Mothers find a way to connect

Today is Mother’s Day and that’s always a special occasion for me.

Last year, I wrote about how more than 30 years ago, my dad set me on my path toward becoming a sports fan and later, a sports writer even before I could talk. He and I have always had a special bond that still goes on today. Chances are after I call my mom and talk with her this afternoon, she’ll pass the phone on to him and we’ll talk about how the Minnesota Twins are playing better than expected and how the NHL and NBA playoffs will shake out.

My relationship with my mom has always been an interesting one. Just like my dad, she encouraged me in my love of sports when I was younger and was amazed how I had memorized so many sports facts and statistics before I finished kindergarten. She also supported me when I wanted to play sports when I was little and would even play sports with me outside when my dad was at work. She knew I had to get my sports fix and even if her passion wasn’t as strong as my father’s, she wasn’t going to disappoint me.

When I started playing team sports, she was there to support me. There was a baseball game when I was 10 where she sat in the cold on an April morning, bundled in a blanket with a thermos of hot chocolate to keep me warm between innings. My mom never particularly cared for baseball, but she was always in the stands or sidelines to provide support. When I was one of the last people cut during high school tryouts, she was there to cheer me up the best she could.

Basketball was more of her sport and she constantly cheered me and my teammates on during games, sometimes even providing instruction. This wasn’t always taken well by me at the time, but these days, I realize she was just trying to help.

Over time, my relationship with my mom started to deteriorate. I’m not sure why exactly, but we started not to get along and usually ended up arguing with each other. While my bond with my dad remained rock solid, the bond with my mother wasn’t. By that time, my love for sports was almost reaching its peak and I don’t think she knew how to connect with me anymore.

That didn’t mean she didn’t try. I remember one day when my dad and my brother were out of town and she tried to get past our awkwardness by asking if I wanted to play catch with her. We hadn’t played catch since I was probably eight years old, but I think she saw if she showed an interest in sports, maybe she could bond with me again. I was floored by it and how do you turn down a request like that? My mom actually had a glove, which I completely forgot about at that point, and we just threw the ball to each other and shot the breeze. It may not have seemed like much, but the fact that she made that effort meant a lot to me.

When I was in college, we started a family tradition where my immediate family, along with my uncles, aunts and even my grandmother one year, attended the WCHA Final Five tournament. At the time, I was attending the University of North Dakota, which for those who don’t know is a college hockey powerhouse. By the time that tradition began, I had infected everybody with Fighting Sioux (now Fighting Hawks) fever and my mom took part in the fun.

The tournament lasted three days and included five games at the time, so by the time the championship game came around, the casual fan probably had enough hockey and I’m sure that was the case for my mom, but she powered through and I think she was happy to be around everyone.

She even grew to tolerate baseball. One of my favorite sports memories of my mom was when we went on a family trip to Seattle and caught a Mariners game. The game stayed scoreless through 14 innings and was a great pitcher’s duel. For non-baseball fans though, I’m sure it was brutal to watch. However, my mom was a trooper. She never complained or asked to leave, which to be honest I would’ve understood by the time the 14th rolled around. When the Mariners got through the top of the inning, she turned to me and asked how long I wanted to stay and I felt bad. I was having a blast, but I knew she was bored. So I told her if Seattle didn’t score in the bottom of the inning, we could head out. What was great was that in that inning, my favorite athlete, Ken Griffey Jr. who by that point was at the end of his career (he retired the following season), cranked a long double off the wall that almost cleared the fence, scoring the winning run and sending everyone home happy.

When I decided to get my master’s degree in sports journalism, both my parents supported me and even though the best fit for me was in Indianapolis (at the time, there were only two schools in the country that offered that program), and far away from Minnesota, she was happy for me. She was glad that I was pursuing a dream and what I truly wanted to do, even though I was turning my back on my teaching career, which was something she could share with me as a former teacher.

Since I’ve come to Marquette, my mom has made time to read my columns, even if she may not understand all the details. She watched the 2015 MHSAA state championship football game with my dad on TV when Ishpeming won its most recent title to see if she could spot me on the turf at Ford Field. She also watched the Hockeyville game with my dad when Carolina and Buffalo came to Marquette because I was covering it. When we talk on the phone, she’ll ask me questions about various sports issues and even keeps track of how Minnesota’s teams are doing and sometimes other teams just to keep up with me. That isn’t an easy task and it impresses me that she tries hard to do so.

What’s probably my favorite sports moment involving my mom happened three years ago. The Fighting Hawks were in the national championship game and my family was watching it in a hotel room in Marquette on my wife’s birthday, who is a UND alum. Whenever the Hawks scored, my mom excitedly ran around and high-fived everyone in the room. By the end of the game, she’d done that five times and with the same amount of enthusiasm each time as UND won its eighth national title and its first in 16 years. She was part of the group and she was clearly enjoying herself, which made my night.

I don’t know if the bond I have with my mom will ever be as strong as the one I have with my dad, but at this point, it’s probably the strongest it’s ever been. And somehow, sports played a role in accomplishing that, which is something neither of us probably expected, but I’m glad it did.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there and to my mom, thanks for your support. I might’ve never gotten this far without it.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.