I was 8. Some would say too young to understand. Others would wonder what took so long. I remember the smells, the sounds, the faces. Equally frightening and liberating. I was changed forever.
And that time has come for my daughters.
Time for Dodger baseball. Time for that pilgrimage to the Church of Chavez Ravine, the Holy Land of Hot Dogs, the temple of blue steel and gray concrete that is Dodger Stadium. The House that O'Malley Built, the Valle de Valenzuela, the land of Lasorda, the …well …you get the idea. We took Thing 1 and Thing 2 to their first Dodger game.
I remember my first time, sitting on the third-base line, my dad helping me memorize the players: Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Yeager ...The infield clay a mirror reflecting the sun, the manicured grass an emerald checkerboard. I remember the line-drive foul ball striking that unsuspecting fan in the gut. Lucky fan.
I didn't expect them to be that excited. Baseball is Daddy's game. I thought they'd drag their heels going and we'd leave in the sixth inning, their attention span like most others in L.A. But I was pleasantly surprised when they donned everything blue in their wardrobe — socks, shirts, scarves, ear muffs …
"Daddy, look! I'm even wearing blue …"
"Stop! I trust you!"
Though it's only a 10-minute drive, we leave two hours early just to restrain them in the backseat. We pay $15 to park so we can spend $200 more once inside. And since that doesn't warrant "preferred" parking, before we're even 60 feet, 6 inches in, we're ushered against our will into a lot on the opposite side of the stadium from our seats.
I'm worried less about the long walk than I am about Things 1 and 2 begging for something from each of the 500 vendors we must now pass. We eventually relent and buy each a hat, one a "#1 Fan" foam finger and the other a (gulp!) miniature baseball bat.
"You have to be careful with this. OK?"
She held it lustily, like Hannibal Lecter wielding a scalpel.
We shield their eyes past CPK, Carl's Jr. and Panda Express. They can eat whatever they want when their culinary choices aren't my responsibility. We nosh on Dodger Dogs through not one, not two, but three ceremonial "first" pitches; one by a homeless shelter coordinator, the next by the sponsor of tonight's in-stadium advertising campaign and lastly an unknown actor with a movie coming to a theater near you.
I turn on my transistor radio and listen to
"This is why I want to paint our room blue," Thing 2 tells her mother. "So we can put 'Think Blue' on the wall." That's my girl.
I cheer when the Dodgers make a play and express my frustration when they don't.
"Why are you booing, Daddy?"
I try to explain the nuances of the game.
"Well, that pitch was clearly a strike and the ump is blind." Or, "When the opposing pitcher intentionally throws the ball where the hitter can't hit it, it means he's a gutless coward and …"
But their attention drifts to a nearby vendor. "Can I get popcorn?!"
"You just got kettle corn!"
I don't make them memorize the players — there will be a new roster next year anyway — but they're curious.
"Who's your favorite player, Daddy?" Thing 1 asks.
I make the trek for liquid refreshments and find a stand with no line. Then I discover why: $11 for one beer.
"I wouldn't pay it," the lonely barkeep tells me as we discuss the irony of the "family-friendly confines" during the McCourt divorce era.
"What I'm spending tonight is going to Frank's legal expenses, not pitching acquisitions," I bellow. "We're dying in the standings; families can barely afford to get in the stadium let alone eat when they do."
And the crowd roars, but not for me. Blake hit a home run, and I missed it. Never fails. But in my good spirits I pay the beer ransom, toast the barkeep and head back to my seat.
"Daddy, your favorite guy just hit a home run! Did you see?"
"No. But I heard it."
At the seventh-inning stretch we stand, wrap our arms around one another, sway and sing as Nancy Bea Heafley leads us in song. "Root, root, root for the DODGERS …" Then the expected question comes.
"Daddy, when are we going?"
I sigh. "We can go now."
"But I want to stay until the end of the game."
She'll never know how happy she just made me.
"Why are those guys cheering for the Giants?" Thing 2 asks.
"Brain damage," I tell her. "Don't stare. It's not polite."
First times bring heirlooms, scars and luggage framed in memories. They won't remember that the Dodgers won the first time they went to a game. But will they remember the 40-foot pass from the peanut vendor? Daddy's immaculate reception? The beach balls, nachos or malts? Falling asleep with a "#1 Fan" foam finger on her headboard? Knocking the guy in front of us on the head with her mini bat?
I have no idea. But I have a few things I won't forget.