Dodger stadium. A night game, mid-week. Sometime in the late 70s—the golden age of Garvey, Cey, Russell, Lopes, Yeager, Baker, Smith. Sitting in the exile of the left field bleachers. Peanut shells piled below us. The hum of people and baseball and memory. The announcer’s voice was the voice of God. I was keeping score.
Over the years my father and I had attended hundreds of Dodger (and Angels) games, and never, not once, had we ever caught a foul ball. I stopped bringing my mitt to games; instead I bought the game programs and religiously tracked the balls and strikes, the double plays and ground outs.
But that particular summer night, deep into the game—say, the seventh or eighth inning—it happened. The bat cracked and the ball rose and made its slow-then-fast descent nearby, landing with a smack and bouncing madly two rows in front of us. There was immediate mayhem. My father leapt over some empty chairs and then dove head first toward the skittering ball. I’d never seen him move like that. He was probably fifty-four or fifty-five at this point. An old dad, just like me.
And now, thinking of this, many years later, after asking my oldest son if he wanted to go to a baseball game (he sighed and said no thanks), I can still see my father’s lanky frame stretched out, reaching for the ball, fending off the other dads and scrambling combatants, the look of satisfaction on his face once he had it, the ball, secure in his hands, walking triumphantly toward me, climbing back over the chairs (yellow? I remember them as being yellow) and sitting down next to me, placing the ball in my hand as if it were a prize bestowed to a prince, and I’m inspecting the scuffed leather, the rough feel of the red stitching, rubbing my fingers over the fresh blemish from the impact of the concrete, and also there’s the sweat on my father’s brow, his breathing slowing, sipping his beer as a reward, and again I look at and rub the magical object, over and over, slumped in my yellow chair, unaware of the passage of time, the game continuing, finally having what had been coveted for so long, this gift being given from father to son, son to father, and back again.