BY ROD HECKMAN

The bond between father and son is special in so many ways.

And in the sports world, there have been numerous examples of this.

It's hard to forget the image of Tiger Woods hugging his dad after winning his first U.S. Open.

For those who remember, they can probably still picture U.S. Olympic goalie Jim Craig draped in an American flag skating around the rink after his team had just won the gold medal - mouthing. "Where's my father?"

Hollywood even grasped the relationship in Field of Dreams between Kevin Costener's character and his father. The movie concludes with, "Hey ... Dad? You wanna have a catch?" which of course brings a tear to everyone's eye.

The last few days memories have been flooding my mind of father-son experiences - specifically the ones I shared with my dad. After years of ill health, he passed away this Monday at the age of 86.

While many of those memories come from non-sporting events like family trips, Boy Scouts and church-related activities, there are numerous ones that involve the sporting world.

Some of the earliest include him pitching batting practice to me in our backyard. No matter where I would hit the ball, he would retrieve it and continue the process again.

Like many parents do, he attended practically every sporting event I participated in and even helped coach in many of them. From the pee-wee level to high school track to college baseball he hardly missed a game or meet.

Even at age 60 he was helping out with my legion team, continuing to throw batting practice. In fact, I remember a time he got nailed with a line drive. His reaction was to compliment the player on a solid hit and return to the mound for more throws.

Also during those years as a legion player, he kept our team's scorebook. Included in those responsibilities was calling area newspapers with game results. We would often compile a boxscore together and jot down some highlights prior to his contacting the press. It was a job he didn't particularly enjoy, but one that I enjoyed doing with him. It may actually have been the initial start to my pursuit of becoming a sportswriter.

Thanks to my cousin needing rides to Northampton wrestling matches, he quickly became a fan of a new sport. I wasn't a wrestler but there were times I tagged along with them. One time while attending the annual rivalry between his alma mater, Nazareth, and mine, the Konkrete Kids, our car caught fire in the Nazareth parking lot. We watched as our family vehicle became a blazing inferno before the fire department arrived to extinguish the flames.

As we stood there, I asked my dad what we should do next. He replied, "We're here now. Let's go to the wrestling match."

Even as he got older and his body wore down to the point where he couldn't go to Phillies games with me, he was a loyal fan of his favorite Philadelphia team. Every time I would call him during April and September the conversation would start with, "Did you watch the game?"

The next few minutes would result in details of why the Phils pulled one out or why one slipped away.

He taught me lessons in sports without saying a word. Being someone who didn't heap praise on me when I did well, or berate me when I failed, he showed me the importance of being even-keeled. Yes, there were ups and downs, wins and losses, success and failure, but it seemed what he wished for me most was to do my best and enjoy the competition.

I knew when he was proud of me, and I sensed when he might have been disappointed - both on the field and off.

We weren't ones to tell each other, "I love you" but that was only because we didn't have to we knew how we felt toward each other.

In the end, the night before he passed, he told my sister and I that if anything happened to him he wanted us to take care of our mother his wife of 60 years.

Those words will be remembered for a long time because they represent what he was about, which was thinking of others before himself and putting family first.

They also reminded me of a different game, one more important than bats and balls, helmets and pads, or drivers and putters - the game of life.

Thanks Dad. We'll miss you.