Yes, baseball is America’s pastime, despite the fact that it currently lags in popularity behind about eight other sports, reality TV shows and yoga.
But who am I to buck a cliche. I love baseball as much as is federally mandated, if not more. Granted, I haven’t been to a Major League game in nearly 20 years, but I have a good reason for that. The main reason I haven’t been back: It’s tough to top my last game: That game was on Oc. 28, 1995, when my dad and I saw the Braves win the World Series. My wife (then-girlfriend) was also at the game with her dad. I challenge you to top watching your team win the World Series with your dad.
But I still love the game, and we’ve gone to some minor league games. Our most recent one occurred when my wife was out of town. I picked the kids up from school and told them that if they finished their homework and laid out their clothes for the next day, I had a surprise adventure waiting for them. Of course, always looking to take a big bite of life, they had some grand ideas of what the adventure was, to the point where I finally had to prohibit any more wild guesses lest we get into speculation of dolphin riding or something.
By 5:30, they had done their tasks, and we hopped in the car. As we pulled into the stadium parking lot, the kids both realized that we were, in fact, at a baseball stadium — Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, home of the Single A Charleston River Dogs. While not exactly dolphin riding, they seemed pleased.
For those of you who have never been to a minor league game, I believe that’s what we are really thinking about when we talking about baseball being so American. When you walk in the stadium, your senses are overwhelmed with the number of beer vendors and the smell of the fair-style fried food. This is what the American section at Epcot should look like.
We took our seats in the general admission area, which was the section on the left field side. I strategically placed the kids for maximum foul ball retrieval potential and minimum sibling incidental kicking. Allie was on my right, and Parker was on my left, right at the end of a row. I told him I wanted him there, lest a foul ball start rattling around the seats. He would be able to hop up and scamper for the prize like the little Capuchin monkey that he is. My daughter asked what would happen if a line drive came our way. “Catch it, “ I said. “You catch it,” she replied, with equal parts pleading and demanding.
My son asked me what the likelihood of a foul ball our direction was. The game had just started and I began giving him a lengthy explanation of lefties vs. righties and wind and offspeed pitches and runners on base and all kind of lengthy over explanation that dads have mastered to make us sound like fountains of information. The first batter was out, and the second batter stepped to the plate. He was a small left-hander. I was explaining more detailed information about situational hitting and, for some reason, discussions of what a Texas Leaguer is, when the batter swung late on a fastball and sent it our way.
I stood up, planning on getting in just the right position should it come near us. A single bare-handed grab would further my status as epic father of awesomeness. I shuffled my feet, getting set and, just as I readied to jump and make the snag, I realized I would have to jump about 10 feet in the air. The ball sailed over us and bounced into some empty seats about 10 rows back.
It bounced high in the air, then down to a ramp and out of sight. That was OK, though, because my son was also already out of sight, as he had gone into monkey mode and, I am guessing, jumped the rail to get toward the concourse. Based on how fast he disappeared, he either did that or went Terminator 2 and just walked through the metal.
A few seconds later, he emerged, a big grin on his face and a ball held high in the air. Second batter, and he had a foul ball. We didn’t get any more foul balls our way that game, and since the season is almost over, we’ll probably have to wait until next year for any more minor league fun. Granted, I could see us going to a Braves game. But only for a World Series game 7 win for the Braves. It’s the only way to top 1995.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.