A cold rain was falling in the
pre-dawn darkness of September 3rd, 2009. Michael was sleeping, a gusting wind spattering the rain against his bedroom
window. Through the curtains, headlights flashed past, early-morning traffic splashing along the street outside. I
flipped on the light to awaken him for school, and while he got dressed and ate breakfast,
daybreak lightened the black of night to a dreary dark grey.
I drove him to school, and all day long the gloomy skies continued to rain. The weather stayed unseasonably chilly, the temperature
never rising above the lower 60s, and the
was still falling when I picked him up
in the wet, lead-grey afternoon at the end of his school day.
The school had declared this cold, wet, dismal Thursday "Curriculum Night". This means
parents were invited to attend classroom briefings where the
teachers would be "explaining curriculum, assessments, expectations, and procedures." I'd had it marked on my
calendar since the beginning of the school year.
Fortunately, in the late afternoon the rain stopped. As evening drew nigh, the clouds thinned, allowing some
partly-sunsetty skies to help the
drip-drying world warm up a few degrees. Michael's education is important to us, so I excitedly got him ready for
Curriculum Night at his school, and after a meager supper of hot dogs, we jumped in the car— and went to a baseball game.
After all, it was the last Omaha Royals game of the year. I had my bases covered, so to speak; Michael's
teacher had said she had some things she could send home with
him in the event we were unable to attend Curriculum Night. Meanwhile, years of experience has
shown me that Closing Night at Rosenblatt Stadium is historically cold and rainy. It was serendipity! Or
deja vu. We had to go.
We would be prepared— I filled a Royals tote bag with a blue towel to wipe down
wet seats, an extra hooded sweatshirt for Michael, his Giant Foam Finger, an autographed Royals baseball and
Rosenblatt Stadium pen, sunglasses, binoculars, and my camera.
Things began going our way as soon as we parked. Instead of being stuck way downhill in the boonies, we
were right up against the rope that marked the boundary of Super Special Permit Parking. And then, on our
short walk to the entry gate, our path converged
with a guy who asked, "Do you have tickets yet?" I said no, and he explained that the Omaha Youth Softball
League had a bunch to give away that they hadn't yet; since he had a sizable stack of 'em, he gave us a pair.
Entering the concourse, we found a Super Special table with real live Royals, so I got out Michael's baseball and pen, and
he got some autographs of baseball guys. They turned out to be pitchers who weren't playing this game. I now wish I
had bought an Official Program so I could figure out who's who.
Michael wanted to play in the Fun Zone— a collection of what he calls "bouncing machines" and other
That was three dollars, but the guy who gave Michael an all-night wristband was relieved by
a girl who accosted me and explained that since two of the bouncehouses were packed up for the season, she was
giving me a dollar back. It was serendipity! Or deja vu.
And since it was Thirsty Thursday, that dollar got us a small Sprite.
One of the stadium staff's Fun Bunch was pacing around handing out celebratory bead necklaces, and gave Michael
one. I love Mardi Gras beads; they're so... kitschy. But game time was fast approaching, so
we went in and
found seats along the third base line, where we sat when we were
children and cheered our heroes. And we'll watch the game and it'll be as if we dipped ourselves in magic
waters. The memories will be so thick we'll have to brush them away from our faces.
People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been base ball. America has rolled by
like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball
has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once
was good, and could be again...
Sorry— I digressed into my mind for a moment.
At these Royals games, there is a thing called Fan Cam where, between innings, the closed-circuit TV camera guys single out people in the stands and
the feed goes up to the big scoreboard. You end up seeing a lot of people all happily waving off-screen to their
left. There are two stationary cameras, positioned at the end of each dugout, and there's one guy who
wanders around the stands with a giant handheld camera.
Well, all year I'd been waiting for one of them to find Michael, trying to be ready with my little camera
to take a photo of him on the scoreboard. Some things just look better when they're not Photoshopped. And when the time
finally came, I was busy trying to hold a pretzel and just stay out of the frame as the guy with the giant handheld
TV camera got right in Michael's face from two seats away— and zoomed in! For almost fifteen agonizing seconds between innings, there was a big ol'
laughing Michael head looming all fifty-foot and god-like over left field! I was so proud!
Best I could do was get a blurry picture of him with Herman McNutt...
...and the scary clown he calls Old Macdonald. He'd already met Old Macdonald at the front entrance on our
way in and got a sticker for his shirt, but when the clown came walking past us in the stands, he recognized Michael and
gave him another one.
I have photos of my favorite third-base view taken in the daytime, the nighttime, with sunny skies, and overcast. Now I have
one in the twilight.
This is Spike. He's a lion.
Spike only started showing up 10 years ago
(right after the Golden Age of Section P) when the Union Pacific bought the majority of the team and changed the name
to the Omaha Golden Spikes. (Yuck. I'm glad they sold it and the name got changed back.) Michael has come to know Spike, even
though he still thinks Spike is a bear. But this is the first time I've
taken a photo of them together at night.
