For years it has been a tradition in Philadelphia – sell-out Opening Day in early April, and then suffer several weeks of empty seats and lame crowds as games go poorly attended until the warmer weather of May. With a tradition of uninspiring teams, and temperatures in the 30s and 40s most April nights, an early season evening at the ballpark is no fun.
So the marketing gurus at the Phillies decided to make the second game of the year College Night. Discounted tickets for college kids and buses full of 18-22 year-olds results in very few empty seats – something like 41,000 tickets sold for tonight’s game. But, for a father of two girls under the age of 4, it also presented a problem.
Lots of drunk kids.
As I stood in line to buy tickets for the game, I nearly got tipsy simply by inhaling the collective breath of a mostly drunk hoard of high school and college aged kids. Walking around the stadium was like walking outside of a college fraternity house party – girls dressed for clubbing despite the 40 degree weather and wicked wind, and guys brandishing beers, belches and big (sometimes bare) bellies. Oh, to be in college again!
Add to this excitement Dollar Dog night. All hot dogs just $1. The kids need something to absorb all that cheap, tailgating beer, right? The food lines were obnoxiously long, so we observed a fast for most of the innings of the ballgame (we saved some money, too!).
Of course, we’re in Philadelphia, and I’m proud of my Philadelphia heritage. As Chipper Jones came to the plate in the first inning, I booed in classic Philly style. Then, I turned to my three year old and told her, "We boo these guys. Can you say ‘Boo Braves’?" She booed, and I nearly cried in the pride and joy of a Philly father. As the crowd around us booed the umpire’s bad call on the next play, my daughter joined in without any prompt from me. She’s getting it, I gleefully say to myself. Wow. I’m so proud (tear).
But then the (inebriated) crowd starts its slow but deliberate chant – "A–hole" (they filled in the hyphens). I admit, if my daughters weren’t in attendance, I might join in. But, since I could not verify that the umpire indeed was an a–hole, and since I’d rather my three year old daughter not participate in this form of communal expletive, I simply encouraged her to keep booing and ignore the chants of the other 40,000+ people in the stadium.
And so went the night – rarely were all four of us seated together watching the game. My wife variously went off to change a diaper and take our big girl to a wonderful Phillie Phanatic shoe slide . . . and then I went on a peanut hunt with my three year-old – a trek that took us half-way across the stadium to find a vendor that still had peanuts and whose line wasn’t 40 people deep . . . And after the joy of booing wore off, my daughter kept asking me, "Where’s Phanatic?" He seemed to be keeping a low profile tonight, much to my daughter’s chagrin.
Finally, it was the 8th inning and the Phillies were winning. Let’s leave early and beat the crowd to the bathrooms and parking lot, I thought (by the way, this represents a major shift in my thinking – prior to having children, there was never a good reason to leave a ballgame early. Now, there’s little good reason to stay the whole 9 innings). There’s nothing worse than screaming children strapped in the back of a car stuck in parking lot traffic.
So we go to the bathroom where I learn that yes, there is something worse than screaming children strapped in the back of a car stuck in parking lot traffic. And that worse thing is taking a three year-old girl to the bathroom in a men’s stall on College Night in the late innings of a baseball game. There we were, me and my three year-old, in the stall, surrounded by the sound of young men urinating (variously hitting and missing their porcelain targets) while cursing about the ballplayers and yelling E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES! In the midst of all this I’m trying to tell my girl DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING! (to which she curiously responds, "Why, Daddy?") as I wipe the toilet seat and rim with copious amounts of toilet paper. (By the way, she was with me in the wretched mens bathroom because she refused to go pee-pee with mommy. Just
our my luck! I’m touched, really touched, that she insisted on sharing that moment, that bodily function, with me tonight.)
Well, after some tears (I don’t want to go!) and missing an 8th inning insurance run (making the score 2-0), we get to the car, change our three year old into her jammies, and begin the trek home. While still in the parking lot we hear on the radio that, for the second night in a row, the Phillies bullpen has given up a game-tying home run (they would lose it in 11 innings). Oh well. There’s still 160 more games this season.
Within a few exits along the Schuylkill Expressway, the girls are asleep and my wife and I are enjoying a rare pleasure – a good, substantive, reflective conversation. We talk about life, children, family, careers and politics for the next hour, our words whisking us back to the suburban enclave we call home. For all its quirks and challenges, it was a wonderful night.
But next time, I’ll insist that my daughter go potty with mommy, and that the Phillies get a bullpen arm that won’t give up late inning homeruns. And since neither is likely to happen, I’ll just do what comes naturally to me – booooooooo like heck, and love every minute of it.
Take me out to the ballgame!