My dad, me and Wisconsin sports
Ward Mehring. Image by Chris Mehring
This baseball season will be the first I go through without my father, the man who gave me his love of sports.
John Ward Mehring died on March 27. I look at that sentence and I still can’t believe it. It all happened so fast.
He was diagnosed with cancer on March 1, was told it was Stage IV on St. Patrick’s Day, went into the hospital on March 24, and was gone on March 27 at the age of 74.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that I chose the career that I have because I love sports in general and Wisconsin sports in particular.
I was going through a drawer in the table by his chair to find things for the memorial service a couple of days after he passed. There was a binder in there and just about every column I had written for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers website had been printed off and placed in the binder. His eyesight hadn’t been great for the last few years and he couldn’t read off the computer screen. My mom would print out the columns. He would read them and they would be placed in the binder to be read again later.
That was my dad.
After I moved away to college – this was before the internet - he would save the Milwaukee Journal preview sections for the Brewers, Bucks, and Packers to give to me when I came home.
My earliest memory of Wisconsin sports involves my dad. It is 1972 and "The Pack" was back! They had won the NFC Central to make the playoffs for the first time since Vince Lombardi left the team.
We were watching the playoff game against the Washington Redskins. He was sitting on the couch with his leg in a cast from an injury he suffered at work and I was sitting on the floor. Scott Hunter threw an interception and he banged his cast on the floor in frustration. Four-year-old me thought that was hilarious.
Even through the dark years of the Packers, we always watched the games. He let me stay up to watch them beat the Patriots on Monday Night Football in 1979 with five interceptions by the defense and a David Whitehurst rushing touchdown. He was asleep in his chair when Mark Moseley’s field goal went wide left and the Packers beat Washington 48-47 on Monday Night Football in 1983.
We also went to many Packers games at Milwaukee County Stadium. The worst one was a 24-3 loss to the New York Jets in 1985. That was a quiet ride home.
The thing I learned from watching him watch the games was that he never booed. He would get frustrated and he would get quiet, but he was always back there again the next week to root for his team.
That was my dad.
That was especially true with the Milwaukee Bucks. I remember a game at the MECCA…well, not so much the game because I wouldn’t turn five for another two weeks. But, I remember how loud that place was as the Bucks went to overtime against the Detroit Pistons on November 3, 1973.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Bobby Dandrige were on the Bucks. Bob Lanier and Dave Bing were on the Pistons. I didn’t realize until much later how great all those guys were and what a privilege it was to see them play.
Even in the down years, Dad would follow the Bucks. He was still watching them THIS season.
That was my dad.
But, baseball was our sport. He used to tell me stories about going in to Milwaukee to watch the Braves and how they stopped going as much when they banned carry-ins. My first glove was his Lew Burdette model.
We saw Dennis Lamp almost throw a no-hitter against the Brewers. He made sure my brother and I were members of the Brewers Pepsi Fan Club so we could go to a lot of games for not a lot of money. The red Coca Cola Bat from one of the Bat Night’s is somewhere in the basement. Barry Bonds with help from Jeff Kent and Ellis Burks ruined his 60th birthday.
Finally, we got to see them clinch the NL Central title in 2011.
Our best day ever at County Stadium was September 17, 1976. That was the night of the Brewers Salute to Hank Aaron. So many old Milwaukee Braves came back for the ceremony.
He told me about Johnny Logan and Warren Spahn and Joe Adcock and, of course Hank Aaron. I was seven and you can mark that game right there as the start of my interest in and love of baseball history.
He also saw me play when he had the chance.
He was one of my coaches in Little League. There was a game where I was on the mound trying to be Mark Fidrych and talking to the baseball. There were two strikes on the batter and a mosquito flew into my mouth. Instead of stopping, I went into my delivery, got the strikeout and ran to the bench. Dad was there holding out a water jug. He just said, “Keep your mouth closed.” Then, he laughed.
The one and only walkoff home run I ever hit was in American Legion ball. There were maybe five people in the stands, but I hit the ball over the fence to win the game. I was walking back to the bench and he was walking down the hill from where he had just parked his car. He was smiling and put out his hand to “slap five”.
Earlier that summer, he was in Wausau to watch our team play in the State Tournament. We were crushed and didn’t play well. I had an error, got doubled off first base after a bunt was popped up, and was just overall bad. He was with my mom and smiling and put out his hand to “slap five” after the game.
That was my dad…and this baseball season is going to be my first without him. It’s going to be hard, but he taught me well.