Monday, August 04, 2008

For Love of the Game

I'm all about trying to make people love baseball, because despite the number of people going through the turnstiles, I still see plenty of evidence of our National Pastime struggling in many areas and demographics. I don't think as many kids are as passionate about the game, for instance, as I was when I was young.

But I'm also weird. Then again, that's been recognized.

Yet hopefully I helped strengthen Sean's love of baseball yesterday. I had promised myself that I would make a few Renegades road trips - gas prices be damned. One of the games I circled was the afternoon affair between the Gades and the Aberdeen Ironbirds at Ripken Stadium. Initially my plan was to go alone - I mean, after all, to and from a game in Maryland (from New York) in a day is a lot to ask of a six-year old with the attention span of a Bob Feller fastball. Yet when I saw how the weekend was lining up, I felt it was my duty to take Sean and give him a day he would perhaps never forget. So I lined up my mom (herself a big baseball fan learned at the knee of her father - a Yankees fan and semi-pro ballplayer), who was as excited to go as Sean was...if not more.

A quick call to the Ironbirds office allowed me to explain that while I'm one of the Gades radio broadcasters, I don't travel with the team and only make select games. For me to make this trip, I was bringing some people to keep me company and keep me awake (good call, as I had a sleepless Saturday night). So I provided the names of my accomplices and was told to go to Will Call on Sunday to get the tickets.

Easy, right?


We set off just after 8:00 in my mom's car (thank you, thank you, thank you) and, recognizing my passengers, made a few stops along the way - coffee, breakfast, bathroom (the usual). Though I know we could have made it from Mahopac to Aberdeen in about three-and-a-half hours, we were there in just over four. Ever the financially-cautious person that I am these days, imagine my thrill to discover that parking at Ripken Stadium is...ready?...FREE.

The parking lot was largely empty, and we strolled to the Will Call window where the passes were handed to us with barely a raised eyebrow. Next, we walked right into the stadium, even with backpacks (you didn't think I was going to let Sean go without things to occupy him, did you?). To make things even cooler, we were given Ironbirds hats!

We found Sean Ford in our booth (yes, two Sean's...see below...with me calling the game).
With our passes, I was able to get Sean down to the field, where I showed him around - yet I always get nervous that somebody will scold us. Instead, an usher asked if we'd like our picture taken with Ironbirds' starting catcher Caleb Joseph. Right there, being fan-friendly makes instant fans. It's that easy. For the record, Caleb had an infield hit and struck out twice, but is better than that.
We walked the entire length of the warning track - past the rotating ads in center field that got Sean's attention, and where I demonstrated how the outfield wall is padded (Adams leaps...and MAKES THE pretend CATCH!) to the bullpens. Now...I'll apologize in advance for doing this...but I took Sean into the Gades bullpen and found catcher Tyler Hauschild's helmet. I let Sean try it on and took a picture. was for the love of the game. Forgive me?

I was able to show things to Sean that a lot of kids don't get access to. Finally, a member of the grounds crew asked if we were with anybody, and after showing him our credentials, we were allowed to stay. They got it - and so did everybody else within the Ironbirds' family. Though it might have seemed different to have these two people following me around (a kid and his Granny), they understood that it was the opportunity to make a connection, and make it about family.

If the Ripken organization doesn't understand that, then nobody does. I can't possibly say a bad thing about our time in this wonderful facility. The food was good (jambalaya!), the facility was beautiful, and the staff was friendly. Ironbirds' radio voice Steve Lenox also had his family on hand, so it was "Broadcasters Take Your Son to Work Day!"

The Gades won the game, 6-4, and Sean was extremely well-behaved. It isn't easy to nurse kids through a nine-inning game, but it's a lot easier when you're not confined to a seat, and are allowed to spread toys out - be it in the air conditioning of the club level, or the great outdoors. Plus those blow-up bouncy things help. And mascots handing out little baseballs.

And, working quickly, I got Sean back down to the field where he was allowed to run the bases with other kids.

Our ride home was somewhat uneventful, despite the lousy Sunday night traffic. That lengthened our drive to about five hours (we stopped for dinner also). Sean slept most of the way home. I hope he went to camp today and bragged about his great experience. That would make it all worthwhile.

Next up for me is Fenway Park, followed by Lowell, Oneonta, and perhaps Brooklyn (again) and Staten Island.

The rest of the pictures from our day are here.

Baseball+father-son time=priceless. Add in a mom that loves baseball (sadly I can't take my dad) and it was a really great day.

No comments: