|Ella, Henry and Ben Schulman, 2008. Two months later, Ben left us.|
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Dear readers, I wrote this for the Oakland Tribune in August, 1991, 25 years ago this month.
You are 9 years old and it is August, and you understand nothing about dog days and stretch drives and pennant fever. You only know that come Sunday, for the first time in your life, you will see baseball played in three dimensions, not behind a flat, black-and-white screen.
You ride shotgun in your father's '59 Chevy Bel Air, the one with the tail fins that look like Catwoman's eyes. The tickets sit in an envelope that won't leave your hands. Stuck there. As the signs for the ballpark appear, you crane your neck every which way to steal your first glance of a major-league baseball stadium
Your dad makes the final turn and it appears before your eyes in one bold stroke. Your brain can't process the image fast enough. They showed you pictures of the Taj Mahal in the third grade, but the Indian palace is nothing more than a Lego project compared to the ballpark, its perfectly rounded frame, the flags stationed beyond center field, the thousands of cars that surround it like moths around a porch light.
Once inside your senses are simply overpowered by grass as green as green should be, a diamond as perfect as anything your mother has shown you through a jewelry-store window, the smell of hotdogs being grilled, vendors tossing double bags of roasted peanuts to patrons 20 years away and the patrons chucking quarters back, the fat lady next to you scratching her pencil across a scorebook you don't understand while taking up both armrests, your first view of a real fly ball and how it seems to hang in the air eternally, the sound of 30,000 people cheering as one.
Your dad is sitting next to you. Your team loses 3-2, but it's hard to be disappointed. It's a day you'll never forget, your first major-league baseball game.
You celebrate August.
You are 14 years old and you do understand dog days and stretch drives and pennant fever. You are at the stadium with your dad, this time chauffeured in a 1970 Impala . . . no tail fins, just a lot of car. The stadium looks smaller but the hot dogs smell s juicy as ever. You think less about your father next to you and more about your little sister at home, and revel in the knowledge that you're here and she's not.
The final score means more because you know your team is fighting for a pennant. A win, and you feel good on the ride home; a loss, and you sulk. Later in the evening you and your father argue about whether you can have money for this or permission to do that, and you go to bed angry.
You are 23 years old and you love 400 miles from home. Baseball is more than a pastime, it's an obsession. You visit a different ballpark than the one from your youth and you go with friends. You use your own money and your own car. The stadium is just a building, the hot dogs just an expense. You don't think much about your father; you hardly talk to him. Your new team stinks, but you go every week because it is late summer and it is where you should be.
You celebrate August and you celebrate the game, because it is bigger than you or your father or your friends or your team.
You are 28 years old and you write about baseball for a living. You still live 400 miles from your youth, but you talk to your dad more. Old bad feelings are wisely forgotten as youth matures into adulthood. It is November and you are back home, and you use your connections to score two 50-yard-line seats to the NFL team that you watched with your father when the leaves turneded brown. Because of your job, you can't spend August afternoons together anymore.
You pull into the stadium in your car, a little Honda, two of which could have fit into your dad's Impala. You sit and watch the game, and the enjoyment on his face as he watched the game, knowing full well his spark is not drawn from the field, but from you, and the fact that your are there.
You are 31 years old and it is August. You are sitting in the baseball press box covering a game and the phone rungs. It's your father, from 400 miles away, and he's watching the game on cable. He wants to know about a certain play, why the umpire ruled the way he did. He wants to know why his favorite team, the one you watched together in days gone by, has started to stumble.
You are struck by a warm feeling that things are good, even if you are not close. You look out your press box window and see fathers and sons.
You see the game unfold before them, and you celebrate August.
Postscript: The father and the son had 40 more years together after that first ballgame before the father passed away, beloved, after a long and interesting life.