I’m often asked, “what made you fall in love with baseball?” And my answer will always remain the same. A man named Eddie Ladd is the reason that I fell in love with the game of baseball. This man is my father, my best friend, my catcher and everything to me.
My father’s story isn’t like most — in fact, his story is one of a kind and I’m thankful for it. He was born in 1966 to a woman who gave him up months later. His adoptive father met his mother at a local diner nestled in the parking lot of a mom and pop hotel in our hometown — the only thing my father had was a cloth diaper and a blanket. The man who would become my grandfather offered to help the woman, took my dad and bought him clothes and fed him. When he returned to give my father back, the woman was gone.
Written in lipstick on the hotel room mirror was, “take care of my son.” By 1973, after being a ward of the state in Indiana, my father was finally adopted by the man who took him home back in 1966. He began to play baseball — rooting for the Braves despite growing up around Cardinals, Cubs and one Yankees fan. His adoptive parents divorced but he kept playing baseball, it was a safe haven for when things weren’t always filled with sunshine.
As he grew up, he continued to love the game of baseball and he also began to love my mother. The two found each other at different points during childhood but finally realized they belonged to each other at the ages of 14 and 16. A fairytale for a hopeless romantic.
Playing with the likes of Steve Finley and Terry Shumpert, my father quit playing baseball in high school. A clash with a coach and the priority of football ended his baseball career — but his love for the game never ended.
He went on to graduate high school, attend art school and marry the love of his life. By 1989, my mother and father were happily married and ready to have a child. My father hoped for a Braves fan. By 1990, my mother was pregnant and my parents were ecstatic. My mother went on to lose the child on Valentine’s Day — leaving my parents broken but they weren’t ready to give up on the dream of having a child.
On my father’s 25th birthday, my mother surprised him with what would be his favorite birthday present — she was pregnant with me. The summer heat in 1991 made everything seem miserable but the love my mother and father had for their child was stronger than anything else.
My father became a father during an Atlanta Braves game against the Montreal Expos — begging my mother for one more inning before alerting the nurse that it was indeed time for Chelsea to arrive. Almost 29 years later and he still says he won twice that day. The Braves celebrated a victory on television and Eddie Ladd celebrated a victory in the hospital room with my mother, holding me in his arms.
Baseball was always in the background of my childhood whether my dad played the drums in his band while wearing his Braves hat or watching the game. If you were to look at my first birthday party photographs, you would see the Atlanta hat on top of his head.
He suffered with me through my short-lived t-ball career. Standing on the field proudly, waving to my mother who stood in the stands with our video camera. My father was so excited — his little girl was falling in love with the game.
By 1998, he told me that I could pick any baseball team that I wanted and I chose the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were my team’s color and they had a man named Mike Piazza. Of course, Piazza would be traded to the Marlins and then to the New York Mets. And despite my father loving the Braves, he bought a Mets Piazza jersey just for me. That’s love.
He took me to my first professional baseball game to see the Evansville Otters and then to see the Louisville Bats. I’ll never forget leaving my softball game and riding shot gun to Louisville with my father. We listened to music and made it to the city in record time — my mother still isn’t happy about that last part of the story. The little details of how I suckered him into buying a Louisville Slugger bat the size of 11-year-old me, driving on the wrong side of the road when trying to get to the stadium. Those are memories I will forever cherish. Staying up all night celebrating the Boston Red Sox winning in 2004, which is my father’s second favorite team.
As time went on, he coached my softball teams and even stepped in while I played high school softball. We took road trips weekly to see my pitching coaches in Illinois and those moments were everything. Singing at the top of our lungs to the top hits of the 2000s and stopping at a Dairy Queen just to realize they only served hot dogs — which I loathe.
Of course, I grew up and baseball remained in the background. And while I grew up and away from the game, it never left my father or myself. We always sat down and watched the World Series, angry or anxious — thrilled or downright sad. My mother sitting there laughing at us or scolding us for foul language when our team is down.
When we finally made it back to Busch Stadium last season, everything came flooding back. The moments that I shared with my father as a child, as a teen and now as a grown woman. Countless conversations about the game. Countless moments that belong to my father and I. Nothing can take those away.
Without even the smallest memories of baseball that I share with my father, I would not be the woman I am today. I would not be the writer who dreams of covering professional baseball for the rest of her life. I would not be the stubborn pitcher on the mound. I would not be the die hard baseball fan who stays up for every extra inning. I would not be Chelsea Ladd.
Happy Father’s Day daddy. Thank you for giving me the gift of loving baseball.