The First Game Ever

I have to apologize for sporadically writing lately. The kids have been sick and life has been extremely hectic but on the bright side, I have been able to watch the Yankees and the Red Sox play on television.

I have also been looking on Ticketmaster and EBay for tickets to Yankee Stadium this summer. Taking my children to New York City to watch the Yankees is a rite of passage in our family. Since we have moved to Boston, it has been difficult to see the Yankees play in person because tickets have been difficult to come by. So, a few years ago, I decided to initiate my children into the fellowship of the Yankees fandom by taking my kids to the stadium when they were old enough. In the summer of 2005, I took my son, Josh, to his first baseball game in the Bronx. It was the type of trip that makes a father think that he is passing on a great legacy to his son.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me digress and tell you why this newly created tradition is so important. You see, growing up as a Yankee fan in Boston has been hard on my son because every one of Josh’s friends is a Red Sox fan. They have Red Sox days at school, his friends wear Red Sox hats and shirts, and his friends talk about how horrible the Yankees are. And if that isn’t bad enough, the Red Sox are everywhere on television, in the clothing stores and in the toy stores. It’s Boston, I can understand the rationale but it doesn’t make it any easier for a father and a son to enjoy being fans of the greatest baseball franchise in history.

And to add insult to injury, my relatives have gotten into the act of trying to persuade my children to switch allegiances and become Red Sox fans. They have even gone to great lengths to try to brainwash the kids and unfortunately, I, in turn, have had to become more persuasive with Josh and Chloe about which professional sports teams our family must support. If the in-laws were going to go for broke in their attempts to convince my children, I have been left with no choice but to fight fire with fire and that was going to start with a weekend where I spent time submersing Josh in the folklore of the New York Yankees.

We decided to leave on Friday afternoon and spend the night with some family members who lived in the New York area. We were excited about the game we were going to see the following day and although I felt guilty about my ulterior motives, I knew I would have to exploit every opportunity I had to make sure my son would remain a lifelong Yankee fan.

As I was packing the car for our trip, I felt my trepidation about making the journey creep back into my head because I knew the long drive down I-95 from Boston to New York would be hard for Josh. He has a short attention span and although he travels very well, I was afraid that we wouldn’t have enough to talk about on our trip. I was hoping that we could pass the time talking about the great legends of the Yankee franchise but I also knew that he might lose interest in that conversation rather quickly.

As I packed the last of our bags into the car, my wife, Stephanie, handed me a huge sack filled with books on tape, toys, games, and things Josh liked to use in order to keep him entertained. While I was looking into the bag, Stephanie quietly said to me, “Every hour or so, give him another item from the bag. It will make the trip easier for both of you.”

“Do you really think I need all of this stuff?”

“Trust me, you will need it. And if you don’t use it all, we’ll save it for another trip.”

“Thanks,” I said as I threw the bag into the passenger seat of the car. I didn’t think I would need such a big bag of tricks but it was probably better to be safe than sorry. I kissed Stephanie good-bye, climbed into the car and drove away.

We had been driving for about an hour or so when Joshua told me that he was bored. We had talked a little about the game and the Yankees, he had played with all of the toys he had packed into a little bag for himself before we left, and we had listened to some music. We had another three hours to go and he was bored already, this trip was going to be tougher than I had thought. Then I remembered the bag that Stephanie had handed to me and as I fumbled through the huge pack of goodies in the seat next to me, I pulled out a Thomas the Tank Engine activity book with crayons.

I handed the book and crayons to Josh as he opened up his tray that hung over the back of the seat in front of him. Josh opened the book and started coloring and as he was drawing one of the pictures, Josh did something I had never expected him to do while we were on this trip. Josh started to tell me about all of the things and all of the people in his life. He didn’t tell me about everything all at once but over the course of the trip, as we pulled more of the items out of that magic bag of trinkets, he started to explain each of the characters, stories, and the little intricacies about the topic or character at hand. He also told me about his friends at school and most importantly, he told me about all of the important parts of their lives.

I was flooded with a wealth of emotions; it was amazing! The more we talked, the more I learned about the incredible young man Josh was growing up to become and before I knew it, we arrived at our relatives. The entire trip had flown by in an instant as we laughed, joked and told stories about our lives. My head was swimming with all of this new information and I was awestruck by the amount of things my son and I had just shared.

