My birthday meant it was time for the World Series.
With a dad who loved baseball, every fall as the air cooled and the leaves turned vibrant hues of red and orange, I turned another year older and the World Series took over our television.
One year we spent the evening, after cake and presents, sitting on the floor watching baseball on my actual birthday. It was so anti-climatic it almost hurt. As a kid, birthdays are a big deal (sage advice, write that down…) and I had to watch a really boring baseball game? Super lame. (Side note: since then baseball’s season has been extended for love of money, um, I mean, love of the game well past my October 19th birthday.)
On Sunday we went to an Indians game, our city’s minor league baseball team that serves as a farm team for the Pittsburgh Pirates, at beautiful Victory Field. Our stadium is stunning, a source of pride for our whole city. Plus, it’s only about ten minutes from our house so we get to enjoy it often and my girls get to grow up going to baseball games like every child should.
I grew up going to baseball games, traveling to Cincinnati to watch the Reds with my dad or heading downtown to the old Indian’s ballpark, Bush Stadium, with its ivy-covered walls and actual teepee where an Indian sat, coming out whenever the Indians hit a home run to do a little rain dance. Shockingly, that politically incorrect part of the team celebration didn’t make it to the new stadium when the Indians moved in the mid-90s.
A lot of my childhood revolved around baseball.
Once we drove two hours to a Cincinnati mall to wait in line for a few more hours to meet my dad’s hero, Johnny Bench. Dad was a catcher in high school and Bench was his idol.
Baseball, like so many Americans, is in my blood. So as we sat at the game last weekend, I was a little worried–worried that my daughters were missing the point, missing the tradition, missing the nostalgia.
They weren’t missing the hotdogs, pretzels, ice cream, stuffed baseballs, Gatorade, and the million other things you can buy at the park, but they weren’t really watching the game. Sure, they’re only four and six, but they should be watching the batter, waiting mitt-poised for a foul ball, heckling the other team’s pitcher, and singing loudly during the seventh inning stretch.
When I was younger attending games with my dad, he made it a point to show us how to keep score in the program, marking balls and strikes, walks and doubles. Understanding the player’s stats and who was on deck was part of the magic that kept things interesting. As I looked around section 204 on Sunday, I was worried that no one was keeping the book. No little kid in a too-big hat was trying to keep up with the pitches as his dad explained the count. No little girls were reading the stats of the relief pitcher loudly to her family as he strolled to the mound.
I mourned a little for childhood, for my daughters’ and for my own.
One year, returning from a Reds’ game in Cincinnati, we drove by a van full of college guys. One of them had their butt hanging out the old-school van window. Being the naive and slightly slow child that I was, I informed my parents that “some guy was pooping out the window” because why else would you drive down the interstate with your butt hanging out the window unless you had to go number two really bad?
A few years later I would learn the beauty of a good drive-by mooning.
How would my daughters learn these great American past times if all they cared about was lemon shakeups and hot fudge sundaes in mini baseball helmets?
I was letting my children down. I was failing them as a parent.
But then, in the middle of the fifth, I happened to hear a female voice behind me announcing the batting average of the player coming up to bat. Then I heard two little boy voices repeat the number and start the count as he swung and missed the first pitch. Cautiously, I turned around.
My childhood was redeemed.
There in row O sat a mom with her two young boys, keeping the book. She had her pencil sharpened and the two boys held matching ones in their grubby little hands. They were all wearing Indians hats and attentively tracking the players, the pitches, and the runs.
It took everything I had not to jump over my seat and hug them.
I might have gotten a little teary-eyed as I gave a respectful nod to the lady behind me teaching her boys the finer things about visiting a ball park with your kids and engaging in the game.
What a great American past time.