A daughter rekindles her father’s love for baseball.
We were so close to the players, you could almost touch them. It had been at least a dozen years since my last baseball game. The setting sun was bright and splashed the upper decks of San Diego’s Petco Park as the stadium lights were turned on. We found ourselves betwixt and between both natural and artificial light. These young men, these baseball players, loosened up on the infield and around the batting cage. In the pre-game hoopla, there were boys and girls, winners of some contest or another, on the field shaking hands with the players, seeking out autographs, a news crew setting up; the color guard and singers all ready to usher in the Boys of Summer. We tucked in our feet letting other spectators in the row squeeze past us and take their seats. If they spilled a few drops of beer, some popcorn on us, well that was OK. It was all part of the experience.
This was perhaps the closest seat from which I had ever watched a baseball game. Give credit to my daughter, Alexa, since her company had provided her and a guest (her Dad) tickets for the game against the San Francisco Giants. We were sitting in the front row of the field boxes, slightly favoring the third base line from home plate. As a child, a neighbor had taken me and his son to Yankee Stadium where we sat by first base and watched the Yankees host the Oakland Athletics—they of the blinding yellow and green uniforms. My eyes were as wide as saucers then but I still felt the excitement and butterflies of the first pitch this San Diego night. The pitcher, a southpaw, reached back and sent a “heater” down the middle of the plate. The ball thudded into the catcher’s mitt like a muffled explosion—strike one!
How had I lost contact with baseball over the years? Maybe this thing called ‘life’ kept getting in the way. Maybe I bought into the argument the game had become a bit too slow. Whatever it was, I was sorry I had not kept in touch. I suddenly saw the young men on the field not as lofty heroes from my childhood but mere mortals who had worked very hard to achieve their dreams. I felt proud of them—the Mexican third baseman, the Venezuelan pitcher, the American catcher and second basemen. I was rooting for all of them this night.
The game started off explosively for the Giants when the handsome second baseman (my daughter’s opinion) with the last name d’Arnaud, sent a towering fly ball over the wall in left. Just like that, the Giants were up 3-0. But the Padres were not out of it and over several innings they chiseled away at the Giant lead. By the sixth inning, the Padres were down only a run. Anything could happen.
The players were likeable—one had long hair, a beard and could have easily been mistaken for a steel worker. Another kid nicknamed “Cutch,” once famous for his dreadlocks, had altered his appearance and looked like he could step into any corporate boardroom. Cutch had an effortless swing, made consistent contact with the ball and was a serious threat on the bases. When he got on base and began to lean toward second, you felt the tension—the cat and mouse game with the pitcher. I began to feel the game creeping back into my blood.
Turning to my daughter I surprisingly shared a piece of my childhood, “I wasn’t half bad at this game. I played for a Little League team in Brooklyn (NY) called Good Shepherd. We won the CYO New York City championship by shutting out the Queens champs, St. Mel’s, 6-0. I played right field and could always get a single or move a player over with a bunt.”
“Really?” she seemed impressed. ‘What’s a bunt?”
“I loved the game. I began as a Mets fan, witnessed their transformation from the “Amazin Mets” to the “Miracle Mets” in 1969, followed the Giants when they had the “Willies”—Mays and McCovey–and finally found a home with the Yankees. My great-uncle George bought me a Willie Mays glove and Uncle Al “the Kiddies Pal” took me to a Hermann’s Sporting Goods store where he purchased my first pair of baseball cleats…shoes which I polished and spit-shined before every game.”
Her smile widened; I found the conversation therapeutic.
During the seventh inning stretch, the announcer asked the crowd to stand and sing, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” I belted out my finest rendition and left my daughter giggling. She was enjoying my own transformation on this special night.
“It’s a tradition Grandpa handed down to us,” I explained.
I couldn’t have asked for anything more—an exciting game being played under the lights in the company of my daughter. I had eaten my “dog” but, now a Senior citizen, I passed on the beer and opted for the diet Coke.
We left at the end of seven innings with the Padres still down by one. Alexa pleaded with me to stay longer saying we might miss something. But I reminded her that she had work in the morning and I still needed to drive back to Los Angeles.
“Thanks,” she said, “for the daddy-daughter time.”
“Thank you, Alexa, for bringing me back to this game.”
On the drive home, I recalled the baseball diamonds in Brooklyn’s Marine Park, the breeze rustling the maple and oak leaves, the Louisville slugger on my shoulder, the pitcher staring me down from the mound. I looked toward the third base line at my coach, Old Pete, as he reached to his belt for the signal. It was time to lay down a bunt and move our guy over from second to third. I was smiling again.
PS. Oh, and by the way, Alexa was right. Something did happen after we left. The Padres tied it in the eighth only to fall in 12 innings to the Giants by a score of 5-3. How exciting!