My two lives collided today when we took the boys to Tropicana Field for a game between the Rays and the Marlins. It’s still weird going back to that place.
Did you ever go back to your old high school for a visit in the years shortly after graduation? You feel like an interloper in a place that once was so familiar. Even though they might greet you with warm handshakes and smiles, you know it’s only for a minute because there are other, more-pressing demands at hand. You are no longer an integral part of the décor. Everyone has moved on without you.
It’s like that when I go back to the Trop, the place I used to call my office.
This was the AP version of Father’s Day for the DadScribe family: A near-sellout crowd saw the Rays defeat the Marlins, 3-0, on the strength of seven shutout innings for starting pitcher Alex Cobb and a leadoff home run for center fielder B.J. Upton.
The optional write-through would lead with my sons going off for an hour with their mom to play in the many kid-themed areas they’ve stuffed the Trop with over the years. Meanwhile, I popped into the press box for a quick chat with an old acquaintance or two. I didn’t bother the other writers, because they were busy. They had other, more-pressing matters at hand. I’m no longer an integral part of the décor.
So, we all went to the ball game. A co-worker has access to fantastic tickets in the lower bowl, slightly down the first-base line behind home plate and about 10 rows from the field. This was good, because there’s no way the boys would’ve been able to follow the game from the nosebleeds. Come to think of it, though, My younger son could’ve done exactly what he did at those seats if we’d been in the upper deck – play round after round of Angry Birds on my old iPhone. At least my older son was a bit more engaged. When Upton hit his homer, he jumped out of his seat and pumped his fists. I’m sure it had as much to do with the general air of excitement around him as it did his actual reaction to the hit, but it was a great moment, nonetheless.
The best moment had nothing to do with the game. During the pregame circus at the Trop, dancing girls toss t-shirts and little foam baseballs into the stands (The ghosts of Branch Rickey and Kenesaw Mountain Landis are surely tormented by the fact that, in the 21st century, dancing girls throw t-shirts and little foam balls into the stands during pregame). One of the little foam balls landed at the feet of an elderly gentleman a few rows in front of us. He picked it up, made his way to our seats, smiled, and wordlessly handed the ball to my older son. We thanked him, and my kid immediately stood up and tossed me the ball. Then he held out his hands for me to throw it back to him. That’s right. Our first game of catch at an actual major-league stadium came courtesy of those dancing girls and that kindly old man. Another great moment in a day full of them.
Still … every now and then, I couldn’t help gazing over my left shoulder at the press box. Before the game, as they went through the usual loud and (frankly) obnoxious pregame preparations, I pointed out the press box to my older son.
“See all those guys sitting up there, buddy? That’s where I used to work. Right up there.”
He looked at the heads of the writers and broadcasters, just visible above the front lip of the press box. His question astonished me. Sometimes I have to remind myself he’s only 6.
“Daddy, do you wish you still worked up there and you were still a writer covering games?”
I didn’t even have to think about my answer.
“No way, buddy. If I still did that, I’d be on the road all the time. And even when I was home, I’d be here almost every night, and you’d almost never see me. I like it just the way it is right now.”
And I meant that. It’s never going to be “just a trip to the ball game” for me when I go to the Trop. Every nook and cranny of that place is absolutely stuffed with memories. I wrapped so much of my self-identity into my former profession, and visiting Tropicana Field reminds me of the guy I used to be. I didn’t always like that guy, and I wasn’t always happy in that profession. But man, it was glorious.
I don’t know. Maybe now that I’ve introduced the boys to that part of my former life, we’ll start to go to the Trop more often as a family. They certainly seemed to enjoy it. And who knows? Maybe the more I go with them, and the more I begin to see the Trop, and baseball, through their eyes, the less awkward it will feel for me to be there.
And one day, maybe we’ll sit in our seats and enjoy the game and the company and I won’t be tempted to gaze wistfully up at the press box. Instead, maybe I’ll think back to the time when we were there and my son tossed me that little foam ball, and my younger son sat quietly and played Angry Birds, and my wife and I smiled at each other and knew it was a good day.