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Matters of Life and Steph: “Batter Up”- Musings from a Children’s Writer

One of my happiest childhood memories is going to a Yankees game when I was eleven years old. If you asked me today, I couldn’t tell a single thing about the actual game. I have no idea who the Yankees played, what the score was, or even what the weather was. (Though I am pretty sure it wasn’t cold.)

Why is it a favorite memory then, you may be asking? What I remember most was the thrill of anticipation.

I can vividly remember several details about the events leading up to the game—the excitement when I first heard of the plans, the chaotic car ride, and the gluttonous tailgate party.

As for the rest of my memories from that day—once the game started—well, I draw a complete blank.

Which brings me to the life lesson I learned on that slightly dangerous, but marvelous day: Anticipation can sometimes be more enjoyable than the actual event. And that, in and of itself, can make a memory all the more special.

Get Miata-here

I should premise this blog post with a caveat. While I love sports, I am not a huge baseball fan. In fact, if I had to choose a sporting event to attend other than a tennis match, baseball wouldn’t be my second (that would be football), third (basketball) or even fourth (soccer) choice.  But on that magical day sometime in 1985, I didn’t care. 

I remember being told a few days before that my dad would be taking my sister and I to a Yankees game with two other families. Moms had the “day off.” (Yeah, right.)

I was so excited I could hardly sleep. I suppose that’s why my parents didn’t share the plans too far in advance. I debated my outfit, changing which navy-blue shirt and shorts combo I would wear several times.

Since I didn’t have a Yankees hat, I secretly hoped I’d get one as a souvenir. (I was told that, just in case the New York fans were unruly, I couldn’t wear my beloved Philadelphia Phillies hat that our neighbor gave me. I didn’t care about the Phillies either, mind you. I just liked the color red.)

Bright and early that Saturday morning, we met at C’s house. C was one of my dad’s friends and also happened to have the biggest car. Once the other family had arrived, we all loaded into C ‘s humongous station wagon. (Remember a time before SUVs?)

To give you a sense of how the day was going to go, our Yankee stadium crew consisted of three fathers chaperoning seven children ranging in age from ten to sixteen.

I love my dad dearly, but I wouldn’t say he had the same standards of safety, cleanliness, and nutrition as my mother. Neither did the other two fathers. Let the good times roll!

Shake and brake

I recall my sister and I sat in the way, way back along with three of the other boys. How was that possible, you may be wondering? Easy: three kids got the backwards-facing seat, while two of us sat on the floor.  

Although my knowledge of the law is a bit hazy (I was only a kid after all), I’m pretty sure seatbelts weren’t required back then. That meant that whenever we went over a big bump, those of us in the back of the station wagon often bounced up. So much so, that our heads frequently touched (aka hit) the ceiling.

At some point it became a great game. Yes, it was slightly dangerous, but still marvelous.

Since the dads weren’t really paying attention to us, we opened the back window and took turns screaming “Yankee Stadium, dead ahead.” And of course, no road trip is complete without making the “honk your horn” gesture to other cars.

The other funny detail I remember was that C didn’t have time to shave that morning. I recall that he brought his electric razor with him. The car ride to Queens took about an hour and a half. Approximately fifteen minutes before we arrived—once we hit the Major Deegan Expressway—C decided that would be a good time to shave.

For those of you who don’t know, the Major Deegan is an extremely busy six-lane road, with three-lanes in each direction. It was like C was driving the Indy 500 with one hand on the wheel, the other on his electric razor. Again, slightly dangerous, but still marvelous.

I can only imagine how our packed car must’ve looked to the people driving by. Seven screaming kids, a driver shaving, and the other two adult passengers deeply engrossed in conversation. Perhaps they would agree it was slightly dangerous, but still marvelous.

Full of bologna

My dad, a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan, was the most excited about going to the game. As for me, I would describe myself as an ambivalent baseball fan at best. My sister, on the other hand, who didn’t care for any sports, was literally was along for the ride.

What she did care about (as did I) was the tailgate lunch. That morning, before we had left for the stadium, we picked up sandwiches from Metzger’s, our favorite deli. As far as I was concerned, the best lunch in the world was a bologna sandwich on a kaiser role, doused in ketchup. (Sorry vegetarians!)

My mouth waters just thinking about it, though I haven’t eaten a bologna sandwich in about three decades.  

There was literally nothing more delicious than the first bite of an overly stuffed bologna sandwich. I loved when the ketchup would spurt out, so that your fingers looked like they were bleeding. Eating the rest of the sandwich then became a race in finding the parts of the meat that popped out from the bread. No matter how many napkins I used, my hands were surely sticky for the bulk of the day.

Home in time for dinger

When it was time for the game—with my stomach full and still gurgling from the can of root beer I would’ve been allowed to drink—we all filed into the stadium. The only thing I remember was how tall Dave Winfield was and how Don Mattingly didn’t seem to miss at bat.  

After that, I can’t recall a single thing. 

Once the anticipation was gone, so was my unbridled enthusiasm.

I’m sure that the car ride home was far less exciting than the ride there. There was probably a fight for who got an actual seat versus the way, way back floor. My father likely fell asleep within ten minutes. No one had the energy to ask cars to honk.

I’m guessing that when we arrived home—after washing our hands—my mother got a detailed report of all the things we did with my father that we’d never do with her.

As a mother, I find these “daddy let us do this” debriefs to be annoying on the one hand, but also affirming on the other. Occasional indulgences help my kids be more mindful about their more moderate, “regular lives.” At least that’s the plan.

(B)all’s well that ends well

Despite the adage that it’s important to live in the moment, I think it’s just as important to live for the future. There have been plenty of scientific studies showing that the pleasure derived from anticipating something enjoyable is often equal to or greater than the pleasure derived from the event itself. The theory being that we’re inventing and idealizing the future. So, of course, it’s better.

I couldn’t agree more.

In my mind, I imagined that the game day weather would be sunny and warm. The possibility of rain never crossed my mind. In contrast, I know my father, who had paid for our nonrefundable tickets, had been monitoring the weather forecast for days.

And I’m sure in my idealized game-day image, I didn’t factor in the overwhelming smell of stale beer, sticky floors, or the constant heckling from the diehard fans. In my scenario, we had great seats and the people around us didn’t get totally drunk by early afternoon. (In reality: we had so-so seats and the people around us were all plastered.)

Regardless of what happened on my imagined day vs. reality, the novelty of attending a sporting event with a bunch of fun yet mildly rowdy kids, along with our permissive dads, had all the ingredients for a slightly dangerous, yet still marvelous day.

Perfect pitch

Truth be told, I didn’t like baseball enough to wish we had a Yankees trip every year. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to spoil the memories? Or maybe I feared we could never replicate an experience that seemed nearly perfect? I’m sure it wasn’t because the baseball game had nine long innings, or that baking in the sun after consuming massive quantities of salt and sugar didn’t feel so great after a while.

As a parent, I try to foster those same feelings of excitement and anticipation in my kids by exposing them to different “special” activities. But as they get older, I realize now the challenges my parents must’ve faced. As kids grow up, they become much harder to please. It’s exhausting coming up with new and exciting adventures. (Not to mention costly!)

But I try to remind myself it’s often the simplest things that make an experience the most memorable.

I still smile when I think about how happy I was eating a bologna sandwich with ketchup. (Although the nutrition-minded side of me says that consuming all those nitrates is probably slightly dangerous, but still marvelous.)  If only my kids felt that same joy when they eat broccoli.

Perhaps I just need to do a better job building their anticipation…

Do you recall the anticipation leading up to a special event in your childhood? Did reality match your excitement?  Please share your stories with me in the comments section.

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