by Joseph Vivens
Sam was ecstatic because “today was the day.” He pushed past the front door screen and
jumped out to the porch, letting it slam behind him with a crack. The cool breeze worked in tandem with the sun and clouds amidst the blue sky, completing the recipe for a perfect day.
Sam rushed to get outside as his mother harangued him about his hygiene.
Sam scratches his skin, hoping not to leave an ashy trail.
“Go put on your deodorant!” She chastised.
He ran inside his home and hurriedly applied his deodorant. Sam was unbridled, excited for the one thing that would start his perfect day: his dad was taking him to his first baseball game. The phone call came a week earlier when his father told him he had the best seats in the stadium.
“Home run row, Sammy! Home run row! That's where we’re parked,” he said with the enthusiasm of a car salesman.
Sam wouldn’t know if his dad was making it up because he had never been to nor seen a real game in his seven-year life. Everything he knew about baseball came from TV and a few conversations with his classmates. But there he was, rushing to get to the porch, unable to contain his excitement.
As Sam sat down on the second to last porch step, he began to imagine his dad pulling up in his souped-up Honda Civic he called Black Pearl. Sam thought his dad’s car was awesome. It was all black with red trim, silver spoke rims, and a muffler that roared like a lion in the jungle. If it sounds like a fast car, it’s because it was fast.
Unlike his mom, Dad allowed Sam to sit in the front passenger seat. Sam took this opportunity to measure his height by where the seatbelt shoulder strap rested on his body. He had been waiting for the day it would be tucked under his chin and not resting over his face. To his amazement, he had grown tall enough; gone were the days that he had to put the shoulder strap behind his back because of his height.
The conversation was filled with wisdom and insight on the ride to the stadium. Sam would listen intently as his dad told him about the best video games on the Xbox Game Pass, how to wear his baseball cap, and what the ultimate toppings were for his froyo. Looking away from the road to ensure maximum eye contact with his son, Sam’s dad spoke in a syncopated rhythm for dramatic effect.
“Sweets, Sammy! No fruit, ever. You got to pack it with candy. Froyo is already healthy, so it evens out with sweets.”
Sammy smiled ear-to-ear and hung onto every word.
As they turned the corner, Sam saw it: Nationals Park. He leaned forward to soak it in, as
he felt the soft breeze against his cheeks. Sam thought about how the colors of the American flag had never looked so vivid. He saw the Nationals mascots in front of the building taking pictures with fans. Despite what all his friends had told him about the park, it was still a fantastic sight to see.
They pulled up to the front of the stadium and parked next to a hot dog vendor.
“Ooo, Dad? Can I have one?” Sam asked.
“Not until we’re inside.” He leaned in and whispered, “They’re fresher inside.”
Dad held Sam’s hand as they passed different concession stands inside the stadium. Sam
could smell what each stand was selling by the unique aroma that filled the air: popcorn, hot dogs, churros, and nachos. The menagerie of fragrances made Sam think, so, this is what baseball smells like.
Then, without warning, Sam’s dad stopped and stared at him inquisitively. The look quickly turned to a stern grimace.
“Wait a minute. No, no, no, Sammy!”
Sam was alarmed because he rarely hung out with his dad and feared he had angered him. The tone of his voice left Sam frozen in fear; he wondered what he could have done wrong.
“Sammy, where’s your baseball glove?”
Sam felt flustered and began to stutter. He was unaware that he had sinned by showing up to a baseball game without a glove. Shame began to sink into his heart until his dad’s pronounced cheekbones rose, and a smile emerged from his lips. He placed into Sam’s hand a catcher's mitt. Sam couldn’t believe the glove was a perfect fit, and it came with another surprise.
“You remembered I’m a lefty,” he said.
“Of course I did! My boy can’t catch a fly in Homerun row without a glove, right?” He said while placing a red Nationals cap on Sam’s head.
Sam held the glove in awe; it looked expensive. He slowly turned its palm facing down and noticed it had stitching on the back where the thumb met the index finger. He slid his fingers across the writing that formed his name and the day’s date.
