Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Day at the Ballpark

As a Mets fan since 1986, I've been to Mets games on both the east and west coasts.  As a native of PA, I've often seen the Mets play in Philadelphia.  This year was like no other as I had four tickets to see the middle game of a 3-game set between the Mets and Phillies on a Saturday afternoon in June.  I planned to take my two sons, the younger attending his first game in a big league stadium.  This was a rite of passage, an acknowledgement that the boys were now old enough to understand and appreciate America's national pastime with its intricacies deeply woven into our culture. 

Though I've made the 125-mile drive from Boiling Springs to Philadelphia many times over the years, I'm always annoyed by the traffic and surprised when the trip takes longer than 2 hours.  We left at 1:00 for the 4:05 opening pitch.  The traffic was brutal.  I wondered where all of these people were hurrying to on a Saturday afternoon?  We arrived in the middle of the first inning.

When the last of our foursome couldn't attend the game, we spent the final days leading up to the game trying to find a replacement.  We didn't find one, so I thought I might teach the boys a life lesson on game day ticket sales and the art of negotiation.  Arriving late, we didn't have time to barter a deal for our last ticket.  When we went through the gate, the group beside us was having trouble getting someone through the gate as his printed ticket wasn't scanning.  We offered to sell them our extra ticket.  They said they didn't have any cash.  They, like us, bravely wore Mets' caps in the sea of Philly red that was rushing through the turnstiles.  As an act of goodwill to a fellow Mets' fan we offered them our extra ticket for free.  They declined.  Consistently cheering for a team that offers hope in the spring only to be let down by mid-summer, Mets' fans have trust issues.

We rode escalators and climbed stairs to our seats in section 416.  It was a decent view along the first base line, albeit we were high enough that we couldn't read the numbers on the players jerseys.  It was hot.  The temperature read 92 degrees, but when the slight wind stopped it felt like it was pushing 100 degrees.  I had to get the boys drinking water.  I had to start drinking water so that I wouldn't exhaust from heat before they did and not be able to take care of them.  Their mom wouldn't had said as much. 

We shuffled out of our row, the Phillies fans surprisingly stood up void of obnoxious comment, allowing us to pass through.  We found an Italian ice stand and waited in line.  We ordered 3 Italian ice and 2 waters for $23.00.  We carried the melting ice up the stairs and shuffled back down the row to our seats.  The frozen snacks cooled us down.  We talked baseball for a bit as the second inning came to a close.  Phillies 2, Mets 0. 

My youngest son had to use the bathroom.  I told him to hold it until we watched the Mets bat.  He held it and they batted.  For his sake, the Mets' produce many 3-up, 3-down half innings, so we were quickly off to the bathroom.  As I was apologizing for making everyone stand in our row so that we could exit again, the older gentleman in the last seat said blankly, "It's fine, I get it."   After visiting the bathroom, we decided to grab dinner.  My youngest son wanted to spend the $10 he saved on a souvenir.  The Home Stand store in front of us only had Phillies gear and he wanted Mets' merchandise.  It looked like there was a nice selection of food vendors and a sports paraphernalia stand beyond left field.  We'd find dinner and shop for a souvenir there.  We started around the stadium.

We arrived at the souvenir stand only to find that it also was filled with only Phillies gear.  My youngest son asked if people in the same family could like different sports teams.  I grudgingly said yes.  He didn't buy anything in the store.  The boys wanted to eat at Harry the K's, an eatery overlooking the third base line, so we waited to be seated.  They weren't seating any longer, so we moved along.  The boys wanted hot dogs, so we waited in line only to find out that they had sold out of hot dogs.  We started back toward our seats.  I grabbed a Tony Luke's cheese steak along the way, tossing the greasy wrapper in the trash and eating the $11 steak sandwich during our walk.  We found another hot dog stand, waited in line, and learned that they, too, were out of hot dogs.  Our youngest said he was hungry.  I said we were trying.  We stopped at a base running game that my oldest son joined.  He came in a close second to a kid a few years older.   We climbed stairs and ventured back to our section.  There happened to be a kids zone food stand close to our seats.  I wasn't sure how we missed that from the start.  We loaded up our arms with hot dogs, fruit snacks, and popcorn.  This trip had taken us three innings.  We heard a lot of cheering from the Phillies fans along the way.  It was the bottom of the 6th.  Phillies 7, Mets 1. 

