SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why We Go To The Ballpark

Last Saturday night marked the final day of my daughter's week-long birthday celebration -- only she didn't know it. She figured that after a party with her friends, an exchange of presents within the family, a visit from relatives and a shopping trip with her grandmother that her birthday was, well, over. It wasn't that she was overly indulged, but overall it was a nice birthday.

It's just that there were a few surprises left.

We went to Citizens Bank Park last Saturday night to watch the Phillies play the Reds. We got to the park early, ate, and then I walked both kids down near the Phillies' dugout to try to get autographs (my wife stayed behind in the seats and watched us from afar). Most of you who have been to a baseball stadium know that it's not an easy endeavor to get an autograph before a game. The dugout itself is as formidable as the average NFL offensive line -- you literally have to lean up against it, call out a player's name, and hope that he'll autograph what you have with you -- and it protects baseball players better than even the Patriots' O-Line guards Tom Brady. That night, many fans hung out near the dugout, and outside of a lucky fan who got the autograph of reserve infielder Danny Sandoval, no one else got an autograph and few players emerged (when they did, they looked like prairie dogs at the zoo, stuck their heads out and then quickly put them back into the dugout). Rookie Fabio Castro was next to Sandoval but didn't sign, and Pat Burrell emerged, looked back at the fans with an empty stare, and then went back into the dugout. Ryan Howard emerged to sign for the honorary bat people of the night, but there was no way we'd get close to him -- or anyone else for that matter. I had counseled the kids ahead of time that this was the likely result, that there are tons of demands on players, and that most people don't want to be interrupted when they're going about their work routines.

The autograph search, though, was simply a distraction. There was better stuff in store.

Earlier, after I ushered my wife and kids to our seats, I excused myself to go to the birthday check-in station right behind home plate on the lower concourse. I told the person there that I had signed up for the "Phun Pack", and, as part of that pack, I was given a blue denim Phillies' cap with a retro "P" on it, the type that the Mike Schmidt teams wore (the "P", that is, and not the hat). I walked back to our seats and flipped it to my daughter.

"Happy birthday," I said. "See, I told you I'd get you a hat." This was her first Phillies' hat. I purchased her brother's first hat -- which he still wears, at his first Major League game, which I blogged about here two years ago.

My daughter smiled widely -- she liked the hat. A lot. I adjusted it and then she pulled her pony tail through it and wore it proudly.

After our hanging out near the dugout, we went back to our seats, and I quickly wrote down the lineups in our "family scorebook." A friend who is a loyal reader told me that he purchased a standard scorebook over 10 years ago, and his family made it a point of taking it with them to every game they attended -- whether Major League or Minor League, whether involving a Phillies' affiliate or not. He said that over time it has proven to be wonderful chronicle of the games they attended together, so I took his advice and have begun this ritual for our family.

The game started with a bang (unfortunately the Phillies would end up losing the game after the usually reliable Tom Gordon gave up the go-ahead runs in the top of the ninth), with David Dellucci hitting a home run out of the #2 spot to give the Phillies a 2-0 league in the bottom of the first. During the top of the third, my wife and daughter were engulfed in a conversation, and I saw a college kid wearing a Phillies' hat and carrying a satchel approach our row. He didn't totally seem to know where he was supposed to be, but I caught his eye and pointed down to where my daughter was sitting.

He entered the row and in a loud, booming voice indicated that he was here to lead the surrounding rows in singing "Happy Birthday" to her. The people in the surrounding rows thought this was pretty cool, and they sang enthusiastically. Our Phunster then completed his act by showering my daughter with confetti.

She thought it was the greatest.

"Thanks, Dad," she said. "I just love little surprises like these."

See, the Phillies, who have lavished tons of dough on the unable, unwilling, underwhelming or unappreciative, can also make a nine year-old feel like a million bucks.

It only got better.

There was one more surprise.

After the home fourth, the Phillies scrolled their birthday wishes up on the scoreboard above leftfield. My daughter saw her name in lights among the other birthday greetings. Her smile upon seeing her name was as bright as the lights on the scoreboard. It was great to watch.

Later she said that even though the Phillies lost, she went to sleep with a wide smile on her face. Flash might not have shined that particularly day, but the Phillies' organization did.

This is why we go to ballgames -- to eat peanuts, sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," keep score, talk about when Ryan Howard is going to hit a home run (I said to my son right before Howard jacked one that night that he was going to put one orbit on the next pitch -- and he did!), talk amongst ourselves and just have a lot of fun. Whether or not the home team fares well cannot eclipse our fun -- we simply won't let it, precisely because we have little control over what management does. That's why we go to baseball games -- to be together in great weather, watch a kids' game and talk about statistics that in the greater scheme of things mean very little but in these cathedrals in each city mean everything. There really isn't anything like it.

The Phun Pack cost eighteen bucks.

It will pay dividends for a lifetime for a young girl. Because in a sea of about 40,000 people, she felt like she was the most important kid in the world.

A win would have been nice, but her smile meant everything.

That's why we go to the ballpark.

1 Comments:

Anonymous tim in tampa said...

The only force driving me to possibly ever have children is the chance I might one day have an experience with them along the lines of yours written here.

Fantastic post. Glad you had a great time.

2:03 PM  

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