“At Random” column for June 16, 2013

As another Father’s Day arrives, I’ve been thinking about my friend Marvin Berteau, of Ponchatoula, who died last month at age 87. Marvin, a retired office manager for an auto parts store, was a smart man who was curious about many things, including philosophy and law, literature and politics, history and baseball.

“To a great extent, our family lived and breathed baseball,” recalled Marvin’s son Paul, a 61-year-old insurance consultant who now lives in Evergreen, Colo. In some way, Marvin’s interest in baseball touched the whole family, including his wife, Patsy, and the couple’s five children: David, Paul, Alan, Susan and Charles.

“Originally, we listened to the St. Louis Cardinals,” Paul added. “In 1962, Houston got its own baseball team — the Colt .45s, later known as the Astros. Daddy worked hard, so we really didn’t take big vacations. But I remember four or five times when we’d take a long weekend, go to Houston, and see a couple of baseball games. Of course, for us, the Astrodome was the eighth wonder of the world.”

The Berteaus’ baseball traditions also included occasional pick-up games in rural Ponchatoula, where the local version of sandlot baseball had its peculiarities. “We had strange rules,” Paul remembered. “We used cow patties as bases.”

Because he’d enjoyed the family games so much, Paul joined a local youth team. In the summer of 1967, 16-year-old baseball fan Paul Berteau made a troubling discovery: “I wasn’t a good player. I had only one hit the entire season — and that hit was erased because the game was forfeited.”

One game from that summer stands out in Paul’s mind. He spoke about it at his father’s funeral. While playing right field, “a flyball was hit to me in the first inning, and I lost it in the light. I ended up with a total of eight errors,” he said.

Near the close of the game, while standing at bat, Paul had a final chance to salvage his performance. With a good hit, he could tie the game — or even win it. That’s when Paul struck out at bat. He could hear boos welling up from the bleachers.

“If I could have dug a hole and jumped in, I would have,” he recalled. But above the jeers, Paul Berteau heard something else. Marvin Berteau, a gentle man with a wide smile, was also gifted with a strong voice that could carry far.

“I remember it as clearly as if it had happened yesterday,” Paul said. “Above everything else, I could hear my dad saying, ‘That’s OK, Paul. We’ll get them tomorrow.’ That meant the world to me. I knew that I was good enough for him, and that balanced out all the hits to my self-esteem. I knew that I had at least one fan there that night.”

All those summers ago, Paul was reminded that as much as his dad loved baseball, he loved his son even more. Today is Paul’s first Father’s Day without his dad, but he can still hear Marvin’s voice of assurance ringing across the fields of memory.

“He’s been gone a few weeks now, and I think about him every day,” Paul said several days ago. “And that’s a good thing.”