America’s Pastime: The First 5 Innings
- Updated: May 7, 2009
“You can’t go to a baseball game without peanuts,” my dad said as he took a huge scoop of the salted variety from a bin in the local grocery store. At five-years-old, I had never been to a baseball game before and the whole day had been about him telling me what has to happen in order to go to a baseball game. It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to go through just to see a man hit a ball.
After getting back from the grocery store, my father shared another bit of wisdom, “Make sure you don’t forget your mitt, you don’t want to miss any of the foul balls that get hit to you.” I listened excitedly, although I didn’t really understand. I didn’t know what awas, and I thought that I was going to watch the game, not be involved in it.
Just as we were about to walk out of the door he said, “Wait, we can’t forget our hats.” At that moment, he grabbed an old hat with a mesh backing that had a red “C” on the front and put it on the top of his balding head. He saw that I was looking a little down because he had just claimed that having a hat was crucial to the baseball experience, and I was without one. He saved the day by going into the closet and emerging with a Sherwin Williams painting hat with a smiling Indian covered in white blotches on the top of it. I cheerfully put it on my head, feeling it encompass my ears, and ran out of the door to take off to the ball park.
After arriving at the home of the Akron-Canton Indians, we grabbed our necessities and headed towards the gate. When we got there, a man saw my dad’s peanuts and pointed to them. I thought that he was going to compliment my father on being prepared for the evening but instead he said with a stern look on his face, “No outside food allowed inside of the stadium.” No peanuts!? I thought that those were a must. My dad gave into the man’s request, but didn’t want to walk all of the way back to the car, so he asked if there was a place where he could keep his controversial peanuts during the game. The man pointed him towards a lone mailbox and told him to put them there. After he placed the peanuts inside and turned the mail flag up, we entered the stadium and headed towards what he called “the bleachers.”
These seats were just metal benches that did not even have backs, but I didn’t notice because my father was too busy explaining what was happening in the game to me. He said, “This is the minor leagues. Some of these players go on to make lots of money.” Throughout his explanation, I was trying to figure out the rules of the game. As the game progressed, I started seeing more and more signs lined up against the outfield wall with the letter “K” on them, so I asked my dad what they were for. He replied, “The ‘K’ stands for a strikeout, when the pitcher pitches three balls in thethat the batter doesn’t hit, it is a strikeout.” Throughout the contest, he continued to explain to me various other facets of the game such as there being three outs in an inning and nine innings in a game.
Now I was ready for the big time. The Indians were in the midst of their second straight division title season in 1996, when I was ten-years-old, and my father had secured tickets through one of the students that he taught at the University of Akron Law School for the game that night. He did not buy them, because every game was sold out, but his student was the sound person in charge of what songs get played during the game and he gave my father box seats. My father spent most of the drive up there explaining the importance of the event and telling my brother and me that we should be grateful for the opportunity.
Although I was under the impression that the Indians regularly won championships and the stadium was always sold out, it was a good thing that my dad told me I was wrong so that I didn’t get used to the winning. The stadium was unlike any place I had ever seen before. It wasn’t just a sporting venue: it was a tourist attraction. As we walked into the park, my father told us stories about how, when he was growing up in Cleveland, he had to attend the old Cleveland Stadium, where there were support beams that blocked many onlookers’ views of the field. He also says that he was once only a couple of feet from the Indians’ great Rocky Colavito when he was nine-years-old, something that only the luckiest of fans get to say.
We were able to go into the room where my father’s student worked and pick the songs that were going to be played. I still brag about this adventure, but I usually focus on how the person thought so highly of my father that he gave him tickets to the game.
There was a team coming to stay in my hometown for the first time in my life. The Akron Aeros is what they were to be called, and my father had tickets to the very first game. Although he was not able to get enough tickets for me to go, he was still going with one of his friends. To me he was a celebrity; going to the first game was something that only famous people get to do. I told all of my friends in school that my father was going to be at the game.
When he arrived home that night, it was way past my bed time, but I was still awake. He came to my room and threw me a shirt with the Aeros logo on it along with the date of the first game. He told me about how the stadium was full of people and how all of the big wigs from northeast Ohio were there. I proudly wore the shirt to school the next day and recounted my father’s stories in every class that I attended.
Once again we were off to Jacobs Field, although this time we were not sitting in nice box seats away from the weather. We were traveling with a group of Boy Scouts and we were sitting in the last row-row Z-of the upper deck. Looking behind the seats made me feel like I was in an airplane with no protection. It was hard to see the game from where we were sitting, but once again my dad came to the rescue by bringing his binoculars. The ants on the field turned to real people when it was my turn to use them. My father let everyone in the group use them for some time, so that everyone got a chance to see the game.
My baseball knowledge was growing and I knew most of the people on the team by now and I could follow the game without having to have my father explain the game every other minute. I could hold a conversation with my father about who was playing or parts of the game such as what the count was on the batter or how good a certain pitcher was, but it usually sounded like someone who barely knew what they were talking about. I was trying very hard to show that I cared about something that he had introduced me to, although I don’t think I did that great of a job. My father left in the middle of the game, making me wonder why he didn’t take me with him, but when he came back, he surprised me with a large picture of my favorite player, Indians’ shortstop Omar Vizquel. I cherished it from the moment that he pulled it out of the bag and held it in my hand for the rest of the game and the entire way home so that nothing would happen to it. Once I got home, I ran directly upstairs, to put it in a safe binder and admire my gift.
Be sure to come back tomorrow to read the last 4 innings of this story!
Bill Jordan is a contributor to BaseballReflections.com. He can be reached by e-mail at BillJordaniv@yahoo.com.