This post originally ran in July of 2011, nearly three years ago, in regard to a trip to a baseball game with my son and my father. I was reminded of it recently, and it struck me, on re-reading it, that this was the last baseball game I attended with my dad. I also wrote about the loss of my father on the first Father’s Day after his death.
Today, I’ll be out at the old ballpark for his tournament, as he takes the mound today. So much has changed in three years, but his love of the game has not. I would also like to thank former Royals pitcher Everett Teaford–a left handed pitcher like my son–who was in fact the player identified in the original story. Teaford’s mother contacted me when she saw this story, a year after it ran, and sent another autographed baseball, and this one has been properly attributed to Teaford on the shelf display.
If you are a parent, a point will come when you have to decide whether to correct a minor misconception. It’s not exactly like telling a lie. You’re not affirmatively engaging in deception — but for the greater good, you just don’t speak up and set it straight. That moment came at about 10:30 last night.
Waking up this morning to my son already sitting on the couch, tossing an autographed baseball back and forth while watching Little Big League, I have no regrets. “I just felt like watching this again,” he said.
He’s been begging to go for a game for a solid month but circumstances have prevented it, and then the team was out of town for an extended stretch. Finally, last night was the game. I made the mistake of casually saying maybe we could get an autograph before the game. You don’t casually say anything with an eight year old. There is no subtlety or grey area. Things are the best or the worst; they either happen or don’t happen. Being someone who hasn’t actively sought out an autograph since I was about his age, I didn’t know or pay attention to how these things worked. I didn’t know they only sign autographs on the field or along the rail on Sundays. The only option was to wait after the game as the players left the parking lot.
He was already disappointed because we didn’t catch a foul ball. Five of them hit within 30 feet of our perch directly in line with right hand hitters fouling them back. My suggestion that he bring his glove to catch a foul ball was apparently interpreted as “you will catch a foul ball” — that whole no grey area thing. So we had to stay to get an autograph or I would be the worst father in the world.
As we were on the way to the game, he listed his four favorite players: Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar. At Kauffman, if they are going to sign, it is just outside the player’s parking lot between Kauffman and Arrowhead. The players can drive out in their cars, or they can stop as they chose, or come out from behind the fence and sign. The crowd was pretty sparse, maybe 20-30 people with mostly kids. Bruce Chen came out on foot and was the only player signing, as others left.
After my son got Chen’s autograph, we watched as several players left in their vehicles. Billy Butler pulled out to fans crying his name, took a quick right, and departed. My son was broken up that he didn’t stop, one of the guys on his list. We waited about 30 more minutes as players trickled out, often difficult to tell who was in the vehicle. My son sat on a curb, his head down, pouting, his belief shaken.
Then, a player, with his WAG driving the truck, pulled over as he exited, and rolled down the window. I’m pretty sure it was reliever Greg Holland. He signed for everyone around, and my son came back, excited that Eric Hosmer had signed. They both have facial hair, and so in the dark, looking up into a truck, my son thought it was Hosmer. His belief was restored. I didn’t say anything.
A minute later, another young reliever pulled out of the gate and also parked and rolled the window down. I’m not even entirely sure who it was as I looked from a little distance, I just knew it wasn’t any of the hitters, or Soria, Crow or Collins. My best guess is that it was Everett Teaford. He was in a big pickup and my son had to reach up to give him the ball. And he came back glowing. “I just got Alex Gordon’s signature!” My dad was there, and he gave a funny look. I immediately threw up the stop sign and held the runners. We were over an hour after the game had ended, the lot was mostly cleared, and there was a day game to follow. My son was ready to go, happy that he got two of his prized autographs.
There are a hundred reasons for a player not to stop and sign. They have their families with them, it’s late, they’re going to sign as a matter of course on Sunday, they’re tired or looking to go out, and let’s face it, some people out there can be annoying or adult dealers that take the joy away, and yes, these kids may not even know who you really are if you are not the star. There is a pretty good reason, though, to stop. Eight year old boys, discovering the game, falling in love with every little thing about it, who are there for that one game, who do not understand all of those things and are attaching to the heroes they will hold up beyond all reason as they age.
I could have said something to my son, I suppose. I could have corrected a minor misconception. But there’s a big difference between an 0-fer, and a 2 for 4 day at the old ball park. My son already understood that as he walked out beaming, talking about Gordon’s home run and Hosmer and Bruce Chen, and as he woke up this morning still holding that ball. I sure wasn’t going to be the one to change the box score from last night. He’s already wanting to go play catch as soon as I’m done writing this.