By Jack Somers
My son and I shimmy past the ticket scanners and enter the ballpark. All he wants to do is eat.
“I’m hungry!” he balls over and over again, whirling his kiwi-sized fists in the air and stamping his tiny sandaled feet on the sun-scorched concrete.
“We’ll get food as soon as I put some sunscreen on you,” I say in as calm a voice as I can muster.
“I want food now!” he screeches.
I grab one of his windmilling arms and lead him away from the gate, out of the path of incoming fans.
“You’re hurting me!” he says.
“We have to get sunscreen on you,” I say a bit more sternly. “It’s 90 degrees out here, and there’s no cover. You don’t want sunburn. Believe me.”
I pick him up and plop him into a metal patio chair beside a bronze statue of Bob Feller. With one hand, I hold him down, and with the other, I yank a half-empty tube of SPF 50 sunscreen out of my backpack. I release him long enough to squirt a generous gob of the coconut-scented goo onto my palm, and then I hold him down again while I lather up his face.
“Not in my eyes!” he howls.
“I’m not getting it in your eyes,” I say.
Top of the First:
We find our seats. We’re five rows away from the field, right behind home plate. These are the best seats I’ve ever had (the tickets were a gift from the parents of one of the students I teach). But Collin couldn’t care less about where we’re sitting. The only thing he cares about is the food in the paper tray on his lap—three hot dog sliders drowned in watery ketchup. He sucks them down one at a time, licking his lips after each bite like a cartoon cat that’s just swallowed a bird. I’m glad he’s enjoying them. They cost me eight bucks. He better enjoy them. The large beer I’m holding cost me ten. I better enjoy that, too.
Our pitcher heaves the ball across the plate, and the batter swings and whiffs badly. The guys behind us—four douchey-looking college boys in tank tops and dirty white baseball caps—whoop drunkenly. Collin covers his ears and winces at me. “Too loud!” he whines.
Bottom of the First:
Our third batter approaches the plate and knocks infield clay off his cleats with the end of his bat. Collin announces that he wants to sit in my lap and jumps up. His right elbow wings the side of my two-thirds-full beer cup. The cup topples into my lap, and my crotch is instantly soaked.
“Shit!” I yell, momentarily losing my parental cool. The college dicks behind me chuckle. I wonder if I can take all four of them and decide I probably can’t. I lay my program over my lap, and Collin hops up.
Top of the Second:
The fifth batter in the visiting team’s lineup hits a soaring pop-up to centerfield. It is caught, and our guys jog into the dugout. A stadium vendor walks past us shouting, “Cotton candy, heeyaah!” Hives of insulation-pink cotton candy dangle from the long metal pole in his right hand.
“I want cotton candy!” yips Collin.
I shake my head. “You already had three sliders,” I say. “Plus you don’t want to spoil your appetite for dinner!”
He rapidly dwindles into a sobbing mess. “But I want cotton candy!”
People in the seats around us start to shoot me prickly, disapproving looks—looks that say, “Buy the kid some cotton candy, you monster. Let him enjoy himself. What kind of horrible father are you?”
I grit my teeth and dig out my wallet.
Bottom of the Second:
The seventh man in our lineup is up to bat. We have two guys on base and two outs. Collin devours the last puff of cotton candy and tosses the stick on the ground. He squirms in my wet lap.
“I’m bored,” he says.
“Just watch,” I say. “Let’s see if this guy can drive the man on third home.”
“What?” Collin asks.
I realize I have not explained the rules of baseball to Collin. I point to the batter: “That man there is going to try to hit the ball as far as he can, so the man there can run to that white square there. If the man over there gets to the square, our team gets a point.”
Collin nods. The batter strikes out in three pitches and walks back to the bench.
“Why did he stop trying to hit the ball?” says Collin.
Top of the Third:
The second batter from the visiting team is up.
“I’m still bored,” says Collin.
“Let’s see if this guy gets a hit,” I say, trying to drum up some interest.
“I’m bored. I want to go home,” says Collin.
I am determined not to go home. We came here to have a nice father-son outing. We’re going to make this work. I have an idea.
“If this guy gets a hit,” I say, “I’ll give you a quarter.”
Collin claps and bounces up and down.
Bottom of the Third:
I have renewed my offer of a quarter for each new batter. I now owe Collin $2.25.
“I’m tired,” Collin moans. “I want to go home.”
“Not yet,” I say.
“I want to go home NOW!” he screams, swinging an arm at me.
Our third baseman hits a homerun, and the stadium thunders. The college guys holler, “Look at the Jumbotron!” I look up at the big screen, and there we are: four college jerks, me, and my screaming, flailing son.
I give the camera an embarrassed wave, lift the boy up, and stumble out into the aisle. “We’ll try this again when you’re older,” I say into his ear and make for the exit as quickly as I can.
I love baseball, can relate to a kid acting out at the game and dealing with annoying schmucks. But I expected more at the end. I didn’t feel that the description of the embarrassed father was powerful enough.
Thanks for reading the story and for offering me your honest opinion. Perhaps you’re right on this one. Fully fleshing out a character in 1,000 words is definitely possible, but it’s also quite challenging, and I am still working on it. Your comment is a good reminder to me that even when a piece is “done,” there is always more that can be added or subtracted or retooled to make it more powerful.
Last baseball game I went to, four buxom gals behind home plate in the bleachers dropped their tops while the visiting pitcher was winding up. He stopped mid-throw. The announcers gagged, thought fast, and said the pitcher misread the catcher’s signals. I even watched for the moment on TV that evening, but the cameras edited the tops drop. For once, I envied the security that ejected the four women.
I bet that Collin would love baseball when he grows up, but hate his Dad. I would have cut an inning and added a scene where Collin takes his own son to his first game, and when the grandson acts out, he recalls his own misbehavior at his first game. Then texts his Dad an apology which fixes their relationship.
Of course all this wouldn’t have happened if Collin and his Dad went to a Cricket Match!
Wow. I like your idea about flashing forward to Collin and his own son. Possibly a “Game Day 2”? Thanks for the time and thought you put into this comment. Maybe I’ll attempt another version that takes place at a cricket match?!
I don’t know anything about baseball so I was really confused by the “Top of First” descriptions, but I assumed it was like half times stuff. Regardless, I enjoyed this story, it’s very relatable to anyone who has tried to have a day out with a young child.
Thanks, Celine. I’m glad you found this relatable and enjoyable! Thanks for reading. Hope all is well.
Jack, I don’t know much about baseball but with your writing skills it was easy to follow your thoughts and narrative. I liked the pace and cadence it provided the time to paint a clear mental image of the matter you were writing about.
Thanks for the education about baseball and father-son bonding.
Thank you for your thoughtful, kind words, and thanks for reading!