I love spring. Warm air and cool breezes. My annual death match with tree pollen.
And baseball. I love me some baseball.
As a Colorado Rockies fan, the hope of being just 1.5 games out of first place, and a summer of possibilities ahead is enough to sustain me. Spring is that time between my NCAA bracket’s implosion and the Rockies’ fall from postseason contention.
As a dad, some of my favorite moments have baseball undertones. We’re soccer players and soccer coaches in my family, but when the cleats come off, nothing beats a day at the ballpark.
Here are five great memories that hold hallowed ground in my Hall of Fame of Dad Moments.
A kid, ball cap pulled on tight, ponytail out back, mitt under arm, ready for a foul ball, a mascot visit and ice cream in a baseball hat … that’s what spring’s all about.
1. Ice cream in a baseball hat
Elise’s first draw to a ballpark would be food. Surprised? The apple pie doesn’t fall far from the bakery. A man’s first baseball game as Dad comes with expectations:
- Your child on your shoulders as the national anthem is sung
- Handing your kid the foul ball dad just snagged with a nifty catch
- Hitting the concession stand before the third inning (or is this just me?)
Elise was more focused: She wanted “ice cream, in a baseball hat.” We still get it every time we hit the ballpark. Just like a burger hot off the grill or cookies fresh out of the oven, there’s just something about ice cream in a baseball hat.
And we still have the hat with the angry warthog on it.
2. Sweetheart of the Game
The RiverDogs are kings of promotion: Vasectomy giveaways, a record-setting day of zero attendance, and Pregnant Ladies Day, to which I took Lynn when Elise was still in utero. (So I guess the Warthogs game wasn’t technically Elise’s first game.)
Rather than enter the dizzy-bat contest, I slipped Elise’s name into the slot for “Sweetheart of the Game.” The winner gets a visit from Charlie T. RiverDog, bouquet of flowers in tow. When the mangy mascot made his way to our section, Elise gave that sweet gap-toothed 4-year-old smile I love.
Definitely better than a dizzy-bat race.
3. The Catch
My banner moments in athletics can fit in one of those ice cream baseball hats. With two scoops of ice cream in it.
Before we could even settle into our seats at Chattanooga’s AT&T stadium, the baseball gods called my number. Yeah, the same guy who made two errors in an inning in high school to help his team to an embarrassing forfeit. The dude who could grab a bat and stop a rally. Every.single.time.
This time, lightning struck in the form of a screaming foul ball, headed toward my still-settling-in family, including baby Grace on my left hip. I spun around with my gloved right hand and snagged the screaming liner, keeping baby upright and all the kidlets safe and sound.
Disclaimer: This section is based on a true story.
4. “How do you score a game, dad?”
The right of passage to teach your child to score a baseball game is not exclusively for boys.
I don’t remember how we wound up with a scorecard, but I’m glad we did. Not knowing how much interest Marie would show, I demonstrated the art of scoring a baseball game, a blend of universal symbols and personalized touches. By the second inning, Marie asked, “can I do it this time?”
The rest was beautiful, from Marie’s declaration that the next batter had reached the last two times with singles, to asking why they use a K to signify a strikeout. As we hunkered down to wait out a rain delay, Marie let the rain fall on her head and kept the scorecard dry under her jacket.
Nevermind we got to see young star Jose Fernandez pitch from the front row that day. Marie taking over for me on the scorecard was the winning hit.
5. A beer at the ballpark
When I was a kid, my dad bought tickets to a major-league exhibition at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, between the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees. The Class AAA Denver Zephyrs were the only game in town, so this big-league matchup was the ticket.
I actually took photos of the tickets, I was so geeked to go.
Too young to hate the yankees yet, I pulled trading cards from my collection of both teams. I mentally traced the paces of autograph-seeking strategy.
As luck – and Colorado weather in April – would have it, the game got snowed out when a blizzard hit Denver the day before.
Dad did take me to a ballgame, though. We saw the Cubs’ Greg Maddux and Braves’ Tom Glavine duel on a steamy Sunday afternoon at old Fulton-County Stadium in Atlanta.
We saw Terry Pendleton’s rare ejection from a game, and sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with famous Cubs announcer Harry Caray during the seventh-inning stretch.
(“He never does that for road games!” a Cubs fan in the row behind us said.)
The grass looked greener than on TV, the outfield much more vast. The crack of the bat reverberrated more crisply than I’d ever heard it. I watched every pitch and asked my dad questions and bought a Braves cap to always remember the day.
I also bought my dad a beer, for taking me. See, I was in college before I got to a baseball game with my pop. And it made me feel like a kid again.
It could have been the Cracker Jacks, or maybe the peanuts, or even the ice cream in a baseball hat. Something about a ballgame with your pop can make you feel like a kid, no matter how old you are.
I hope my sweethearts of the game always feel that way.