In Recess February 2023
‘My Love for the Game Preserves the Memory of Him’
For Dallas attorney Paul K. Stafford, baseball provides a deep connection with fatherhood
Interview by Will Korn
Photos courtesy of Paul K. Stafford
Paul K. Stafford with daughters Camryn, Kendall, and Chelsea at Globe
Life Park, the former home of the Texas Rangers.
Since its introduction in America in the mid-19th century, the game of baseball has often served as a special pathway to bonding between (and amongst) adults and children. As a four-year-old boy, Paul K. Stafford first experienced this connection during a 1972 Major League Baseball game at Houston’s famed Astrodome. Little did Stafford know at the time that a lifelong passion was quickly forming. The Dallas-based attorney spoke to the Texas Bar Journal about his formative years around the game, his own playing days, his league-wide ballpark travels, and how he has passed on his love of the game to his three daughters, just as his father did for him.
YOUR FATHER WAS A BIG INFLUENCE ON YOUR LOVE OF BASEBALL.
WHAT IS THE EARLIEST MEMORY YOU HAVE OF BEING AROUND THE
Sitting in the outfield of the Astrodome in the cheap seats—surrounded by other fans, the smell of “Dome Foam” beer, and stale popcorn. As I was taking it all in, my father said, “Check out the batter. He’s one of the greatest to ever play.” As I watched Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants that day, I was indoctrinated into a peculiar game—where the defense has the ball, nine against one is considered fair, and there’s no time limit—and introduced to a new world of wonder. In the 50 years since, those players have passed through the game, and most have passed on, though their legacies endure—as does my memory of that day and the passion ignited thereafter.
WHAT IMPACT DID YOUR FATHER HAVE ON YOUR LOVE OF
A decorated veteran, former semi-pro third baseman, respected college professor, strict disciplinarian, Little League commissioner, and avid baseball fan—my father was a person I loved, but did not always like, who liked a game that I did not love. Unbeknownst to me, he was committed to connecting with me as a parent, and part of that entailed cultivating me as a fan. As he taught me about the game, I understood more about it and him. In time, I grew to love it and learned to like my father more. Now, in his absence, my love for the game preserves the memory of him, and perpetuates it as a link to our shared past.
Paul K. Stafford holding a ball he caught off the bat of former San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals.
WHAT POSITION DID YOU PLAY THE MOST IN YOUR PLAYING DAYS?
WERE YOU A “FIVE TOOL” PLAYER?
The “five tools” of baseball are fielding, arm accuracy, hitting for average, hitting for power, and speed. I wasn’t “no-tool,” but my toolbox was a bit lacking to say the least. I was an average fielder, with an average (but inaccurate) arm, so I usually played left or right field—presumably because that’s where the manager thought that I could do the least harm. I was an average hitter, with some power and the uncanny ability to hit balls directly at infielders before failing to reach base safely—which is not a recipe for success for an extended playing career. Consequently, I acquired tools on the bench as well—often sitting next to the manager and observing his every strategic maneuver and decision. As my playing focus inevitably shifted to football, track, and tennis, my baseball playing experience and bench time served me well as I often found myself as the player/manager of pick-up games through high school, on intramural college and law school teams, and even for my young lawyers and firm teams.
GROWING UP, WHO WAS THE PLAYER YOU ADMIRED THE MOST AND
I was already a fan of Nolan Ryan when the Astros signed him as a free agent in 1980. I liked that he was from a small Texas town (Alvin) and remained humble throughout his many successes. Shortly after the signing, I met him at an autograph-signing, and soon thereafter, I wrote a book report about him (complete with illustrations). One of the greatest pitchers in the game, he hit two home runs during his career—the first of which I witnessed during his first career start for the Astros. I never saw him pitch in-person for the Rangers, but I usually tuned in. There are other players that I admired and admire, but my youngest daughter’s middle name is Ryan for a reason.
OF ALL THE MLB STADIUMS YOU’VE BEEN TO, WHICH IS YOUR
In Cooperstown, and at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, I recall hearing the whispers of the game’s illustrious history and while visiting the confines of Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and old Yankee Stadium, but my favorite is the old Ballpark at Arlington (formerly Globe Life Park, currently Choctaw Stadium). For me, the former home of the Texas Rangers houses not only several decades of on-field moments, but also memories of a season-ticket-holding father connecting with three young daughters and having them learn about the “great game” while they learned about me and a grandfather they never met. Courtesy in part to the quality time of that venue, those inquisitive voices and curious eyes now belong to three young women who understand baseball and their father a little better and have a connection to their grandfather, which transcends time, place, and sports.
Paul K. Stafford visiting the famed Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
WHAT MIGHT THE CONNECTION BE BETWEEN BASEBALL AND YOUR
CAREER AS AN ATTORNEY? IS THERE A WAY THESE TWO THINGS INTERSECT IN A
Baseball, like the legal profession and life, is a game of contradictions—with long periods of apparent inaction in a relaxing atmosphere, immersed in the constant undercurrent of tension in anticipation of possibilities. Whether it’s baseball or the legal profession, success occurs when preparation meets opportunity, and requires personal and professional accountability and commitment. I’m a former prosecutor, who became a civil litigator—practicing primarily business litigation, with expertise in insurance and intellectual property/technology matters. I’ve been fortunate to represent numerous companies and individuals, including in the sports and entertainment industry. Like them, I constantly strive to be the best that I can be, and I’ve been recognized by my peers for my efforts and accomplishments. Baseball taught me that just because you don’t start out being the best doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aspire to be the best, and you should do everything that you can to improve yourself to be the best that you can be—regardless of recognition. You should also collaborate with others to foster a team culture that promotes progress. As my father said, “the ball will find you,” and “you execute as individuals, but you win or lose as a team.” Hence, baseball is a metaphor for life and the profession. Play ball! TBJ