“Happy birthday, Sammy.”
“Thanks, Dad. I didn’t think you remembered.” He said with a smile.
“Why do you think we’re here? Come on, let’s get some food, " he said, tapping the bill on Sam’s cap.
Sam’s dad was bathing the fries and burger bun with ketchup at the concession stand. Sam felt connected to his dad when he realized he loved ketchup as much as he did. As they gathered the ordered food, he looked down at Sam and issued a warning.
“My hands are full, so stay close and don’t get caught in the crowd.”
Fortunately, Sam’s classmates told him what to expect regarding the baseball park throng, and he was prepared.
Walking toward their seats, Sam understood the reason for the warning, as he had difficulty keeping up. Many people in the crowd were dressed in red Nationals jerseys like his father. Sam managed, but he had to admit it wasn’t easy. His dad then stopped near the entryway to the stands.
“Sammy, are you ready to see the most amazing thing you’ll ever see in your life?” He inquired with a smile.
Sam nodded with excitement.
When the curtains opened, Sam marveled at the site: seats filled with thousands of people screaming at the top of their lungs, the baseball field was massive, and the players looked like soldiers on a battlefield. He watched as the pitcher cocked his arm back and threw the ball as if it was a flaming hot piece of coal. The speed was inspiring. He couldn’t believe how fast the ball moved nor how the batter at home plate could see it.
They had a great view from left field, and Sam couldn’t wait to sit down and watch the game. Once they were situated, Sam watched his dad with glee as he ate his hot dog, shouting at the players between bites. Sam didn’t realize how hungry he was until he ate the last bite of his burger. He was also really thirsty.
He watched his father in wonderment. It was everything he could have asked for at that moment. He was privy to a different side of his dad that he had never seen before, the passionate sports fan. Sam imitated him between sips of his soda.
“Boo! You suck!”
“Yeah! You suck!” Sam echoed.
“Go, go, go!”
“Go, go, go!” He repeated, looking up at his dad while taking a sip.
“Get ‘em outta there!”
“Yeah! Get ‘em outta there!” Sam hollered as he crossed his legs.
Watching his dad riding the emotional rollercoaster made the game more exciting. Sam was fixated, so much so that it took him a moment to notice that the other side of the stadium began to shimmer like silk. All the rows in the distance started to cascade and flow toward his section. Sam was amazed at the site, and his dad leaned in and said, “Here it comes, Sammy, get ready.”
Sam was confused and shouted anxiously, “What do I do?”
“It’s the wave! Just stand up and sit down with everyone else. Hold my hand; here we go!”
Everyone in their section stood up and shouted “Yay” in unison, laughing and high-fiving as they sat down. Sam thought it was over and began to settle, taking another gulp of his soda when his dad said, “Here it comes again!”
When Sam stood again and shouted, “Yay,” he felt it.
His dad sat down laughing as Sam remained standing in agony, tugging on his dad’s sleeve.
“Daddy, I need to pee.” He disclosed prancing where he stood.
“Oh, okay, let’s go!”
The path to the bathroom was as treacherous as the journey to their seats. Sam’s dad expertly guided his way through the drunken fans and vendors crowd. They passed two bathrooms with long lines, and Sam felt he was about to burst.
“Don’t worry, Sammy, I got you. This bathroom around the corner never has a line,” he reassuringly pronounced as they approached the door. Sam felt relieved because he didn’t know how long his bladder would hold.
“Here we are. I’ll hold your glove and wait for you right here.”
Sam looked up and saw the bathroom sign: Family Restroom. He walked in and hurriedly relieved himself. After washing his hands, Sam tried opening the door, but it was too heavy. He started banging on the door, hoping his dad would hear, but a woman with a little girl opened the door instead. Startled, Sam ran past them, searching for his dad, who wasn’t where he said he
would be. His stomach dropped. That’s when his mother’s voice began to echo in his head,
“You said you’d be here. Now he’s all alone waiting for you.”