Eventually, Michael got cold, and exchanged his jersey for the sweatshirt I'd packed. The Royals were down
seven to four in the middle innings, and he was getting restless and wanted to go back to the Fun Zone. I
took the opportunity to drop my tote bag full of stuff off at the car, on the way to letting Michael
play for a couple of innings.
Oh— he's friends with Casey, too. Here, Michael's outside the Fun Zone, running barefoot around the main entrance. That's how "at home" we are
I didn't realize as we were just hanging out around the front gate that all three mascots would show up.
By that time,
I wasn't shooting Spike or Herman McNutt anymore, 'cause we'd already run into them so many times. I was just hoping
that some folks would leave because it was cold, some would leave since it was a school night, some would leave
discouraged that the Royals were down three runs... and once again, we'd pretty much have the park to ourselves.
But it was closing night— the last game of the year, so a lot of people stuck around. Meanwhile, out front, the mascots
were signing little baseball cards of themselves. I have never been fond of the idea of mascots' autographs. I don't think
they're real. Perhaps I lack imagination. (Oh, to see Disney as the magical world of wonder that Michael does, instead
of a frightening conglomerate of saccharine corporate greed.) With all the childlike qualities inherent in my heart, I
told Michael about "swag", and proferred a lesson that I learned in High School: Stuff/ Free/ Grab some/ Run. So now he's got autographed
baseball cards of the mascots.
I didn't want to miss the end of the game, so we went back in at the bottom of the 8th inning. The Royals
were still behind 7 - 4 and, although they got a couple of hits, stranded those runners on base. Things were looking pretty
typical for the worst team in the entire league. By then, many people had indeed cleared out, so Michael and I moved down to the good seats for the top of the 9th
inning, about four rows behind the dugout.
The Bad Guys, up to bat, started the
inning by getting two outs in as many pitches. I told Michael it wouldn't be long now, and presently the Royals did get
the third Bad Guy out.
So it was the bottom of the ninth, the last inning of the year, and our chances of coming back from three runs
down looked pretty slim. The effort began well enough, with the Iowa Cubs'
(Bad Guys') pitcher walking J.R. House. I call him "How-ooooooooose!" House has an atrocious bedside manner and treats both
his staff and his patients with disdain, but he always
has the right diagnosis in the end. Michael thinks we should play House more often.
At some point, with House on first (not the famous Abbott & Costello routine)— we suffered One Out. Then Alex Gordon
came up to bat; he's a home-town hero, as he played on the Cornhuskers
team that actually made it to the College World Series in 2005, and then went on to play for Kansas City. He was on a rehab assignment
with the Triple-A Royals, recovering from some injury. Well, he did his part by hitting a double. House
was held at third. Two runners on base, along with incessant coaching from the P.A. system, got the fans
starting to make some noise.
The tying run at the plate got worked into a full count... and he took ball four to load the bases.
The crowd was really getting into it now,
and on the next batter, the Iowa pitcher proceeded to walk in a run!
Down 7 to 5, with the bases loaded and one out, the
fans were beginning to see some hope. So the Iowa manager
called in a new pitcher.
This inning was taking far longer than I had led Michael to expect, but he was a trouper. As the
new pitcher warmed up, I told Michael that now, the longer the game took, the better our chances were of winning. At the same time, every single
pitch thrown had the possibility of ending the game— and the season.
Finally, the relief pitcher was ready, the crowd got loud again, and the first guy up— walked! Another
run in, and the air was rife with tension and excitement.
Now we had a chance; the game's not over 'til... you stick a fork in it! Our winning run was on second
base— scoring position! But, annoyingly, the Bad Guys' pitcher was up to the task, and thwarted our hopes
by striking out the next batter.
Classic... Bottom of the 9th, two outs, bases loaded, behind by one run. It could go either way. Ground
ball, we lose. Fly ball, we lose. Any kind of out, we lose. It was up to Mario Lisson, bottom man in the batting order.
The fans were yelling, clapping, and stomping in the stadium, when Lisson cracked a long line drive to left center field!
The baserunners launched and the fans screamed with hope! As the ball soared toward the gap, the outfielders sprinted
to converge on its landing point— but
it hit the ground between them,
the crowd erupted, and the winning run crossed the plate!
Amidst the crowd's exuberance, the announcer began babbling something inaudible about next year, and the stadium lights went to half-throttle as a signal telling
everyone Thank You And Get Out. After all, even though we were big winners that night, this was the
final game of the year. It was official now: the Omaha Royals
finished the season last in their division, 13 games behind. As we ambled toward the Main Gate, Michael
encountered and high-fived the mascots (again), and we were given 5 coupons for free
lines of bowling. At the car, Michael declared that he was hungry.
But I was still grinning, thinking, that's a 9th-inning rally; that's pulling one out of your... trunk. The whole night was the
sort of night that makes memories. Making those memories is, of course, what I'm trying to do to Michael...
and the reason I started writing all this in the first place.