Baseball memories, then and now

by Alina Kodatt
I can remember one single date that I had with my father when I was a little girl. He took me to a Kansas City Royals baseball game. It was kind of a big deal, on many levels. For one thing, I was one of four children, and a date alone with either parent was a scheduling maneuver of tricky proportions. Secondly, and closely related to the first item, my father worked long hours to support his large brood of children. So getting my father to take me to a paid event was like striking gold. Or at least like striking a small portion of his hard-earned income and time.
There are so many things about that day that I distinctly remember. There were the masses of people chanting in the stands, their collective noise reverberating around the stadium and, no doubt, shaking my small frame. I had never seen so many people in one place at one time. And they were all focusing on one activity, the game taking place on the vibrant green field below. I also vaguely remember getting some sort of ice cream treat, a few scoops of vanilla in a blue plastic cup shaped like a Royals baseball cap.
I love that memory of my father and me at my first baseball game. I imagine many kids in America have similar stories of big league baseball games in their youth, considering baseball’s essential role in the American creed. But since that day, my experiences in the stadium stands can, at best, be counted on one hand. Clearly I haven’t been an avid baseball fan. There was a Cardinals game or two while living in St. Louis, and since moving to Jacksonville two years ago, I’ve been to three Suns games. My first encounter was last year during a company outing for my husband’s work. I’ll admit, it just seemed like a nice way to get out of the house. I met a few co-workers, briefly watched the game, ate some ball park food, and went home. I just wasn’t interested.
When this year’s company event rolled around, I didn’t expect much. We drove up to the stadium just as large, dark clouds were forming above. We found a spot a little ways from the stadium in an uncovered parking lot and immediately began jogging, hoping to beat the rainfall. Fortunately, a bicycle rickshaw met us along the way, and for an honest tip and a few giggles from my daughter, we had a fun ride and found ourselves at the stadium’s entrance, without a raindrop on our faces. For $6.50 a person (a price even my Dad would have liked!), we entered through the gates and climbed the stairs to the main level above. Standing there looking out upon the view around us, I was struck by many of the features that first grabbed me at that Royals game so many years ago. The excited roar of the crowd. The aroma from the concession stands lined up and down the corridor. The intrigue of the game proceeding below. The view of the big lights and sky beyond. The thrill of dodging foul balls. It was all there, and this time I saw it.
We gorged on hot dogs, peanuts and ice cream, each item costing only fifty cents (that evening’s promotion). Making quick business of wiping the mustard stains off my daughter’s new white shirt (a hallmark of a good summer evening, no?), our family got down to watching the game. My daughter surveyed the scene around her, undoubtedly mesmerized by all the same things I had been at her age. When the crowds cheered for a home run, she clapped and waved her hands excitedly along with them. When the umpire made an unpopular call, she booed along with the most aggressive fans. When the tan, leather-faced beer guy came calling for any takers, she promptly raised her hand in his direction. Of course, in good 3-year-old fashion, she would boldly do all these things and then bashfully look back at her father and I for a little reassurance that it was all kosher behavior. We waved her on. In fact, I joined in, allowing myself to get riled up along with the crowd. How could I not? It just felt good to yell passionately along with everyone else, regardless of the fact that I knew so little about the game. Of course the confused look my husband shot my way was almost as rewarding.
So am I saying I’m a converted baseball expert here? No. Not yet, at least. But I am a huge fan of going to the Jacksonville Suns games. It’s good, inexpensive family fun that will create long lasting memories for me and my family for years to come. And who knows, I just may surprise myself with my accumulated baseball knowledge one day.