Bottom of the Ninth
By S. M. Lindberg
One of my favorite dad stories is about the day I was born.
“They cleaned you off and handed you immediately to me,” he said, putting his hands up to portray holding a baby. “Your eyes were closed, but then they opened. These big blue eyes, looking right at me. It was love at first sight.”
It’s July 30. Today, I’m getting married. Just over a year ago, I got engaged and after a year of complications, I didn’t know if I would ever reach the wedding date. People are starting to assemble. I’m more nervous than ever. But we are in a familiar location, place I would love to be every day in the summer: Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, my hometown baseball team. Looking out the window from my suite, I see the many seats I have occupied for games past. It’s peaceful.
Then the fire alarms go off. For the second day in a row. Everyone starts laughing. My mom’s hands go up to her mouth.
“It’s not funny! This is not funny!” I say.
“It’ll be fine,” my mom says.
My first major league baseball game: My dad, grandpa, uncle, godfather and I drove to Chicago for a White Sox game. I don’t remember the team we were playing. I don’t remember the day. I know the year was 1991, the new Comiskey Park had just opened and it was one of the best days of my life.
I got my first ball cap, several sizes too big for me. Though a fitted cap has replaced it, the old one still resides in my closet, the plastic adjustable clasp held together with a paperclip. I felt dwarfed by the stadium. It felt like it took hours to reach our seats. From where we sat, I imagined I could see the whole world. The scoreboard straight across the field. The city of Chicago stretching further than I could see. I saw my favorite player, Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas, hit a home run. The White Sox lost but I was sold.
I remember lazy afternoons spent watching the White Sox with my dad on the Chicago t.v. station WGN. Colorado, where we lived, didn’t have a baseball franchise until I was ten. Now I consider myself a duel fan, but the White Sox, like my dad before me, were my first love.
Fire alarms going off two days in a row is not fine. It is a catastrophe and does nothing to help my stomach. But we head downstairs anyway to stand outside the stadium on the sidewalk. I am cloistered in the alcove, in case the men approach. We decided to be semi-traditional and not see each other until I enter the field. It is probably 90 degrees outside and every pore I have is sweating. I need a drink in a bad way.
Ten minutes later, we are back in the suite, the alarm off but the strobe lights still blinking. I’m in a midday rave. My friend Casey becomes my favorite person of the day when she arrives with “flavored waters.” You might also know them as flavored vodka. The pineapple one is immediately poured into my cup of Mountain Dew.
I notice my dad sitting forlornly on a couch in the suite. Someone, I don’t remember who, told me a daughter’s wedding is always a tough day for fathers. But it’s a tough day for me too. Being in a baseball stadium makes me think of all the sporting events I have experienced with my dad.
One of my earliest memories: The Denver Broncos were playing in the Super Bowl and we watched the game at family friend’s house. I was three and a half years old. Most of the children were off playing in the other room. I spent most of the game parked in front of the t.v. I don’t remember crying, but I remember being very upset when the Broncos lost. Years later, my parents commented that other people thought it unusual that a kid my age would be interested, especially a girl.
We dress and primp. I pin dried lavender boutonnieres on my parents and grandmother. In the bathroom my friend Jenn takes over my make up. I turn to the mirror for confirmation. I look different. Pretty. Feminine.
My sister Alex, Casey, Jenn, and I head to our suite’s balcony to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I feel lighter, happier, ready.
A minor league baseball game doesn’t seem minor to a child, especially when seated immediately behind the home team dugout. Lush green grass, red dirt freshly raked, a dull roar of voices from the fans in the stands. Vendors selling licorice, Cracker Jack, cotton candy; their voices rising above the fans. I had brought my glove, but when a foul ball came hurling at us, my dad stuck out his bare hand and caught the ball that must have been going 90 miles per hour, if not more. I think of this every time I’m at a game. Dad says it was just a reaction to protect me. I have never seen anyone bare-hand a ball like that before or since. It was simply awesome; only something my dad could do. The ball sits with my collection of game and autographed balls.
I have imagined my wedding with trepidation. But now that it is here, it feels right, if a bit peculiar. From my suite I can see everyone arriving, finding a seat just behind home plate, a few people in chairs on the dirt track that lines the grass just in front of the brick wall. It’s exciting and terrifying. All my questions repeat inside my head. There are too many things that could go wrong. I obsess about them again. Will my hair stay in place? Will a sudden gust of wind lift my tea-length dress up to reveal my undergarments? Despite the miniscule heel on my dress shoes, I’m terrified of tripping and falling flat on my face. Will my future husband like my dress? Will it rain? For the past week I have had nightmares of monsoon rains flooding the field. It’s July in Colorado; rain is a strong possibility, even though now the sky is noticeably absent of clouds.
I was ten in 1993. It was do or die for the White Sox in the American League Championship. Mom told me to go to bed before the game was over. I tuned in the AM radio broadcast to listen in bed, devastated when the final out was called and the White Sox lost. I remember tiptoeing out to the family room, tearfully crawling into Dad’s lap as he watched the post game coverage.
We huddle in the tunnel just before the ceremony: my dad, my sister and I. The three of us cheer in a circle, and twinkle our fingers in the center. I think of all the baseball games my dad and I have attended. He was my first sports companion. Marty is my new one.
