For this story, I've chosen my 10-year-old son as the omniscient narrator.
When you wake up on a Thursday morning in July, the good news is: you will not be going to school if you’re 10.
The fact is, in the summer, you can—barring a decent parent’s intervention—easily waste a whole morning watching endless episodes of Kickin’ It, Kick Buttowski and other televised fun that surely kicks more butt than going to school.
Also, you will not have to tuck in your shirt, which is a truly incredible freedom, if you think about it. Neither will you have to take a test that resembles a worksheet that resembles a whiteboard. Nor will you have to eat lunch under a regime of older women whose mommy days are behind them (but they are still playing mommy!).
Anyway, I’m excited for my little brother: this will be his first time to see a Major League Baseball game in person—and in our nation’s capital no less. The surprising Washington Nationals are facing the not-so-amazing New York Mets, my dad’s favorite team since he was my age, when Dwight Gooden was a teenager, when Van Halen ruled, he tells me.
Easily the best part of road-tripping with dad is: You are more inclined to get what is normally officially prohibited. You know, devilish things like candy, Doritos, soda, and, if you’re lucky, soda again. On this occasion, because the game’s start time was 12:35 and because dad was hyped beyond belief (first MLB game with both sons!), we were downing cans of orange and grape Sunkist by mid-morning—with no mom or school lunch mommies in sight.
On a separate note, you really have to hand it to Wendy’s: their food goes sublimely with soda. (We’re studying adverbs in the 5th grade; I hope you appreciate that one.) You also have to hand it to the Washington Monument: it’s kind of boring at first, when you look at its dull color and simple shape, but, I’ll admit, something in my heart did flutter as we drove by that large missile pointing at the sky.
For dad, the best games are not merely (adverbs, baby!) the ones played in stadiums. They are the ones that involve finding a killer-cheap parking spot close to the stadium—a spot that will save the children from his angry speech about Jayson Werth’s enormous salary. Bloated might be another good word that fits here.
This time around, dad stepped up his game. As we made our way from the parking lot to the ballpark, he attempted to buy tickets from a stranger on the street. I’ve seen it done before, and what we witnessed next was an impressive dance between two grown men.
Pete had a warm smile, of course. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and he seemed to be in his 50s. I’m only 10, so honestly, I know very little about most jobs. However, when you’re studying math in elementary school, you never imagine that Pete’s job might be a pretty cool practical application.
Dad almost blew it with Pete, though. Pete offered us three tickets in the left-field stands, near the foul pole, at $20 per ticket. My clever, deal-seeking dad—“I’ve only got $50 in my wallet”—thought he could out-maneuver an older man in a Hawaiian shirt. But when it was Pete’s turn to dance, he didn’t budge. Not even a little two-step. So we walked away and tried to find “a good deal” at the Nationals box office.
Fifteen minutes later, dad caved. We were back on the streets, desperate as all get out, tracking down this guy Pete. He was the man with the tickets. I will say: the Hawaiian shirt ended up being very helpful in this regard.
I haven’t had a chance to mention it yet, but R.A. Dickey, the Mets phenomenal knuckleballer, was pitching. Once in the ballpark, courtesy of Pete, my brother and I were hanging out at the left-field wall, gazing toward the outfield grass in wonder. There he was—the soon-to-be 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner. Dickey was warming up and taunting everyone in the stadium by throwing perfect soft-toss knuckleballs to the Mets catcher, Josh Something, a hundred feet away.
As I thought about it later, the only thing that could’ve made the moment better, perhaps, was a nice cold soda. Followed by another soda. It was nearly 100 degrees, after all, in the middle of the summer. But dad said we needed to wait until at least the 4th inning. You don’t always get what you pray for in the 1st inning, I suppose.
But then, something happened that would truly surpass any childhood craving for carbonated sugared beverages. You would not believe it if I told you, which I will.
First, the Mets third-baseman David Wright slammed a home run in the top of the first. Second, the Nationals fan who caught the ball in the centerfield seats threw it back onto the field, like an absolute idiot. Third, Michael Morse, the Nationals leftfielder, picked it up and casually tossed it into the left-field bullpen.
Then, in the middle of the first, a Mets relief pitcher was playing catch with the Mets leftfielder down in front of us by the outfield wall. As the Mets pitcher headed back to the bullpen, he launched the ball—with no exact sense of purpose—into the stands. Suddenly I heard my dad yell, “I think it’s coming right at us.”
You have no idea how it felt—like a surge of electricity—when dad made that catch.It was probably more inspiring than R.A. Dickey, who’s got a tremendous story.
Dad handed the ball to me and my little brother. As we looked over the ball, in curious disbelief, we noticed the distinctive wood-grain marks on it. Was this the very ball that Wright had crushed for the home run? In that moment everything else seemed smaller, and we grew bigger.
The Mets went on to win the game, 9-5, in the seriously blazing sun. Wright hit a second home run. We bought some sodas and enjoyed them to our hearts’ content. We even got Slurpees from 7-Eleven on the way home, which mom later thought was a bit excessive. And we talked and talked about Pete and his tickets—about where you sit, about fate and chance, about going to an MLB game on a Thursday afternoon and coming home with a home-run ball.
It’s not fair at all. I know. You can’t compare this day to a regular school day, or any other day.