East of Elmgrove

Play Ball

A road trip for the love of America’s pastime

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I went to a lot of ballparks over the summer. We took a trip to the Midwest to visit family and decided to squeeze in as many games in the Bigs as we could along the way. Our seats were pretty good, especially the ones at Camden Yards in Baltimore, where the Sox played the Orioles. It was a thrill to see David Ortiz hit a homer. I stood up and yelped in a very undignified way. It was boiling hot, so I turned the sleeves of my black T-shirt into a tank top. A lot of other people did the same thing; it’s dress-down day every day in a ballpark.

Baseball came to me late in life. I played softball in middle school and then there was a big gap until I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway when I was in my 30s. My companions were three friends, all guys familiar with the sport. They knew what a walk-off home run was; I did not. I was bored and couldn’t wait for the game to end. The only thing I remember is that one of the guys was a vegetarian who called his body a temple. He was eating a bag of greasy chips. I thought, “Why is a vegetarian eating a bag of greasy chips?’’

Fast forward many years and I am married with two boys who know the difference between a change-up and a knuckle ball and can even throw the pitches with some authority. In no time, baseball gear has become as common in our house as Legos and toy fire trucks. Little league, fall ball and AAU dominate our evenings and weekends. Our one television is tuned to MLB games and the chatter of sportscasters 24/7. I am learning something about the game; I am learning to love it.

My husband arranged our trip. He reserved the airline tickets, booked the hotel rooms and, with my older son, Peder, bought the baseball tickets. This is something they like to do together. You can see what a ballpark looks like online now, so it’s easy to pick out seats. It always takes the two of them a long time to decide, sometimes days. The father-son bonding is at its peak. I don’t get involved, although I do get updates at the dinner table: “Dad wants left field. I want first base.’’ Two stubborn males haggling over baseball seats. Music to my ears.

America is filled with major league baseball parks – 30, to be exact. I’ve only been to a few. “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?’’ a poet once asked. My response: Hit every ballpark before the Hound of Heaven knocks. I’m sure the pale pink sands of La Digue Island in the Indian Ocean are stunning, but I’d like to see a moon ball sail over the bleachers at AT&T Park in San Francisco and land in the Pacific with a quiet Olympic splash. I’m sure the snorkeling is great at Kahaluu Beach Park in Hawaii, but I’d rather marvel over the walls of ivy at Wrigley Field and swallow whole a Vienna Dog smothered in mustard and onions.

We visited three ballparks: Camden Yards, which, as I mentioned, is in Baltimore, home for a while to Providence’s beloved Edgar Allan Poe; U.S. Cellular Field in the great city of Chicago, where I am living in my next life; and Busch Stadium in my hometown of St. Louis, which I left decades ago for the East Coast to work as a scribe. Each game was memorable in its own way. I cheered like a schoolgirl at a high school basketball game and ate a lot of junk food. The cement floor beneath my seat was littered with peanut shells and empty cups of Coke. No one uses a trash can at the ballpark.

It was unseasonably cool at Busch Stadium. Most summer evenings in the Gateway City are sweltering. Not that night. The breeze off the Mississippi kept everyone in a good mood. My husband and sons found three seats together, and I managed to find one a few rows up. They watched the game; I roamed the ballpark, in awe of the majestic arch looming overhead in the twilight. Everyone was wearing a red T-shirt to honor the Cardinals, who, not surprisingly, clobbered the Phillies. It was a blowout or, as my son used to say when he was a toddler, a “blowup.’’

Our best seats were at Camden Yards in the Sox vs. Orioles game. First base was within spitting distance. I got to see one of those acrobatic double plays by the unflappable and dogged Dustin Pedroia. The night before, Ortiz had smashed a phone in the dugout with his bat, so everyone booed when he walked to the plate at this game. Success is the best revenge. It was Big Papi’s 20th homer of the season.

By far my best experience was at Cellular Field. The White Sox were playing the Braves. Peder scored the game, a task that requires focus and patience. He made a lot of squiggly marks on a score sheet he bought for a buck at a kiosk. Our seats were on a deck behind centerfield. We sat on stools at a table. We’d sip our lemonades and I’d say, “Where do you think he’ll hit it?’’ and Peder would say, “Left field.’’ I’d say, “Good catch,’’ and Peder would say, “Hmm.’’ It was a balmy summer evening, thanks to Lake Michigan, a glistening blue that seemed to go on forever. One hour passed, then two. I was hoping we’d go to the 10th, but we didn’t. I never wanted the night to end.