“Yay, wedding.” I laugh. This is the moment I feel most comfortable.
My sister exits first to Pachelbel’s Canon. The men must be making their way to home plate but I can’t see them from here. The tunnel feels longer than I remember. Claustrophobic. I hesitate. This is it. My last single moments. Seconds. My dad pats my shoulder and I start to cry.
High school and the Broncos were back in the Super Bowl, but this time we think they had a chance to win. I wrote lyrics to the tune of a popular song so everyone could sing it during halftime. The original song by Chumbawamba was called “Tubthumping,” and the beginning of the song started like this: “We’ll be singing, when we’re winning, we’ll be singing.” We had temporary tattoos on our faces; I painted my nails blue and orange and my mom’s too. We threw a party and my rowdy friends cheered with me as our team finally won. My dad and I danced and yelled, slapping high fives and tens in jubilation. This was before the fist bump entered sports lexicon.
I love my mom and sister, but I know they don’t love sports like Dad and I do. They’ll go along, they’ll have fun and then they are done, and that’s okay. Dad and I could spend the whole day sitting on the couch watching game after game and be content. We understand each other on a very basic level. Why do games that we have no control over affect us so much? I think it’s about cheering for something bigger than yourself. It’s something we can share.
My dad is close with both my sister and I. But we share different common interests. Dad and I equal sports and fishing and Bond movies. My sister shares Dad’s love of cooking and art. We all overlap interests in reading and, as we have all grown older, beer and wine, too.
Someone asks if I’m ready to say those vows and I shake my head no, tears beginning to leak from my eyes. My dad leads me on. An acoustic guitar version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” fills the stadium. Now that the tears have started, they are hard to stop. I find myself laughing as I try to stop the tears. I don’t know why I’m crying, but I bite my tongue in an effort to stop.
My dad and I enter the stadium. The plane of grass swells behind the group at home plate: Marty, his brother, Joey, and friend Jon stand to the left side of our officiant, Sally, and on the right Alex, clutching her bouquet of calla lilies. Marty beams in his black suit and purple vest, the same dark purple that matches the sash around my waist and our beloved Rockies. The sun hits the jewels on my dress and his glasses.
In the fall of 2005, I was fresh out of college and working as a sports intern at a local newspaper. The White Sox were in the playoffs. The photo editor, an Illinois native, and I had a feeling this could be the year. We named her newly adopted black and white kitten Ozzie, after the White Sox manager. The White Sox cruised through the division series and into the World Series. The stakes now: Game four. The White Sox with the series three games to none over the Houston Astros. The Astros needing to win to keep their chances alive.
My dad and I, wanting to experience the game without commercials and together, had paused the game on our DVR. When we began watching, we were about twenty minutes behind the live game. My mom, who had the game on in the other room, came in periodically, saying things like, “Well, I already saw that. I can’t believe you aren’t watching it live!” We had the stereo cranked and pretended we were really there.
The game crept forward. Scoreless into the bottom of the eighth inning. Mom came in to taunt us again. “I know what happens. Don’t you want to know?” “No!” Dad and I answered. Willie Harris comes into pinch hit for the pitcher. On a 2-2 count, he hits a line drive to left field for a single. Scott Podsednick sets down a bunt. Willie moves to second base. One out. Carl Everett lines out, but Willie advances to third base. Even from where we sit, hundreds of miles away from the action, the excitement is palpable.
Jermaine Dye comes up to the plate. On a 1-1 count, he smacks it into left field. Willie scores, the game’s first run. We can’t believe it. Don’t know if we should believe it. Our team has disappointed us before. They haven’t won a World Series since before either of us were born. But we want to hope.
And then, the final inning. Ozzie Guillen, the Sox manager, stepped out of the dugout, gesturing with his hands: wide and long, wide and long. “He’s bringing in the big guy!” the announcer said. The team’s closer, Bobby Jenks, lumbered onto the field to take the ball at the pitcher’s mound. The guy stands 6’4” and nearly 300 pounds. He also throws the ball about 100 miles per hour. Flash. Swing. A single for the Astros. A sacrifice bunt. They have a runner on second. And then a pop-up. Out two. Jenks has the Astros down to their last out and potentially last pitch, with the count 1-2. A weak groundout and the game was over. The White Sox won! Dad and I cheered.
Sally, the minister, asks, “Who presents this woman to be married?”
My dad says his one line, “Her mother and I do.”
My dad kisses my cheek, offers my hand to Marty and takes his seat with my mom, out of my line of sight.
“You look beautiful,” Marty whispers.
In this moment I forget everyone else. I know this stadium well: its lush, perfectly trimmed grass, finely ground reddish-brown dirt and centerfield fountain surrounded by pine trees, ivy crawling up the wall. There are seats for thousands of cheering fans, but today the group is smaller, more intimate. Today, I only see us. I know why I am here. I am here to be with him.
My dad bought me my first baseball cap, my first glove, my first basketball, my first football jersey and my first car. He gave me his love and love of sports. Today, I take my first steps as a married woman. Today, he has a new son. Today, two families join. It’s the bottom of the ninth again, I think. But both sides win this time.
“Bottom of the Ninth” by S. M. Lindberg. Copyright © 2012. First published in Stymie Magazine.