Baby wants a baseball
You know it’s spring when the breeze carries with it the alluring aromas of funnel cake, popcorn and Ball Park Franks.
Saturday was a Southern Maryland Blue Crabs doubleheader — our first game of the season at Regency Furniture Stadium. I knew my husband and I couldn’t take the baby alone. My dad, a veteran sportswriter with two daughters, had to be there to take his grandson to his very first game. My mom came, too, despite her (not irrational) fear of foul balls.
It was a moment many years in the making. Despite encouragement, the Snider sisters never showed athletic interest or inclination (though, as a lefty, Katie’s ambidextrous pitching ability coulda’ made her a contender). Dad hasn’t had anyone in the family to share in his sports love and knowledge . . . so maybe Oliver will be the one.
Walking into the stadium, I wondered how our 1-year-old was going to react. His day-to-day existence is pretty quiet: bottles, veggies, hanging at daycare, a little bit of “The Muppets” to cap off an evening. Like most babies, I guess, Ollie is fascinated by people: what they’re doing, where they’re going — and, most importantly, what they’re eating. I figured his attention would be all over the place, and I was right.
Now that Oliver is trying table foods (pureed ones, anyway), he’s a big fan of eating. Spencer and I now have to “sneak” snacks . . . I mean, I can’t enjoy my illicit cookies with those sweet, round eyes watching me. I feel terribly guilty eating in front of him.
Same with beverages. Ollie has been fascinated by mugs for months. Given I can barely crack an eyeball without a jolt of caffeine, I’ve become very adept at sipping lukewarm coffee around a baby. The fun comes when Oliver decides he wants some, too — and I have to make some evasive maneuvers.
He was no better at the stadium. Food, of course, was everywhere — one of the best parts of the ballpark experience. We had to physically remove Oliver from the chicken tender basket; he was eagerly reaching out a paw for all that crispy goodness. He is my son, after all. Though I grew up in a sports-loving household, the bookish gene is strong with me; I’ve just never gotten into football, basketball, golf. Baseball, however, has a long history in our family — and even if I don’t always follow a team or season, it’s something my sister and I share with our dad.
I think I love going because Dad loves going. Despite shared genes and many shared interests, dads and daughters don’t necessarily have mutual hobbies. Where Mom and I can blow an entire day at an outlet mall, Dad isn’t quite as enthusiastic. (But always a good sport, I’ll note.)
It’s different at baseball games, where the atmosphere is energetic and the good vibes infectious. I love the kids in faded caps, gloved hands outstretched for foul balls; the vendors hawking beer and peanuts; sticky chairs that spring back as you stand to cheer. The seventh-inning stretch and cow bells, the national anthem and “Sweet Caroline.” It all comes together in a perfect blend that makes even me, a non-believer, see the light.
Oliver is typically tough to entertain — unless you’re a balloon. But his eyes were glued to the field on Saturday, watching players come up to swing and eying the crowd around us. Perched on my dad’s knee, I watched Ollie’s dark eyes dart between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. He really seemed to pay attention.
To me, baseball isn’t all about what’s happening on the field (though that’s important, too, of course). It’s a feeling. A camaraderie. After spending all day in an office, it’s a chance to breathe common air, run into old friends, feel like you’re a part of something that doesn’t involve your couch or computer.
And for me, it will always be linked to Dad — especially when I remember the many times we braved rainy weather to watch the Nationals play from the cheap seats, hot dogs in hand. Our plans were often last-minute, determined by college schedules and work fluctuations and weather — much like now. But we always squeezed in a few games each year, especially as the burning-hot summer mellowed into fall.
Life is often filled with beautiful symmetry: seeing the Blue Crabs with Oliver at the start of a beautiful spring, the start of a fresh season — then remembering the cool September nights we bundled up to see the Nats play at the end of theirs.
My baby is still a baby, but he won’t be our baby for long. Next game? We could be chasing him through the stands. And pretty soon that little guy will be reaching for my popcorn.
Better start buying the extra-large bucket . . . I never have been one to share.