Wednesday, 12 July 2017 16:52

Fatherhood offers its own strikeout pitches

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Fatherhood offers its own strikeout pitches Justin Parker

Just when you think you have the whole fatherhood thing down, the little ones who cast you in that role will throw you a curveball or two.

And as the “you’re in good hands” insurance pitchman learned in a past life, curveballs can be hard to hit.

Yours truly was reminded of this dynamic during our family of four’s recent trip to a big league ballpark. 

We were there to cheer on the visiting team, but in my search for tickets, I found that the home team would be hosting a friendly game of catch in the outfield on our weekend. For a donation to charity, you could toss the ball around on the field for about 30 minutes. This, I thought, is right up my son Jett’s alley, not to mention mine. I’m 36 and never done this. 

Jett is 9, and we throw often in our sloping backyard, dodging the bumps and holes of the ground, nearby poison ivy, a stack of bricks and other hazards left by our 13-year-old beagle. Now, we’re headed to an immaculately manicured baseball heaven, and to top it off, they’re going to give us authentic MLB baseballs and put us on the giant video board. 

The element of surprise is necessary on this venture, as is a little misdirection, but the first sign of trouble comes when I tell Jett we’re going to tour the stadium and he asks why I’m getting our gloves out of the trunk. 

“Maybe they’ll let us throw on the field,” I say. “I’m going to ask.”

He responds. “I don’t want to.”

Didn’t see that coming. 

We approach the stadium, and Jett soon learns that his father has — good intentions and all — misled him. This is an organized event, not a random outing, and he goes into shutdown mode. We are standing on the doorstep of one of the 30 baseball cathedrals in this country, with a chance to get unusual field access (it’s a once-a-year event), and he doesn’t want to do it. He should be all over this, but nothing helps. I try the logic angle, emphasizing the number of people who dream of such opportunities and the odds of it being offered when we’re there again. I remind him of the imperfections of our backyard. 

“I like throwing there,” he says. 

“I do, too, bud, but we can throw here, too.”

Finally, only because I’m his ride and I make him — sometimes you have to save your kids from themselves — Jett begrudgingly concedes and we enter the gate, make our way down through the rows and rows of seats we can’t afford to sit in and step onto the warning track, crossing the bounds of mortality like we’re in Field of Dreams. We’re among only a dozen others doing the same, and it’s like we’ve pulled a great heist, that we know a secret no one else does. I’m throwing Jett liners into the right-centerfield gap, and he’s diving, then firing strikes back to me. He’s glancing at the video board in left and smiling when he sees us. Though he won’t dare admit it, he’s having fun. 

Later that day, the four of us are sitting in section 418, and by sitting, I mean we’re sweating in the July sun, buying every cool treat they’re selling and doing all we can to keep Avery, our kindergarten-bound busy bee, entertained. It’s a short-term solution and long-term investment, and it’s that mission to make baseball games fun for her that has the two of us walking the concourse, though I don’t mind the shade, either. We find a team mascot and stand in line for a photo, and we visit the air-conditioned team store (the Lego stadium was nothing short of impressive). In the meantime, the team I’ve loved since childhood and don’t see very often has hit two home runs and scored all the runs it will in a 5-3 loss. Oh well. We’re here tomorrow, too. 

A few innings in the next day, Avery and I are hand-in-hand and on the move again. We’ve already tracked down the mascot (again) and are exploring the joyous kids’ zone when the crowd roars. Inevitably, my team has hit another home run. It’s unreal. I’ve been out of my seat for maybe three innings in two games and missed almost everything of note. 

Before kids, this would have annoyed me beyond measure. But I find myself laughing it off and turning back to Avery, who is intrigued by a yellow slide we could find in any park from here to Ohio. Amid the chaos of that baseball vacuum, it dawns on me that I’ve changed. I don’t need the home runs as much as I need her tiny hand in mine. 

And I’m down on strikes.

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