It took a sharply hit foul ball to remind me of the beauty of the American Spirit.
So here's the story:
It was a 'Merica sort of day.
It's my grandpa's 90th birthday and 25 of us have taken him to enjoy his favorite thing...a Mariner's baseball game.
But this isn't just any Mariner's game. This is Opening Day.
And it's not just any Opening Day. It's their 40th anniversary as a club in Seattle Opening Day.
So they pull out all the stops.
I get smoke in my eyes at least four times...the first during a 40-year recap of all the great players and moments I lived as a kid (Kyle!); the second when the 10-year-old girl recovering from 6 heart surgeries makes the inaugural run around the bases and ends at home plate by running into King Felix's outstretched arms; the third when I get to sing the Star Spangled Banner with 47,936 of my fellow Americans as two F-16 fighter jets execute a flawless flyover; and the fourth when they honor a Pearl Harbor survivor and the house stands instantly to its feet in ovation.
Oh, it's a good day.
And then Edgar, Harold Reynolds, Jaime Moyer, Dan Wilson, Mark Mclemore, and Willie Bloomquist step out to throw the first pitches, and I'm wondering if maybe I died in my sleep and somehow arrived in heaven.
This was 'Merica at its finest.
A few innings later and we're three rounds into Ivars Fish and Chips (extra tartar), garlic fries, dip'n'dots, brats with mustard, and of course, my 40th-anniversary commemorative soda cup that holds about 13 gallons of Pepsi that required I mortgage my house to purchase. But all of it is SO worth it. Baseball, Opening Day, surrounded by family, celebrating the man who gave me my love for baseball and himself never missed a single high school ball game of mine (not a single one). And here we were here on his 90th birthday. Could it get any better?
And then it happened.
Bottom of the 4th, nobody on, pitch on the way, and....dang...fouled off. No wait...it's coming our way. Hey, that's gonna be close. Mom, mom, Levi, heads up, here it co.....WHAM!
Drills Levi right in the elbow.
By this time, everything is in slow motion...the standing fans, the reaching hands, me stuck 5 seats away trying to claw my way towards him, mom sitting right next to him holding Silas. I see the whole thing.
Straight on. No tip. A Major League Baseball thrown 96mph fouled hard down the line by a Major League Player swinging a hickory bat with enough speed to send a laser 250 feet into the stands on a rope.
Now, this is where I am a little ashamed, because even though I see the speeding ball thump my son, my next fleeting thought is...where'd it go?! Is it close? Can someone reach it?
And then my heart sinks. I see it...in the hands of the woman sitting right in front of us. It had hit Levi, rolled under his seat, and she'd grabbed it.
My disappointment quickly vanishes when I clue back into reality and realize my boy is holding his arm and trying not to cry in front of 47,936 people. Except it's not working. So I get over to him finally and assess the situation. "You ok buddy?" "It really hurts dad" he chokes out through tears. "I know bud, oh man...I am so sorry I couldn't get here in time."
It's the ultimate sting...to get hit with a foul ball and not even get it.
And then America happens.
The woman sitting in front of us (a serious M's fan...hat, jersey, coat, score-pad), turns and without even a hesitation, smiles warmly and hands my son the ball. Here you go, she says.
The foul ball.
The Opening Game ball.
From the hands of a serious M's fan who would no doubt deeply cherish such a sought-after souvenir.
He smiles and says thank you through tears.
And I remember again why I love baseball. And its fans.
A few innings later on our way to get more food (don't judge me, some of it was for the kids), Levi says "Dad, could we get her something?"
So we make our way to the team store and pick her out a 40th-anniversary commemorative collector's baseball (another mortgage). And some gloves to keep her hands warm while she keeps score.
Now Levi's stoked. All's we need is the right moment to give it.
And what better moment than the 7th inning stretch? (Duh).
After a rousing round of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," Levi taps her on the shoulder. "Ma'm?" She turns. "Thanks for giving me your foul ball. I wanted to get you something in return." He hands her the ball. She smiles. "Oh my goodness, why I never...!" I tell her how grateful we were, and then we're just chatting and laughing and reliving the story.
And then the guy sitting next to her goes..."Wait...what happened?"
So she explains that while he was away getting food, we had some excitement with a foul ball. He gets an incredulous look on his face. "Are you kidding me?"
No, I explain, it was crazy! The ball hit my son and rolled right under your seat! He shakes his head. And then goes...
"I'm an 11-year season ticket holder. I've sat right here, in this seat, for 11 seasons. And I've never ONCE had a ball come even REMOTELY close!"
Well, Levi says, do you want to touch it? "Sure!" He responds. Levi pulls it out and shows him. He looks at it with admiration and a little longing. A smudge of glove oil. The slight hint of a grass stain. The MLB insignia. And "Opening Day" emblazoned bigger than life between the two crisp red seams.
"Oh man, that's awesome," he says.
So there, surrounded by 47,936 oblivious fans enjoying a game, in row 14, a few fellow Americans experienced a piece of Americana. A ball game. A beloved team. A foul ball. A simple kindness.
From perfect strangers who suddenly felt like old friends.
And that, sports fans, is why we love baseball.
And it struck me in a flash...how many times has this sweet little ceremony of friendship taken place across our land? 10,000 times? A million times?
That's what makes baseball so great.
It's not just the game, it's the history. The grass. The smells. The veterans honored. The memories made. The sounds of the ballpark. The starting lineup. The national anthem. The Navy flyover. The close call and the good-natured boos that predictably follow. The crack of the bat, the snap of the ball around the infield. The call of the beer vendor. The loud guy behind you. The common love of a cherished game by people from all walks of life.
In short, the humanity. Oh, the richness of the humanity. Tall, short, skinny, fat...fans. Every one.
There's a reason why they call it our favorite pastime.
Like I said, it was one 'Merica sort of day.
#Mariners #OpeningDay #Merica