We settled back into our seats and ate our dinner.  The weather had cooled a bit.  The Mets' bats came alive in the 7th and they scored 4 runs.  The boys and I cheered, "Let's go Mets," a few others joined, and we were all quickly drowned out in boos from the Philly faithful.  The boys said it wasn't nice to boo and I agreed.  We stood and sang for the 7th inning stretch. 

In the 8th inning, I gave the boys the choice to leave the game early or stay late to avoid the mass exodus out of the stadium.  They chose to stay.  "Atta boy," I thought.  We went to get ice cream.  I realized that my $100 budget for the day was 90% exhausted.  I had $10 left for tolls and we needed $8, so we were OK.  I explained to the boys how expensive it was to go to a game.  They asked for more ice cream.  I said no.  We found empty seats a row above our original seats and sat there to watch the top of the 9th.  The Mets' hit a home run.  Phillies 7, Mets 6.  I wondered if I'd see the culmination of an amazin' comeback from the Mets.  I had my doubts.   Hopeful excitement welled up within me, but I pressed it down deep as I suspected my expressed hope might jinx the rally.  The Mets' had a runner on first base with two outs and two strikes.  The Philadelphia crowd rose to their feet and cheered.  The runner took off for second and the shortstop moved to cover.  The batter hit one through the hole at short.  The outfielder bobbled the ball as the runner approached third.  I jumped up, yelled, and frantically waved the runner home.  He must have heard me as he rounded third and beat the throw to tie the game.  The stadium quieted.  The "Let's go Mets" chant revived itself.  Philly fans booed.  My kids stood and yelled, "Go Mets."  I told them to cheer for our team, not against Philly fan as Philly fan can be unruly.  I told the boys that I was glad that we chose to stay or we might have missed this great baseball.  I'd never been to a game that went extra innings and wondered silently how long we'd stay.  I pictured the Sportscenter highlights from a marathon game with only few fans left in the stadium.  That would be us, I thought.  In the bottom of the 9th inning, a pinch hitter for the Phillies took the second pitch to the left field seats for a walk-off home run.  Phillies won, 8-7.  We sat in our seats watching the post game hoopla until the 20-year-old attendance told us he had to clear the section. 

We made our way out of the stadium, defeated.  This is a walk I've made many times.  A large round man with the Mets' TV crew told us it was the third greatest comeback in Mets' history.  Outside the stadium, a vendor was selling Phillies yearbooks and a Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz bobblehead for $10.  My youngest son said this was the souvenir that he wanted and it fell right within his price range.  Knowing that I'd have to make another stop at the ATM on the way home, I pulled out my final $10 and paid the man.  When we got in the car, my youngest son said, "No offense, Dad, but I kind of the like the Phillies."  I almost bit straight through my tongue as I told him that it was OK.  "You can like the Phillies," I said.  "But I think the Phillies are a bunch of stink pots."  My oldest son laughed.  They argued over whether the Phillies are stink pots or not.  I said that we should start calling my youngest son Chooch.  He now had the bobble head and he looks like a bit of a Chooch.  My oldest agreed.  "Hey," he said to his brother, "Let's go play Chooch and Ladders."  We laughed. 

The 3-hour drive home included a stop at a rest area that only had port-a-potties because their sewer line had broken.  Luckily, we only needed to stop to get an additional $10 from the ATM for tolls. 
We got home at 11:00 p.m.  The boys were excited to be up so late.  Then the tiredness kicked in and tantrums ensued.  I took a shower.

The day was hot, chaotic, overpriced, and my team lost.  It was one of the best days of my life.

Psalm 127:3 Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him.


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