Although time travel in a physical sense is presently science fiction, it is a reality when traveling within our mind. Through our experiences and our memories, we are able to journey into the past, for better or worse, and revisit those feelings and emotions that stirred us so deeply. And although many of those memories are filled with grandeur and majesty, often the ones that become a fabric of your life are the quietest and simplest.
Monday, March 31, 2014 is a national holiday. Well, it is for baseball fans. As opening day of the new baseball season, it is a celebration of hope for your team, an unofficial welcome to the splendor of spring. And a very good excuse to take a vacation day, travel across the state with your son, and watch the Tampa Bay Rays opening day game in St. Petersburg.
For years, I have been a cheering fan in the seats at Tropicana Field on opening day, partaking in the festive atmosphere, allowing myself to be ushered by the wave of excitement. Alone. The opportunity to share this rendition of opening day with my eleven year old son filled me with eager anticipation. After partaking in a lunch consisting of a foot long hot dog, a pressed Cuban sandwich, and a shared order of fries, we found our way to section 219, row D, seats 19 and 20, our new t-shirt and cap securely clutched in hand.
As we settled into watching batting practice, the rhythmic crack of a wooden bat piercing the air was an oddly comforting sound, an announcement that baseball is back in full swing. As the power hitters launched ball after ball into the outfield seats, many a “Whoa, did you just see that?” were shared between us, along with sips of lemonade from our souvenir cup.
Near the conclusion of warm-ups, we decided to explore a new addition to the venue affectionately known as The Trop. Circling the entire stadium at just above field level is a walkway that allows you to soak up the experience from nearly any vantage point. As we were navigating our way through the crowds of people along the path, the jumbo screen came to life. With a musical score introduction exuding a victorious tone, a cinematic presentation followed. Highlights from past seasons streamed over those pixels on the big screen providing a reminiscent trip down memory lane.
The magical sequence of events that our entire family watched together on the final day of the 2011 baseball season. The highlights from Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series. As I place a hand on my son’s shoulder, I got down to his eye level and pointed with my finger to the very last row at the top of the stadium behind home plate. “I was up there during that game when they advanced to the World Series, and it was absolutely amazing. I wish you could have been there with me to see it.”
Caught up within the evocative memories of seasons past, I kept the tear forming in the corner of my eye from escaping down my cheek. The goose bumps, however, could not be contained, washing over my skin with a tidal wave of emotion. Not because my team succeeded. Okay, well maybe a little bit because of that. Ultimately, though, the emotion came from sharing such a special moment with those around me, whether it was the stranger who looked like Mr. Miyagi seated next to me in those nosebleed seats during Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, or with my family on our living room couch in 2011.
As we departed the stadium, en route back home, the churning hunger pains from our stomach began to win out over the adrenaline rush of an opening day 9-2 victory. In search of a Chick-Fil-A at all expenses, my son willingly staved off those pangs of hunger until we were finally able to locate one an hour into our drive back home.
After pacifying the immediate demands of hunger, I looked up to my son who was sitting across from me and I said, “You know, when they were playing those highlights from the past seasons, I got goose bumps.” He paused a moment, looked up with a little grin, almost one of relief, and said, “Yeah, me too.”
And right then, I forgot whether we had won or lost the game. The memory I had intended to make by attending a baseball game with my son didn’t occur in a stadium. It transpired at a Chick-Fil-A, an hour away from home, while dipping chicken nuggets in buttermilk ranch sauce. And those goose bumps that had visited earlier treated me with an encore performance. I can’t say exactly why that moment filled me with such joy. Perhaps it was just an intimate moment between father and son, a shared memory that endowed more emotion than a game winning home run ever could. Sometimes, we capture memories in a photograph, and sometimes a memory becomes so imprinted upon us that a photograph could not possibly do it justice. Chalk one up for the latter.