“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen as Leonard Zelig.
Today is my second favorite holiday. Easter is first (more on that later). Opening Day of baseball season is second. Our family loves the game. I often joke that my husband decided to marry me when he realized I was not only willing to sit through a 9 inning baseball game, but that I enjoyed sitting through a 9 inning baseball game. It’s actually probably more true than not though. Many of my favorite memories with Lloyd have been surrounding baseball games. We remember, with fondness, watching the Mariners play in the Kingdome, with the roughly other 1,000 fans there in the early 90’s. Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was at a time when the team was not enjoying much success or record attendance. I met Lloyd’s sister for the first time in the Kingdome. She was in town and met us there for a game. I also met my sister-in-law for the first time in the Kingdome. Lloyd’s brother had just begun dating her and we went to a game together. As a matter of fact, the first time my step-mother met Lloyd was at Washington State University during Mom’s weekend in 1992. We went to a WSU baseball game. Baseball is part of our relational DNA.
We loved the M’s. I still remember the 1994 lineup. We knew before a swing was even finished that Jr was going to hit it out of the park. I can’t think of Jay Buhner without hearing his batter up song in my mind – “Bad to the Bone”. It wasn’t a banner year for the M’s – far from it, but we could tell they were on the brink. The next year, we went to Spring Training in Arizona and before it was over, we’d decided to move. We returned to Washington, packed up everything we owned — which at the time fit into a small U-Haul trailor — and hit the road. That year, the Mariners won the division. Watching Edgar Martinez hit for a double that drove Ken Griffey, Jr home for the win in the 11th inning of Game 5 was sweet…but sweeter still was that it was against the Yankees. My, oh my. To this day, I can’t sing “Take me out to the Ballgame” without immediately launching in to “Louie Louie”.
Arizona was a great place to be a baseball fan. Spring training games were a blast to attend and we could always count on visitors during that time. I remember taking a weekend trip to Tucson to watch the Colorado Rockies play — I had just found out I was pregnant with our son. In the fall, we could go to Fall League games, paying a mere $5 to see top prospects who could go on to be major league stars. This was baseball at it’s best because the players were there to play hard and get the attention of baseball scouts and team executives.
As much as we enjoyed the baseball that Arizona had to offer, we missed going to major league games and we did our best to attend other games whenever we could. In 1997, I surprised Lloyd for his birthday and took him to see his favorite team, the LA Dodgers. We had a great time and were so in awe of the stadium that had such history (and, at the time, only one advertiser). It was major league baseball at it’s most authentic.
In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks arrived on the scene. Not only we were able to be at the inagural game, we watched it from the pool at what was then BankOne Ballpark. While I am not a huge fan of what I like to call “Theme park” stadiums, I do have an affinity for this particular facility. I think it’s because of all of the memories attached to attending the games. I remember the people I was with more than the players on the field, but that was okay — they were still among some of my favorite memories. Our son attended his first major league baseball game in this stadium, wearing the first piece of clothing I bought when I found out I was pregnant — an AZ Diamondbacks onsie. We moved away in 2001, the year the Diamonbacks won the World Series (are you catching the theme here?) and while I still have a soft spot for the D-Backs, I don’t really follow them and I still can’t quite reconcile the “Sedona Red” color scheme.
We moved back to Washington in 2002 and since we lived in Olympia, it was harder to attend games on a regular basis. We went to a couple of games a year. We always tried to hit the opening series and it’s a tradition to take Lloyd to a game on Father’s Day. In 2008, we had to buy a fleece hat for Jake on Opening Day because it snowed.
The first gift Lloyd bought for our son was a t-ball mitt. Jake was just born, only 3 pounds. He fit inside of it. Lloyd had dreams of teaching Jake to play and coaching his little league team. When he was in Kindergarten, we promptly signed him up for T-Ball, but he was totally disinterested. He would kneel down in the outfield and write music in the dirt. He didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it. So, we backed off. We can’t make our kids be who we want them to be. We just can’t. Jake would tolerate the couple of games we went to a year for his dad’s sake. He was excited when we surprised Lloyd for his 40th birthday with a trip to Boston. We had tickets to see the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway. This was bucket list stuff, folks. I will never forget the look on Lloyd’s face as he walked up the ramp to get his first look at the field. Priceless. But, Jake didn’t fully appreciate the significance. And, he wasn’t a fan of the game. He never watched games on TV and didn’t even show much interest at Lloyd’s softball league games.
Then came 2010. We went on vacation to Washington DC for spring break with our friends and got tickets for Game 3 of the National’s opening series against Philly. We had great tickets and it was a beautiful day. Sitting in the seats with a cold beer was a welcome change from the miles and miles of walking we had been doing for several days. The Phillies were fresh off of two years of World Series appearances and the Nationals were, well, not that good. A win by the Phillies would sweep the Nationals in this series. The game was tied in the 7th, when Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate, doubled to right and drove in the tie-breaking run. The Nationals managed to hold back the Phillies and win the game. The crowd went wild and a fan was born. Even though we had no ties to Washington DC and the idea of moving here was the furthest thing from our minds, Jake was drawn in by that moment, that player, that team and by the game itself.
It’s hard not to think that the trip here that spring was preparing us for the move that God was about to have us make. When the job came up, we could picture the city, we could see ourselves here and as small as it may seem, Jake was a Nationals fan. But, that small thing gave him something to talk about with the boys at the lunchroom table and a connection to his new home. He knows the players, studies the stats, collects the cards, makes up games in his head and calls them in the shower and dreams of being a major league short stop. He’s developed a love for the game that is all is own, just like his dad. And, it gives them a special connection. They are anticipating their eventual trip to Cooperstown to celebrate the inaguration of Ken Griffey, Jr into the Hall of Fame. They eagerly await the announcement of the location 2013 All-Star Game. They cheered the extension of Ryan Zimmerman’s contract and they anticipate watching Bryce Harper play in the majors. Just as it was with 1994 Mariners, we see a team on the brink of something big. This may not be the year, but it’s getting close. And, the team is a ton of fun to watch.
This morning, the Mariners and the A’s opened the MLB 2012 season in Japan. Jake was up earlier than he is on Christmas day to try and watch the game. Unfortunately, it was tape delayed and wouldn’t begin until 9am EST, so he was following the box scores on MLB.com. The M’s won 3-1 in the 11th. And, so begins another exciting year. We’re looking forward to the National’s home opener on April 12th when we have begun a tradition of allowing Jake to miss school for the game. We’ll help the Nats “take back the park” against the Phillies in May. We will be there on Father’s Day to cheer them on as they play the Yankees for the first time ever in National’s Park. We’ll have a friendly rivalry with our Chicago friends as we celebrate their daughter’s first birthday at the ballpark on Labor Day when the Nats take on the Cubs. And, then we’ll celebrate our son’s 13th birthday, a day late, when the Dodgers come to town. We hope to add a couple of more ballparks to our list this summer as well, as we try to catch games in Colorado and Pennsylvania. And, then there will be the days when we spontaneously decide catch a game because it just seems like the best idea. Because really, isn’t a baseball game on a summer day always the best idea?
Happy Opening Day. Let’s play ball.
You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.