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A Father's Day tribute

Wanted to share with you a little story about my dad, Steve Millikin.

The first time I signed up for little league baseball, I believe I was eight years old. I didn't know much about the game then, but I knew what an umpire was there for. He was there to call the game fairly for both teams to the best of his ability.

The league asked parents to volunteer their time as much as they could, to help as coaches, to work the snack bar, to keep score, etc. They asked my father to umpire that year, which he did without complaint.

But one day, I learned that he would be umpiring one of MY games. I wasn't a great hitter, so I didn't have any illusions of hitting an over-the-fence home run. I just didn't want to embarrass myself in front of my dad.

I don't recall how many times I came to bat in the game, but I do remember one particular at bat. I got behind in the count and knew I was in danger of striking out in front of my father. Not only that, but my dad might actually be the one to ring me up.

I remember the pitch was close enough that I should have swung, but who understands two-strike hitting at that age? It was on the outside part of the plate and I remember hesitating a bit before hearing the inevitable call.

STRIKE THREE, my dad said with authority, but not too loud. The tone said, 'You've got to leave now, but we can talk about it later.'

Slow walk to dugout. Kind of a 'Happy Days' moment. Except in those moments, I'm always been more Richie Cunningham than the Fonz.

Neither of us made a big deal about it afterwards. I was a baseball fan, and strikeouts were part of the game I loved so much.

My dad had been a big part of instilling that love from a very early age. I still remember walking with him for the first time through the tunnel at Jack Murphy Stadium, where the San Diego Padres used to play. Seeing the green grass, the infield dirt and the uniforms in full color. Until then, I'd only seen the Padres play on TV. It's a lasting image I'll never forget, and and I'll always remember he was the one who led me there.

After college, I thought the anecdote about my father having to call me out on strikes might make a good short story. I still think it might.

But I can't get past this undeniable fact — the power of the story is all about the relationship between the father and the son. Deep down, I don't want people thinking this is about the two fictional characters.

I'd rather have people know the story of a real-life, loving father who, through a simple act of a called third strike, helped teach his son an important lesson about fairness and integrity.

It's a lesson I'll never forget. And I'll always love you for it, Dad.

Have a Happy Fathers Day.