I don’t know how many items we had pulled out of that bag but every time I reached into the sack, I became excited about what I was going to find. Not the toy but the revelations about my son’s life that hadn’t been covered by simple dinner conversation, hanging out around the house, or by talking to his teachers. I went to bed that night with a new appreciation for who my son was growing up to be and although I know he will change over the next fifteen years of his life, I was sure he would be alright when it was time for him to finally leave the nest.

When we woke up the next morning, we got ready and headed to Yankee Stadium. Although I originally thought he was going to humor me during this trip, something had happened to Josh during our road trip to New York as well; he learned more about his father. While we were talking about his stories, I told Josh stories about when I was a kid and I told him my stories about growing up as a Yankee fan. I was amazed that he was actually interested in my life and rightfully so, teasing me about some of the stupid things my friends and I did as children.

When we arrived at Yankee Stadium, I learned that Shawn Chacon, who had just been traded to the Yankees, was starting his first game in pinstripes. The game got off to a boring start from a kids perspective because it was a pitcher’s dual. The Yankees had taken a 3-1 lead and although I could appreciate what was happening during the game, it must have been agony for Josh but he was there rooting the whole time. As enthusiastic as he had been to start the game and although I loved every minute of it, I didn’t feel like the folklore, the history, the ghosts of the Yankees, past and present, had penetrated Josh’s little sole.

Then everything just collapsed! Joe Torre took Shawn Chacon out of the game and in the blink of an eye; the Yankees were losing 7-3. By the seventh inning, the fair weather fans were leaving the stadium in search of their next socialite obligation and as the stadium emptied out, I had a feeling that all would be lost on Josh’s first trip to the House that Ruth Built.

Then, like an Aaron Boone moon shot off of a Tim Wakefield knuckleball, the thirty thousand remaining Yankee faithful started to make a lot of noise. I could feel the crowd, “the real fans”, summoning those ghosts of Yankee stadium. We were calling for the magic of the Yankees to descend upon Bernie, Jeter and company and send us home elated. The gripping energy grew and grew and the feeling of excitement that enveloped every one of us was now descending upon the field. The fans were calling for the Legends of the Yankees to strike again and deliver us a victory.

Thirty thousand people were dancing and celebrating in the stands as the Yankees started to make a monumental come back in the bottom of the eighth. The effort fell short but the energy in the stadium was electric and better yet, Josh had caught the fever! He was celebrating each run with everyone in our section; high fives, Bernie chants, Jeter praises, and revelry for the greatest baseball team in the world.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees continued their come back and the stadium was rocking! It was deafening. The charge of energy and excitement in Josh was worth the price of admission. As we all sat on the edge of our seats watching the Yankees climb back into the game, the second out was recorded and a loud roar went shuttering through the stadium. We were going to lift our hometown heroes and give them the fan support they needed.

There were two outs, bases loaded and the Yankees were down by a run. Then with poise, conviction and confidence, Hideki Matsui swaggered out of the on deck circle and stepped nonchalantly into the batter’s box. This was the game. There would be nothing to celebrate if Matsui didn’t deliver and after a couple of pitches, the stadium breathed a collective gasp as Matsui made contact and drilled the ball toward left field. Everyone in the stadium held their breaths as the ball floated in slow motion towards the gap. It seemed like it would take forever and the ball would never land, but it did land. And it landed safely in the left field gap and the stadium erupted as two Yankees crossed home plate!!

The roar of the crowd rose up like a great celebration and the fans partied in the stands as celebratory music started blaring over the sound system. The Yankees players and coaches raced onto the field to congratulate each other for another spectacular win. At one point, Josh looked at me with the Yankees Mystique pouring through his veins and glaring brightly in his eyes and he yelled, “Can we come back tomorrow, Daddy?!”

A Yankee fan for life! Music to my ears!

I will never forget that trip for as long as I live. It was the trip where my son and I connected on a level that will sustain our relationship for years to come because his mother was wise enough to put a magical mystery bag in the front seat of my car. But more importantly, as an added bonus, it was a great trip because it had turned Josh into a Yankee fan for life.

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2 Responses to The First Game Ever

  1. Victor says:

    Classic story–even for Yankees fans…

  2. Angela Polk says:

    Hi Doug,

    I have been meaning to comment on this story for a while. I was delighted to read of your Father/Son bonding excursion with Joshua. I was even more enraptured by the fact that you are a Yankee Fan and that Josh had officially been inaugurated in the “Yankees Fan For Life Club.” It must be rather difficult to live amongst those Bostonian Red Sox Fans. (Sigh!) You are brave – very brave!

    Peace and Blessings!

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