I went to the Phillies games today with my son largely because his baseball game was rained out and because I melted down last night. The first freed up the schedule, and the second -- well, there's a story there I'll touch on in a bit.
Anyway, I heard about the single entry doubleheader for Sunday, and I hit Stubhub. $109.00 later, I had two seats in the 214 section of the Hall of Fame Club good for both games. Esssentially, we got tickets for 2 games for 2 seats for the money, or $27.25 each for HOF tickets. Pretty sweet, even though the pitching matchups were less than, well, they were 2015 Phillies pitching matchups.
Off to Citizens Bank Park we went. Turnpike Ho! We arrived, and the people at the gate started handing us stuff. He got a Phanatic jersey, a W.B. Mason truck, and we got some cheesy sunglasses. Our seats were swell - under cover with a great view of the field. As we walked to our seats, we were greeted by the Francoeur bomb to left in the first game.
The games were decent, with the Phillies losing the first 3 - 2, and winning the second 8 - 5. We had a really good time all around, and it wasn't just the baseball.
While we were there, I finally pulled the trigger on my customized replica jersey that I've wanted for years. I finally settled on a Pedro Martinez jersey, but he is not on the "permitted player" list. I went with [myrealsurname] with number 8, the latter being an homage to Jim Eisenreich, whom I have always been a big fan of, first just for baseball reasons, and later because I am the parent of a non-neurotypical kid. I also got 4 free seats to *more* Phillies games. It was supposed to be 2, but they ran out of the "2" vouchers and just gave me a "4" voucher instead. Tickets in packs of hot dogs, here we come!
At the jersey customizing area in the second floor of the Majestic store, there was a family in front of me with a couple of the cutest little boys ever. Dad was getting their first jersey for them with their names on the back. Karl S. of Aramark was doing the jersey customizations, and he took the jersey the dad had picked out for the kid and started setting up the print. While he was doing this, he noticed a small tear in the jersey that the family had not seen, and he pulled the jersey and had them get another one. Had they gotten home and found the tear, it would have been really disappointing (or they would have blamed the kid), and it would have left a bad taste in their mouths.
Karl gave a damn about his job, was careful, and it made the difference between the family having a good memory and a bad one. When the boy put his jersey on for the first time, he looked like the happiest kid on earth. I said something to Karl about it when the family left to let him know I noticed it and that I thought that he was awesome. It was a neat vignette. Internet fist-bump, Karl.
Later on that day, during the second game of the doubleheader, there were maybe 7,000 fans around for the start. The crowd kept thinning throughout, and there were maybe a couple thousand left at the end. I counted heads in the section behind the visitor's dugout in the 7th and there were maybe 80 people in the whole section, and it was more full than most.
In my section (214) among the second game "bitter enders" there was a young kid in a Mayberry jersey (who buys a Mayberry jersey?) in the front row. He had a glove, and he was hopeful throughout both games (as only someone truly young and naive can be) that a ball might actually come his way. A ball did, and he moved to his left, glove in the air. It came a little further to his left, landed in the glove... and bounced out. I swear it went *doink* off the railing to his left, and it fell to the crowd below. It was just awful to watch.
This kid was maybe 10 or 11. He was kind of shocked. He physically replayed the thing a couple of times while explaining it all to his dad. He finally hit himself in the forehead, tossed his glove on the ground, and sat down with his head in his hands. He stopped watching the game for a bit, and clearly continued to be upset at himself.
I quickly looked around among things I had gotten with my son for something to give to this kid: A media guide? No. A 2014 Phillies video yearbook narrated by T-Mac? God, no -- the kid was traumatized enough already. I had nothing. I wanted to run down and give the kid $20.00 to go buy a souvenir or something. Or a hug, but that would have been creepy.
About 15 minutes passed, and an older fan services man walked down to talk to the boy and his dad. They chatted for a minute or two, and as he leaned over to talk to the kid, I saw the lump in his back pocket and saw what was coming. It was just amazing. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a baseball and gave it to this child. It was just the most wonderful thing to see. The few remaining folks in our section all saw this develop, too. Everyone gave a nice round of applause, and our hearts all got three sizes bigger.
Look, this team is three day old fish. It stinks on ice. They are unabashedly awful. But a fan experience does not need to be something like I remember the Vet being: surly, drunk, bitter fans bitching and booing. Every game, there are probably kids there for the first time. There is a staff that makes sure that little kids get balls that bounce around and land in the hands of ushers - I saw that at least 10 times (and that was only when I noticed).
Bad baseball is still better than no baseball. There will be lots of horrorshow moments like the Orioles homerfest game (hopefully not *that* bad) but there are fun ones, too. There can be silliness like the Francoeur bobble adventure in right today, followed by the Ibanez-style whiff throw. There will be games where they bang out hit after hit, like today.
It encouraged me today, though, to see that despite the poor quality of the team on the field this year, that the Phillies can still put on a good product in other ways that take care of the fans, especially the young ones. That's important. Baseball is magical to those kids. Like the jersey kid. Like the foul ball kid. Like the kid in the Majestic store behind me who was talking about how awesome Ryan Howard is (I resisted the urge to educate him -- he'll find out soon enough).
If kids can get some of that magic early on, it gives a chance to pass on the traditions and socialization that I had passed down to me by grandparents on both sides of the family. That good baseball stuff comes through, and it is just the best with kids. I saw a bunch of instances today where the baseball operation really came through for kids, and the Phillies organization, Aramark, and all the folks at the ballpark deserve credit for that. Bad baseball doesn't have to mean a bad experience, especially for children and families. The Phillies have lots of problems, but they still do some things very well, and they deserve credit for it.
Circling back around to where I started this piece: One of the reasons I went today was because I see the end of my son's childhood coming at me like a freight train. It hit me last night when I was practicing my ukulele (I know, I know -- what a ridiculous thing, but it's fun) and playing country and folk songs. I know them by heart because of my mom, and I can absentmindedly sing along while focusing on strumming patterns and changing chords. Innocently, I stumbled onto "Puff the Magic Dragon." I did fine until I hit the third verse:
"A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giants' rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar."
Sitting alone on my porch last night singing that, I just completely lost it. The first stanza just killed me.
My son is getting out of that age where there is still magic, whether at the ballpark or other places. This is our 8th year of going to games together, and he's growing up. In each of those kids today, I saw my kiddo. When I looked to my left at my son, though, I didn't see that little boy anymore.
We did all the same things today. We listened to "Who's on first?" on the way, laughing like idiots at every "I don't know! THIRD BASE!". We listened to a Phillies playoff game on the iPod. He slept on the way home. I still see the end coming, though.
But when we got home from the game, I got a big hug and a "thanks for taking me to the games today." I'm going to milk that every chance I can, until it finally changes.
And, no, kiddo. Thank you for going with me. Thank you for always having gone with me.