Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Play Ball!

I was thinking about George Carlin’s hilarious riff on baseball this past weekend as I roamed under sunny skies at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Carlin hearkened back to baseball’s pastoral roots as he explained the game’s Zen-like fascination with “going home”:

He continued: “Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings. In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not too much unpleasantness. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe!”

Carlin’s routine was on my mind this past Sunday when the Giants played the defending World Champion Phillies because Miguel and I took Maya, who is 3 ½, to her first professional baseball game. I realized the deliberate pace of baseball is well-suited to the inner and outer rhythms of toddlers, mine included.

Speed is a virtue in baseball, but sometimes the players are not in a rush. They move at their own pace for good reason. That sums up Maya’s approach to life. And I wondered how that would play out at the game because Miguel and I enjoy watching baseball. Maya is just fascinated by the general stirrings of life as they simmer and bubble before us.

We got to the park in time to watch the Giants take batting practice. Miguel went over to the leftfield bleachers, hoping to snare a batting practice ball, while I took Maya over to the kid’s park, which has a miniature baseball diamond and a few twisty metal slides under a giant Coke bottle.

Maya lined up on the right side of the plate, as I steadied the camera, and whacked at the ball resting on the batting tee. She clobbered the tee, which caused the stem to wobble, and the ball plopped a few feet away.

“Maya, run!” I said, and she bolted in the very general direction of first base, beaming as she ran.

Then we climbed the stairs to the slides. We waited briefly in line as Maya watched a few kids in front of her descend. When it was her turn she begged off, “No, I don’t want to go down.”

OK. So walked back down to the bottom of the slides, where Maya decided that she did want a turn. So we climbed back up and she did slide down this time. I jogged down the stairs and waited for her at the end of the slide.

Maya was beaming again. “I want to go again, daddy.”

Walking through the stadium to our seat, through the maze of people, sights, sounds, everyone and everything teeming with the crackle of life, Maya was quite content to amble along with seemingly no cares at all.

We arrived at our seats just above third base in the upper tier and settled down to eat the sushi I’d brought for us. Miguel and I said we’d be happy if Maya sat for four innings. In the bottom of the second, Aaron Rowand ripped a shot into the deepest corner of centerfield, Triples Alley, and Freddie Sanchez motored home with the Giants’ first run. The crowd erupted. Miguel and I high-fived each other. Maya joined in the communal revelry and started clapping. Then she slapped Miguel’s outstretched palm. I leaned over and extended my hand, hoping to get a little high-five love from my daughter. She looked right at me and pulled her hand back. The celebratory moment, she seemed to be saying, was only for her and Miguel.

We went back to the kid’s diamond in the 5th inning so Maya could swat the ball one more time. She’d been saying for the past inning or so, “I want to go to my baseball game.” This time I lined her up myself on the left side of the plate (hey, she is a leftie) and she bopped the ball toward the pitcher. Then she ran, hair flying, smiling, around the bases again and stepped on home plate.

Miguel, Maya, and I posed for pictures just behind the leftfield bleachers and then started walking toward the exit in the 6th inning. I was holding an overstuffed backpack (which had two sweaters for Maya, two sweatshirts for Miguel, a freezer lunch bag, two bags of snacks, a plastic water bottle, three Pablo Sandoval t-shirts they gave out for free, one Tim Lincecum toddler t-shirt for Maya, one psychedelic Giants t-shirts for Miguel, and two sweatshirts for me) when Maya asked me to carry her back to the car. I guess all the excitement and overstimulation of a day at the ballpark was too much for her to trod a ½-mile to where we’d parked.

Maya insisted she wear her new t-shirt to bed and the following day to preschool summer camp. “I want to wear Lincecum,” she said.

And she did.

For the record, the Giants beat the Phillies, 7-3. The next morning Miguel read that the Giants pitcher Barry Zito even had a base hit in the 5th inning.

“Zito got a hit?” he asked.

“I guess so. Must’ve happened when we were back at the kid’s park with Maya. We missed it,” I said.

But we were cavorting in our own Zen-like picnic atmosphere, just making sure that Maya got safely home after she'd had, like everyone else, her turn at bat.

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