“Dad,” Sam whispered, feeling the isolation consume him. He proceeded to look around, hoping to catch a glimpse of his father.
“Dad?” He said louder as a knot tightened in his throat whenever he swallowed. His mouth began to dry up as anxiety took over. Questions began to fill his mind: how would he get home? How would he explain what happened to his mother?
Her voice returned, “You’re going to disappoint him. It’s his birthday, and you left him alone? He needs you.”
“Daddy!” Fear has taken over. The woman walks out of the bathroom with her daughter.
Sam looked around, unable to utter a word; he turned back to the woman, whose face had become a forked-tongued demon.
Sam screamed as he took off running. He was zigzagging through the crowd while Albert Von Tizler's anthem played through the speakers. The once happy organ echoed creepily, fun-loving mascots were as terrifying as low-lit circus clowns, drunken fans were wobbling pillars of flesh teetering to collapse on him, and the concession stands were dens of poison ready to fatten his bladder and belly. Sam ran, trying to ignore the monsters and freaks, when he was suddenly snatched up mid-stride.
He screamed again.
“Woah, Sammy, where'd you go?”
“Dad!” Sammy embraced his father and felt relief come over him.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m here. I thought I lost you, little man.” He said in a conciliatory tone.
“I thought you left me,” Sam said with a whimper.
“I’m here, Sammy. It’s okay.”
Sam felt safe in his father’s arms. He wondered what he would have done if he hadn’t shown up.
“Hey, want to get some ice cream?” Sam’s dad asked.
Sam’s heart was still racing, but the idea of ice cream cooled his nerves.
“Okay,” he said with a smile, wiping the tears from his eyes.
As they approached the ice cream stand, Sam forgot about the baseball game for a brief second. He noticed that his dad didn’t care either; he just wanted to make Sam happy.
“Chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla?”
Sam smiled, and his dad smiled back because he knew the answer.
“All three, please, and a bottle of water.”
Returning to their seat, Sam ate the ice cream and thought about the day's events: the car ride with his dad’s words of wisdom, his name and birthday stitched on the baseball glove, and sitting in “home run row.” Even though he was lost for a bit, it was the best birthday ever. He smiled, scooping a spoonful of chocolate into his mouth. His thoughts were then interrupted by a major play in the game.
Sam didn’t know what was going on. He heard the ball crack against the bat, and everyone near him stood up. A feeling came over Sam as if he was standing outside of time.
Then silence. Sam was perturbed. It felt as if someone hit mute on the entire stadium. He brought the mitt down to his chest, slowly opened his eyes, and saw his bare hand. No ball and no mitt with his name and birthday stitched. The water drops on his head began to spill onto his hand. One by one, the individual splashes moistened his skin, and a cold chill spiked his fingertips. He looked up to find his dad was missing. A pit formed in his gut that caused his stomach to drop. He looked around to see that the rest of the park was empty; he was alone. The air grew colder as grey clouds populated the sky and the rain poured. Each drop washed away the day. The stadium seats melted into his yard and porch. The day he shared with his dad faded like the sunshine to give way to his tears. Sitting on his porch, Sam felt overwhelmed by emotion; the fantasy was more painful than reality. Looking back at his hand, Sam reached up to feel the raindrops splash against his palm.
Sam could hear his mother chastising his father on the phone in the periphery.
He listened as the screen door opened behind him.
“Oh lord, it’s raining? Sam, come inside and talk to your dad. He’s on the phone.”
Sam lowered his hand into a fist, stood, and slowly walked in, taking the phone from his mother.
“Hello.” Sam dejectedly murmured.
An enthusiastic voice came from the other end of the receiver.
“Hey, Sammy! I’m sorry I couldn’t make it out today. Next week, home run row. You and me, buddy.”
Sam handed the phone back to his mother without responding to his father. He sat on the couch and turned on the television in time to hear the commentators announce that the baseball game was rained out.