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2004-07-22 - 3:16 p.m.

“Baseball”

Walking through the train station in Queens, I came to a fork in the corridor. Signs pointing out Manhattan or Flushing bound 7 trains, signs pointing out street exits and Metrocard vending machines…and Baseball. Just to the left of the exit ramp to Shea Stadium is a subway sign that reads plainly:

“Baseball”

Just “Baseball.” This is the way to “Baseball.”

Brilliant.

I hadn’t been to a baseball game since I was in middle school. Three of my friends and I went to Yankee Stadium to watch the Bombers finish out a sweep of the Red Socks a few months before the infamous strike. I don’t remember much of the game, only the shot in batting practice that nearly beaned me in the noggin, instead leaving a two-inch dent in the metal chair behind me. I remember that, and my Boston loving best friend trying his darnedest to annoy the shit out of the Center fielder, to no avail. I have an odd habit of becoming friends with Red Sox fans, possibly because anyone who throws their lot in with the Nation tends to have an ability to empathize with my deep-seated feelings of doubt, dread and inevitable disaster.

The company I work for has a box reserved for the season, presumably for use schmoosing the higher end clients. Still, one can’t help but notice that the homepage of the man responsible for such purchases is ESPN.com. The Mets were playing the Expos, so there was little hoopla around the game, in fact no hoop at all. And a hoopless game isn’t exactly the best means to pry the good will out of a heavy pocket. Such tickets then trickled down through the office, and some how they ended up in my hands.

The game went quickly, as did our overpriced plastic bottles of Budweiser. We each took a round, and of course, when my turn came up the vendor turned stone, looking me right in the eyes, saying, “Now, are you old enough to be drinking, son?” One day, I’ll appreciate having a baby face. One day, when my friends are capable of holding pennies in their crow’s feet, I’ll be glad my continence reflects kickball and cartoons. On this day, however, I just had to sit waiting, as the vendor pulled out a jeweler’s glass to examine my ID.

It was odd being there. I’ve never been much of a sports fan until coming to New York and slipping into reading the paper everyday. Just happening on a game while you flip through the channels doesn’t give you a sense of what’s really going on, but when you know that a team had been flirting with first in their division only to drop almost entirely out of contention, but was now making a last minute drive for the wild card spot, suddenly each pitch carries with it the aggregate drama of Sophocles’ body of work. Now with all that back-story I was seeing the players I’d been reading about in person. There was a moment I thought I should grab an oversized cap and an ice cream, just to complete the awed little kid look I had in my eyes. Being only twenty feet away didn’t hurt any either.

I throw with the determination and power of a three year old, shortly after vomiting up a can of strained peas, and I could have hucked a ball into the third baseman’s ear from these seats. Of course, this turned out to be a mixed blessing. When you’re sitting just off the third base line, they may as well hand you a blindfold and a cigarette because something is going to get shot at you. Everyone in our section leapt to the ground at every foul ball as if artillery had rolled up during the seventh inning stretch and began bombing us out.

One line drive cut right into our section at speeds that rendered it nothing more than a white flash. Three seats back, it rammed a kid who’s eyes had matched mine at the beginning of the game. His face clenched and the tears came, but considering the roadrunner like pace on that ball, I was amazed he didn’t reel into an out and out fit. I can’t say he took it like a man, but he took it like one hell of a kid.

As the Mets EMS showed up to give him a once over, the man behind him who caught the ball plopped it into his hands. We all applauded and looked eagerly for him to brighten and smile all Christmas Special like. He nodded.

Hopefully he won’t go sour on baseball because of the ball that nearly took his head off. After all he was a great souvenir and an amazing sympathy story he can play out for years. Picture him in fifteen years with a girl in is college dorm room, when he pulls the ball off his desk…

“I was, like, six years old and my parents took me to a Met game…”

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