included, if only on a peripheral basis. He puts Yankee pinstripes on our minds.
He could be arrogant and unrealistic. He had a pronounced swagger even when he wasn’t producing. He was hated as much as he was loved back in his 1970s heyday. Even today he’s a polarizing figure, with all the old arguments rising up again:
“Reggie Jackson was great!”
“No, he was a big jerk.”
“Yeah but you can’t deny how good he was.”
“Yeah, well you can’t deny he was an ass!”
Looking back with a grown-up’s eyes, Reggie Jackson’s faults are more in focus. I see similarities in how he was seen then with how Alex Rodriguez was perceived here in his New York Yankee years: arrogant, and a bit too full of himself. Kind of a jerk.
In my memory, Reggie could do no wrong. He was one of those athletes that awakened the imagination of a child. “Larger than life” is a phrase that is tossed around too easily these days, but it aptly describes Jackson. He was a mythical figure on par with Superman or Luke Skywalker. He seemed capable of anything. He was my hero. I saw none of his bad traits. That day he hit those three home runs in a 1977 World Series game? My breath catches just thinking about it.
He had a profound effect on my young life. Mr. October planted the seed in my head to move to New York City. when I was just a 7-year-old boy, a million miles away, growing up in a tiny seaside village. NYC may as well have been on another planet. But I knew even then I would live here someday.
Not long ago, my son and I played catch in Macombs Park, the place where old Yankee Stadium stood. We played baseball right on the spot where Reggie hit those home runs. And while that was a thrill for me, I realized my son was seeing it in an entirely different way.
It didn’t matter to him that he was playing baseball where Reggie Jackson once played. It mattered to him that he was playing baseball with me.
Describing the myriad of feelings that swirled around me in that moment is difficult. So many emotions welled up and flowed over. Love. Gratitude. Disbelief. And yes, worry.
Those swirling feelings were followed with a frightening thought: If Reggie Jackson’s image could morph and change for me, if he could go from Superman to schmoe, would that then also happen for my son with me? Right now, my son thinks I’m the greatest, but will he eventually find out that I’m just another schmuck?
And then I took another breath. Of course, he will. Nobody can maintain the image a small child has of you. It’s impossible. They have to grow up, they have to change.
All we can do as fathers, is our best for our children. Spend time with them. Share what we love with them. Let them share what they love with us. Despite our faults, despite our shortcomings, when it comes to helping our kids through childhood, we must swing for the fences.
Reggie Jackson’s era has come and and gone, as has Don Mattingly’s and now Derek Jeter’s. Over the course of my life, many things have changed, but my love of this great city remains strong, and I will share that love with my son.
So this month, Reggie’s month, is one of reflective joy. It’s OK if you don’t understand. It’s just a little thing I have. We all have our quirks, Reggie sure did, and this is one of mine. I’m here in part because of him. So I suppose it’s fair to say my son is here partly because of him, too.
It’s October once more. Autumn in New York is poignant and beautiful. And while for everyone else this month has 31 days, for me, October’s number is 44.