Saturday, June 7, 2008

I'll Stop the World and Melt With You

How did we spend the first 90+ degree day of 2008? At the beach? By the pool? Sipping iced tea inside with the air conditioner blasting? Those are all excellent options, but not the answer to the question. No, we chose to spend it with more than 50,000 of our closest friends, at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx. That's right, we took Peanut, our 15 month-old who can't sit still for more than six seconds and has started to throw inconsolable tantrums when she doesn't get her way, to a Yankees game in the boiling heat.

Batter Up!

We can't control the weather, so that wasn't going to stop us. And being that we had already purchased the overpriced tickets during this "Final Season" at Yankee Stadium, there was no going back. (I love the Yankees, but they're bleeding their fans dry with how expensive it is to see a ballgame.)

Play Ball!
There are certain watershed moments in the life of a new dad. You have the moment your child is born, followed quickly by the moment you first hold her. Then there are the little moments: the smiles, hugs, first steps.

But I will always remember the look on my daughter's face the first time she made her way up that tunnel and absorbed the glory and majesty of Yankee Stadium. Seeing it in HD is awesome, but still doesn't hold a candle to the real thing. They don't call it the Cathedral of Baseball for nothing. I've been there probably hundreds of times now, and I still get goose bumps when I see that bright green Kentucky bluegrass contrasted against that royal blue outfield wall. And when I saw Peanut's wide eyes and toothy smile as she gazed upon that vaguely familiar setting that routinely serves as a muted backdrop on the 42-inch LCD television screen in our living room, I knew that she knew she was someplace special. That moment will stay with me forever.

It is a rite of passage: bringing your child to his or her first ballgame. Mine was in 1987. The ageless and armless Tommy John was on the mound for the Yankees against Oakland. Reggie Jackson was playing for the A's that year and it was his last game at the Stadium. We kept chanting "Reg-gie Reg-gie" because Jackson was not in the starting lineup. They kept showing a shot of him, sitting on the bench in the dugout, on the big screen on the scoreboard. Alas, they never put Reggie in the game. But Don Mattingly did score the winning run in the 10th inning, and shortly thereafter, Frank Sinatra started singing "New York, New York." That night I fell in love for the first time. I was in love with Yankee Stadium.

I was 12 years old, which is a lifetime (in parent years) away from 15 months. But Peanut was probably better behaved during her first game than I was during mine. Forget the peanuts and cracker jacks. This kid was happy with goldfish and sippy cups. Not only did the roar of the crowd not phase her, she joined in. When the Yankees did something well, she would look around at the raucous crowd, realize what was happening, smile, and then start clapping and laughing herself. It was almost as if she thought everyone was applauding for her. Simply amazing. The heat, the crowd, the performance of the team on the field, nothing cold spoil her good time.

When it got too hot, we went to the Yankees Clubhouse Store. What better place to hang out than somewhere to buy things for me? As I chased her through one of the window displays, I wondered to myself, "How many times have I caused a scene inside this Stadium, with my obnoxious mouth and/or my drunken shenanigans?" Now I was causing a scene in a different way. Scurrying after my daughter through the store, while fans and employees looked on in amusement as the Yankees rallied on the TV screens hung above us.

The Yankees scored 12 runs that day. I was in my seat for four of them. Didn't matter. I was in my seat for that timeless gag, the 'spoon game.' That's where Peanut, for an inning and a half, took a spoon out of her mouth and put it in mine, then took it out of mine, and put it in hers. Back and forth, like the tally on the scoreboard.

The Yankees staged another trademark 9th inning rally, beating Kansas City. But since Peanut's inevitable meltdown occured in the 8th, we were on the subway and halfway to midtown when it happened. This was a day of firsts. My daughter's first Yankees game, and the first time I ever left one before the final out - or the winning run - was recorded. Fatherhood has a way of giving you a whole new perspective on the things you've loved your whole life. Baseball's never been so much fun, and yet so unimportant.

Farewell, old ballpark. While I'll be sure to visit again before the Final Season is over, I just wanted to say, "thanks for the memories." Great and small.

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