Baseball always reminds me of summer. My mom was the baseball fan in our house, every game on the radio, Ernie Harwell narrating every hit, every gyration of the ball, every homer and every out. Baseball = sweat, heat, lazy days, a crazy sort of anticipation.
The boy-child attended a birthday party last night that included a game at the local Minor League Baseball stadium. Girl-child and I went along, intending to pay our own way (more on that later), the parents were thrilled to have another grownup along, and with Sergei away, it just made sense for all of us to go.
As we were standing outside buying tickets, we noticed huge blue-grey clouds forming to the west. “Hmmm…it wasn’t supposed to rain,” BirthdayBoy’s grandma commented. “Maybe it’ll go past us.” Ten seconds later, it started sprinkling. We all sort of looked at each other, at the seven 8-year-old boys with baseball gloves ready to catch errant foul balls, jumping and itchy and expecting to be entertained. We all smiled ‘what the hell!’ and stayed in line.
For a rainy Thursday evening, there seemed to be a heckova lot of folks out. BirthdayBoy’s dad finally figured it out. “OH! It’s Thirsty Thursday!” he boomed, and got all grinny and giddy himself. “Cheap beer!”
Oh. Uh, yeah. Beer. I forgot about that part. I kinda sorta think it might be interesting for my children to see drunk grownups fighting for free paraphernalia and yelling obscenities at the pitcher and knocking down small children on their way to get dollar beers and questionable hot dogs. Hmmm. And I grabbed girl-child’s hand and moved closer to boy-child.
I think I forgot to mention that I’m a Freak-Out Mom. The world’s best. I worry and obsess more cleanly and concisely and passionately than any mom I know. Sometimes I’m good at hiding it. Sometimes not. This evening was…a Not.
I handed BirthdayBoy’s dad a $20 for our tickets, and he waved me off. “We’ll settle up later,” he smiled, and plunked down two fifties and 3 twenties in front of the cashier.
We had great seats, behind the home team dugout past first base, up far enough to see all the action. They had a tv screen in the scoreboard and showed Bugs Bunny shorts. For a while. A loooong while. The game that should have started at 7:05 started at 7:45 because…hot dog!...it was RAINING. We sat in the drizzle, our asses all wet, watching the best and worst of the local gentry file in, their clear plastic cups brimming with cheap brew, balancing nachos and full sacks of peanuts and the hands of excited offspring.
BirthdayBoy’s dad asked all the grownups, “Wanna beer?” They all said yes. I said, “No thanks, maybe just a soda?” (Suppressing the urge to say, “You’re all gonna drink and then drive these kids around? Are you freakin’ nuts???)
The kids were good, I mean really good, through the rain and delays and boredom. The seven boys sat in a row, gloves flapping. The adults and the two girl-children (BirthdayBoy has a younger sister) sat behind them. We chatted and laughed and tried to catch acid rain in our mouths. Boy-child would occasionally turn around and catch my eye and smile, quickly, so his friends wouldn’t see, then turn around and bump shoulders with his friends and play “Push me off the bench with your butt.”
The tarp came off the field when the rain let up a bit. We cheered and waved and sang the Star-Spangled Banner with teary eyes and waited for something spectacular to happen.
The visiting team was up first. Their first batter had a strike…a ball…and a screaming homer. Oh. That’s not good. Oh no.
During the first, the second, the third innings, the boys craned their necks when the ball popped up and uuuuuuupppp and waited for it to come to our section…to no avail. They traded seats and told secrets and ate 3 boxes of popcorn like greedy squirrels, like hungry bears, like seven 8-year-old boys having a really good time. The girl-children scarfed down their own box o’corn, compared playground scrapes, talked about Hello Kitty and braids and kindergarten. The Grandma and I talked about school, she recently retired from a 45-year career teaching every grade. The Grandpa sat like a contented Buddha. The parents held hands, all moony and serene.
