Emily saw the note a couple of weeks ago: Sesame Street characters at Shea, a 12:10 start, finale of a three-game set against the Braves. Noting that I had more vacation days than I likely would be able to use, she suggested what should have been obvious to me: Take Joshua.
Well, of course. A father-son trip to Shea. What could be finer?
My own parents have given me innumerable things to be grateful for, not least among them raising me a Met fan and thus protecting me from falling into the darkness of the Bronx. But while my parents have many admirable qualities, they weren’t much for baseball games at Shea.
I grew up in Setauket, where we watched New York City newscasts and the paper had New York City theater information and the radio stations were New York City radio stations, but the city itself was like a foreign land to us. A dangerous foreign land to be regarded with fear and suspicion. Once or twice a year, we’d drive in for some mission or other, and you’d have thought we were entering the Iditarod the way we arranged and prepared and fussed beforehand. Shea Stadium wasn’t really going into the city, at least not the way I thought of it then (and think of it now, proving that Brooklyn chauvinism and Suffolk County provincialism can lead you to the same destination), but I doubt there were five family outings to Shea between 1976, when I discovered baseball, and 1984, when we moved to Florida. And that’s probably why I started fires as a teenager and now steal OxyContin from pharmacies.
No, not really. It’s fine — that was the way it was, and I neither lamented that it wasn’t otherwise nor was damaged by it. (And in fairness, I paid little attention to the Mets in 1982 and 1983, so those years shouldn’t count.) Though my childhood remove from New York City did yield an amusing story: More than a decade ago Emily was living in New York and I was living in D.C., and while visiting I got the rather harebrained idea that we should burn a precious Saturday driving out to Setauket so Emily could, like, see where I went to junior high and stuff. So the day of our drive to Suffolk County, I’m up at around 6 a.m. getting ready and wondering why Emily isn’t doing the same.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” she mutters unhappily.
“Come on, we’ve gotta get up — it’s a long drive!” I chirp.
When I refused to be dissuaded, Emily rolled her eyes and got up. We got in the car and arrived in Setauket at around 6:45 in the morning. The town, of course, was utterly deserted, leaving Emily shaking her head as she watched my face contort with the realization that no, I hadn’t grown up very far from New York City after all.
Joshua has it comparatively easy — hop on the 2/3, switch to the 7, no LIE to be braved or LIRR to be navigated. So off we went to Shea at 10:45 or so — he’s dreaming of treats and Muppets, I’m dreaming of taking two out of three, we’re both fantasizing about Jose Reyes heroics.
A good start, but my dreams of some father-son idyll wouldn’t last.
Through various misadventures (a colloquy about hats, bad train luck, forgetting to go to the ATM), we didn’t get to our seats until there were two out in the top of the first. If the Sesame Street characters had done any cavorting, I’m afraid we missed it. Four-year-old attention spans being what they are, I’d sprung for mezzanine boxes to ensure Joshua would be able to see. But those seats were under a broiling sun, and after a couple of innings I realized the shallow arc the sun was traversing across the sky wouldn’t put us into shade until it no longer mattered.
Joshua, like many children, is apparently made of asbestos — despite the temperature threatening to soften lead, he decided the best vantage point for watching the game was my lap, and once there he could amuse himself by wriggling, grabbing my face and scraping the hair off my legs with the bottom of his sandals. My kid is a precocious baseball fan, but this wasn’t one of his high-focus days — among other things, doves, airplanes and cranes moving around at Citi Field offered much more interest than whatever the Mets and Braves were doing down there. By the middle innings we were both drenched with sweat, sticky with overflow ketchup and chocolate ice cream, and fractious, sniping about the timing of mandatory bathroom trips and debating the proper relationship between not listening to fathers and the likelihood of getting further treats. And the Mets weren’t helping, not with John Maine pulling his usual act of getting unnerved by a bit of bad luck, only this time he gave up a shockingly long homer to Chipper (whom I tried to teach my unnervingly fair-minded son to boo) and then a less-flamboyant one to Teixeira.
Not very Ozzie and Harriet, but we did rally once we were able to move up and grab some seats in the shade. And the Mets rallied too — in the ninth Joshua found his misplaced focus and began energetically cheering on Reyes and Gotay, loudly and confidently informing our neighbors of scenarios in which we’d turn a 7-3 deficit into a chance to play more baseball. He was aghast that his bringdown of a father could only muster muted cheers for Wright’s home run.
“But it’s only 7-6,” I said, thinking darkly of the tack-on runs we’d allowed. “We’re still a run behind.”
“Daddy,” Joshua said gravely. “If we lose 7-6 that’s still better, because they really tried.”
“A loss is still a loss,” I retorted, and immediately tried to snatch the words back, because Joshua wasn’t necessarily right in a baseball sense, but he was undeniably right in the ways that matter to four-year-olds. (Fortunately, he was trying to scavenge a beer-soaked Matt Yallof card from beneath the next seat and didn’t hear me.)
And damned if we didn’t almost do it. Only the need to keep a steadying hand on my kid (by then half-unhinged by sun and sugar) kept me from leaping out of my seat for Delgado’s drive — so obviously gone, so obviously … in Willie Harris’s glove. Joshua argued that the rules said you weren’t allowed to jump over the fence, and kept insisting on the point until he abruptly contorted himself into a ball on a seat in a fantastically crowded 7 car and passed out, a condition he stayed in through the hike through 42nd Street, the 2/3, the walk home and about an hour of couch time.
Father-son baseball trips, like rubber games, don’t always go exactly the way you would have scripted them. But for all that, they’re among our better inventions. That night we heard Joshua singing himself to sleep with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and I watched footage of Delgado’s liner and thought, with a smile, that hey, they really tried.