September 6, 1995 I flew to Austin, Texas to watch a baseball game on TV with The Lad who was then an undergrad at the University of Texas. The occasion was Cal Ripken’s 2,131st consecutive Major League game, breaking Lou Gehrig’s record.
Baseball has been a bond between us.
When the Lad played Little League I rarely missed a game. In McLean, Virginia it was not at all noteworthy to see national leaders – Administration and Congressional, Democrat and Republican – working in the snack bar or helping prepare one of the fields.
I remember leaning on the centerfield fence with the head of the President’s Domestic Policy Council on one side of me and a US Senator on the other, discussing the most important issue of the day: Shouldn’t the shortstop (who was about 11-years-old) be playing a couple of steps toward first base with a left-handed batter up?
Over the years the Lad and I had gone to many baseball games in Baltimore; Washington, DC having been shut out of Major League Baseball since before he had been born. One night we saw Ripken make not one error, but two. The Lad was – literally – concerned that we were witnessing early evidence of the end of the world.
We had wanted to be together the night that Ripken broke Gehrig’s record. We had dinner in Austin, went to my hotel room, ordered every dessert on the menu from room service, and sobbed in concert as, at the end of the fifth inning (thus making it a regulation game) Cal took a lap around the stadium in acknowledgment of the fact that the fans would not let the game re-start until he had done so.
Over 10 years have gone by. The Lad has gone from being a college student, to being a member of the President’s staff, to a senior member of the Bush re-election campaign, and now moving in the highest circles of national politics.
In 2005, after 34 years, baseball came home to Washington. Two different clubs called the Senators had deserted the city, so the current team is called the Nationals which is a double entendre in that they are a National League team, and they represent the Nation’s Capital.
In the years between Major League teams the population of the region went from 2.9 million to 5.8 million; ticket prices went from top price of $6 to a top of $95; and gasoline has gone from 36 cents per gallon to nearly three dollars., according to The Washington Post.
At 6:52 AM, the morning of the Nationals’ first game – exactly 12 hours before President Bush was scheduled to throw out the first pitch – The Lad came through the arrival doors at Dulles airport, returning the favor of my flight to Austin for a baseball game a decade earlier.
At 7:05 PM the first pitch from a Major Leaguer was thrown to a Major Leaguer in a real game.
Fathers and sons – parents and kids – have been going to baseball games for over a hundred years. This father and this son have been blessed to have shared unique opportunities over the course of our 30 years together. That Opening Day was one of them.
Baseball has been a continuing thread in our relationship, The Lad and I.
On Opening Day 2005, we sat along the first base line and watched a ballgame together, ate hotdogs, worried over defensive alignments, ducked foul balls, and went home happy.
This year, because of scheduling conflicts, we will miss Opening Day. But, as they used to say in Brooklyn, “Wait’ll next year.” God willing, we will be sitting side-by-side for Opening Day at the Nationals’ new ballpark.
Life might get better than that. But, it doesn’t have to get much better.