The costumed bird mascots came out between innings and danced with the players, made fun of them, stole their gloves. Actually, when it comes to cheap entertainment, it wasn’t entirely bad. It was still corny, but it was just…well…just right for the place and the time and the crowd.
After the third inning, they brought out the ‘T-Shirt Cannon’, a PVC pipe affair that propelled rolled-up t-shirts into the crowd. Seeing that they only shot half a dozen into the crowd, our chances of getting one were worse than snagging a fly ball.
So we thought.
We watched one shirt, and a second, get rocketed up …and drop down…on crowds of elbowing fans. The third shot-shirt came up into our section, waaayy over our heads. It’s arc was interrupted at the peak by, what, rain?? more rain?, and it dropped like a brick…5 rows behind us. The drunk-heads under the shirt bobbled it, whoa!...bobbled it some more, it came down 2 rows, THOSE folks bobbled…whoops!......and the t-shirt rolled directly underneath my ass.
I picked that sucker up like I’d just found a winning lotto ticket! “Woo-hoo!”, I screamed, and seven 8-year-old boys and 2 girl-children and 4 adults gazed at me with utter awe and surprise…and stomped, and clapped, and shrieked!
I had a milli-second of not-knowing what to do with the damn thing. Then I motioned to boy-child. “Why don’t you give this to BirthdayBoy as a present?” Boy-child took a few seconds to process that, then said, “As a present from YOU?” “No,” I whispered, “as a present from all of us!”
Boy-child took the rubber-band-bound shot-shirt in his glove and scurried down the row to BirthdayBoy. “Here, Happy Birthday!”, boy-child beamed. BirthdayBoy thought he was kidding. “You want to give me THIS?!” he said, stunned, and looked at me for approval. I smiled and nodded, and BirthdayBoy’s face exploded with joy.
The adults were somehow incredulous that I did that. “Are you sure?” “Oh, my, that’s so nice!” “Really, he can have it?!?”
BirthdayBoy made his way up to our row, shot-shirt-in-gloved-hand, scooted in front of me, wrapped his arm around my neck, and gave me the biggest hug a boy can give his good friend’s mom.
Totally worth sitting in the rain for. Totally.
BirthdayBoy ran to his parents and showed them the shirt, then went to the row behind us and gave me ANOTHER hug from behind. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!”, and ran off to show the other jealous-but-happy-for-him boys.
Around the fifth inning I realized that the adults hadn’t been drinking beer for a while. They were into soda. Freak-Out Mom left the building, and Cool Mom took her place.
And then it started pouring rain. Great sticky buckets of it. Girl-child grabbed my chin and pointed my face up at the banks of lights. “You can see the rain when you look at the lights!” she said. We all decided enough was enough. Time to get the kids dry. Time for pajamas and kisses and goodnights. Each adult took control of several kids. I took girl-child’s hand, and lay my hand on boy-child’s head, and we dashed for the car.
We all met up again at BirthdayBoy’s house for presents. By this time it was 10 p.m., we’re all soaked and exhausted, and in winding-down party mode. Gifts were unwrapped at a frantic pace, oohed and aahed over, and the parents chatted and stared in bewilderment at their children who were so grownup, so tall, so smart and confident. Geez, where did our babies go?? BirthdayBoy unwrapped his new shot-shirt and modeled it. No matter that it came down to his ankles. We all couldn’t care less. He found me and gave me Hug Number Three.
I rounded up boy-child and girl-child from post-gift-jubilation and led them outward, to home, to warm beds and sweet dreams. BirthdayBoy’s dad was near the door, and I reached out my hand with the soggy $20 bill I’d tried to give him earlier. “Here, T, I just wanted to square up with you. Thanks! We had a GREAT time!”
BirthdayBoy’s dad looked down at the BirthdayBoy himself, standing proudly beside him, wearing the shot-shirt retrieved from bobbled hands, through a rainstorm and game delay, through spilled beer and the anticipation of Star Wars toys and secret birthday surprises.
“No”, the dad said, satisfied and proud, as he once again waved off the ticket-and-soda money “we’re square. We’re really, really square.”