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HAZELWOOD: Bond with daughter, Tribe baseball helped recovery

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Jun 18, 2019 at 7:27 PM

NORWALK — As I laid in a hospital bed on May 19, a graphic on the television I had already been aware of aired once again on SportsTime Ohio.

On June 5, it was Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger’s bobblehead night at Progressive Field in Cleveland. As I watched the rest of an easy Tribe win over the Baltimore Orioles, that June 5 date immediately became the goal.

Hours removed from an emergency surgery, early on a Sunday morning, I needed to be all clear with no assistance to attend that game with my 11-year-old daughter, Chloe.

Then, on Father’s Day on Sunday, along with my wife, Megan, I watched as my daughter checked off her seventh Major League Baseball stadium at Comerica Park in Detroit. Next month, it will be No. 8 in Toronto.

This is not a story involving a childhood on-field baseball memory for myself or my daughter. Far from it.

My baseball career peaked at an over-the-fence home run playing for Citizens National Bank in the Junior Division at Lefty Grove in 1989. Chloe hasn’t so much as shown an interest in actually playing baseball or softball, instead spending dozens of hours in a week playing tennis.

And yet it’s baseball memories centered around the Cleveland Indians that have connected our relationship in a way that few things can.

She was just 4 months old for her first Father’s Day game in 2008. On the surface, it was just a nondescript 7-3 win by the Indians over the Padres — two teams who didn’t finish with a winning record that season.

But as I look at the commemorative June 15, 2008, baseball from that day on my desk, I am reminded the starting pitching matchup that was Greg Maddux — the best pitcher of my lifetime — facing CC Sabathia. One Hall of Famer facing a soon-to-be Hall of Famer.

On Father’s Day in 2017, we traveled to Baltimore. The next night, after a rain delay, we watched Corey Kluber pitch a complete-game, three-hit shutout. On Sunday in Detroit, we saw Trevor Bauer throw a four-hit complete-game shutout.

Then there was last season’s Father’s Day experience. Chloe found her way into the Kid’s Day starting lineup in left field. It was then that we were able to watch her be greeted by 2016 World Series hero Rajai Davis, who had the biggest home run in the history of the franchise.

Eight days later, we were in St. Louis, and a fun connection grew some more. It started in January 2017, when the aforementioned Clevinger wrote her a note and an autograph at TribeFest after he spotted her shirt of him from afar.

Six months later, and days after Chloe got her Clevinger jersey signed, the Indians pitcher spotted her before he began his pregame bullpen warmup and tossed her a baseball.

Clevinger has since done that twice more, including on April 7 at home this year before his last start prior to returning from injury Monday night in Texas. In Detroit on Sunday, he tossed her some double bubble gum beforehand — and now Chloe won’t unwrap the gum.

It brought me back full circle when we attended the June 9 game vs. the New York Yankees. During the game, the Indians recognized the career of Sabathia, now pitching in his final MLB season with New York.

Sabathia was my favorite player during his eight seasons in Cleveland (2001-08), and he wore No. 52 — the number currently worn by Chloe’s favorite player, Clevinger.

All these experiences have also led to Chloe becoming an avid autograph collector, which certainly was passed down from me. But we’re now to the point where she is dictating the entire process, and doing a far better job of getting signatures before and after games than I ever did.

Unable to go to the lone home postseason game last October, because of school and extracurricular commitments, I took Chloe out of school the following week for Jason Kipnis’ annual equipment toss day.

She left with an autographed Nike custom cleat of his — one that I could only have dreamed about at her age — with a smile as wide as I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, my collection of autographs and souvenirs has been just about surpassed in only a few years by my daughter.

This all leads me back to the unexpected surgery procedure just over four weeks ago. Not that the timing is ever ideal, but it couldn’t have been worse.

After unwisely ignoring some warning signs, I was admitted on May 17 to Fisher-Titus Medical Center in Norwalk. Reality came the next day when I was informed that not only was I not leaving, but my gallbladder had to come out immediately.

That Sunday (May 19) happened to be Chloe’s year-end dance recital. She had eight performances, the culmination of seven months of practice. And I missed it.

It was easily the toughest part of the entire painful process.

But that being said, we all know many who have it way worse. It was easy to embrace that perspective. It was easy to be motivated to attempt to move around and push through the pain and strict diet — knowing we already had two tickets to Clevinger’s bobblehead night for months in advance. I wasn’t missing that.

I had attended hundreds of Tribe games before Chloe entered our lives. That included seeing postseason wins over the hated Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the fabulous 1990s run.

But it’s funny how parenthood changes the view of things. Once you become mom or dad, everything else kind of falls away and they become our No. 1 priority. Certain hobbies don’t seem to matter as much.

Fortunately for me, my daughter has helped deepen that connection to Indians baseball even more than it had already been. All these games attended with Chloe and Megan, all the sports memorabilia collected — it trumps any and all games or events prior to 2008.

The entire experience embodies my relationship with them. No game experience is ever the same, and I love that each time we walk inside the park.

Parenthood will test everything. How you love, empathize, lead and show strength are just a few examples. No one method is the right or wrong way for any of us — yet it’s all part of the daily life process.

Passing down this passion for Tribe baseball is something that I’m not just proud of. It also helped me in a way I never thought possible over the last few weeks of recovery.

Happy belated Father’s Day — and just keep being the best parent you can possibly be.

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