I was excited. Dad and I were going to go to a Detroit Tigers baseball game with Molly and her dad. Dad said that mom and David should come too, but mom didn’t want to.
“I would love to see the game”, she said, “But there is no way I’m going to try to change a diaper at Briggs Stadium, and we don’t have the money to pay Margie to babysit.”
Since Molly’s dad’s car was one of those little “sports cars” that only two people could ride in, dad was going to drive us in our car.
That buzzer buzzed that someone had pressed the button by our front door. I ran into the living room and opened it. Molly was already holding our screen door open, standing there with her dad.
“Hey Sport”, her dad said really loud, like he was worried about talking to me, “You ready to see your first Major League Baseball game and the legendary slugger Ted Williams?”
I nodded. Dad had told me Ted Williams was left-handed like me. I really just wanted to go to a real “baseball stadium” and see one of those games that you saw on TV or they told you about on the radio while they were playing it. Dad had already taken me to a Michigan football game at the stadium near our house. That was pretty neat, though it was hard to see over the grownups sitting in front of us. Dad said I could sit on his lap, but that felt too much like being a little kid again. And when everyone stood up when something special happened, I couldn’t see anything.
I knew “Major League” were all those best grownup teams that you saw on TV or heard on the radio, or had their players on those baseball cards. But I didn’t know that other thing he said, but since it was Molly’s dad I figured I’d ask.
“What’s legendary slugger”, I asked.
Molly’s dad looked worried, like he didn’t know the answer. “Yeah, legendary, how to explain that”, he said.
I heard dad’s voice behind me. “That means he’s such a good player, people tell stories about him”, he said, “And a ‘slugger’ is a player that’s a really good hitter and hits lots of home runs.”
He came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. “Hi Jack”, he said, then, “Hey Molly. You and your dad ready to go?”
Molly nodded, and looked excited. Her dad looked at dad and did a big smile and said, “Eric… you’re the man with the words”. Dad pushed his lips together and nodded.
Mom came into the living room from the kitchen and put her finger across her lips and said quietly, “Shhh! David’s taking a nap. Let’s try not to wake him because he’s going to be mad he doesn’t get to go to the game with his big brother.”
“Well maybe we should bring him along”, Molly’s dad said.
“Fine by me Jack”, mom said, her eyes twinkling, “But you or Eric will have to take him somewhere to change a diaper or two and may miss some of the game.”
“Well”, said Molly’s dad, laughing through his nose, “Sounds like hazardous duty. Guess we better let him sleep. Next time!”
Mom made a big smile, nodded, and said, “Next time.” She looked like she knew something she thought was funny but wasn’t saying what it was.
Mom went into the kitchen and came back out again with a paper bag full of stuff, and four Seven-Up bottles in one of those cardboard things you put six pop bottles in so you could carry them together. There was a metal bottle opener in one of the square holes in the cardboard thing that didn’t have a bottle in it.
“I made four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”, she said, “Figure you can eat your lunch in the car before you get there.” Dad nodded and took the bag and the pop.
“Thanks Jane”, Molly’s dad said, “But we have to buy the kids a hotdog, that’s part of the whole experience.” He looked at dad like he should think so too.
Dad nodded, and looked like he hadn’t thought so but was now deciding Molly’s dad was right. He said, “Yeah”, as he laughed through his nose, and then, “I guess so”.
So we all went out the side door to get in our car. Dad opened the front door where the driver sat and I went to open the back door behind it. Molly’s dad moved in front of me and opened the back door of the car before I could and said, “Ladies first”, and looked at Molly.
I had heard other grownups say that “lady” word, but I don’t remember mom and dad saying it very much. I think it was a word for a kind of special woman grownup but I wasn’t sure. I moved to go into the backseat of the car but then I felt Molly’s dad’s hand on my shoulder.
“Be a gentleman and let the lady get in first”, he said. Then he looked at Molly and said, “Molly?”, and pointed his other hand at the open door. Molly climbed onto the back seat, sat down by the window on the other side, and patted the part next to her in the middle for me to sit.
I got worried that I had almost done something really bad. I remembered when dad had hit me on the bottom right here outside the side door a long time ago after I said a swear word to mom. There must be things that were okay to say and do to other boys or grownup men that were not okay to do to girls or grownup women or whoever “ladies” were. I wondered if Molly’s dad or my dad might hit me on the bottom again for being bad just now, but they didn’t. So I climbed onto the back seat and sat where Molly wanted me to next to her. Dad put the bag and the pop next to me.
Dad drove down our street away from the park towards that giant high school place where Margie went to school. It wasn’t super high up but it was the widest building I had ever seen. He turned left on that “Stadium” street and we drove by the Michigan Stadium and then over the railroad tracks and then by that store that mom had taken me to where she got “groceries”, that word for food that still was in the boxes, cans and packages and wasn’t cooked yet. He kept driving and there were more buildings but also houses and even a bunch of trees all together. Some of the places we drove by were those “restaurant” places we had gone to eat food where you sat at a table and there were other people you didn’t know sitting at other tables around you.
“Which road are you taking?” Molly’s dad asked dad.
“I’ve always taken Michigan Avenue into Detroit”, dad said.
“Well you know Eric”, Molly’s dad said, “They completed the extension of I-94 into downtown Detroit last year. It might be a quicker route to the game.”
“I figure Coop and Molly would enjoy all the interesting places we pass along the way”, dad said back to him.
Molly’s dad nodded. “Gotya”, he said, and he looked back at Molly and I and opened his eyes wide and said, “We’re taking the scenic route.”
“What’s the scenic route?” Molly and I asked at the same time. Dad and Molly’s dad laughed.
“It’s the…”, Molly’s dad said then looked like he was trying to figure out what to say next.
“It’s the road that maybe takes longer”, dad said, “But has more interesting things to look at than the faster road.”
Molly’s dad, still looking at us and nodding, pointed at dad and said, “There ya go.”
Dad said to Molly’s dad, “I want Cooper to see Ted Williams play. He’s retiring at the end of the year. They say he’s the best pure hitter to ever play the game, and he’s a lefty like Cooper is.”
“Eric, I didn’t know you were into baseball”, Molly’s dad said.
Dad kept driving and we finally went by that giant “water tower” thing that went straight up and had a round part on top. It was in this different place the grownups called “Ypsi”. We turned right and then we turned left on another big street with lots of buildings on either side.
“Michigan Avenue, boys and girls”, Molly’s dad said, sounding like he was trying to be silly, “And on your left fine dining at Haab’s.” He looked at me and asked, “You ever eaten there, Coop?” I shook my head.
“You actually have”, dad said looking back at me for just a second, “Remember? You insisted on ordering a hamburger and your mom tried to convince you to order something more in the fine dining vein?” He looked back at me in the backseat and winked, like he liked that I hadn’t ordered something mom wanted me to. I remembered that and nodded.
Molly’s dad looked at Molly, grinned, and said, “Molly was the same way. When her mom and I took her she insisted on having a hotdog.” I thought it was strange that he said “Molly” instead of “you” when he talked to her, but I figured he was really talking to dad even though he was looking at Molly.
“But I LIKE hotdogs daddy”, Molly said. When she was talking to me about her dad she called him “dad”, but when she was talking to him she called him “daddy”. I wasn’t sure why, but figured I’d ask her sometime when there were no grownups around.
“Well girlie girl”, he said, “When we get to the game I’m going to buy you the best hotdog on the planet!”
Molly smiled and nodded, looked at me and then back at her dad and said, “Coob too.”
Her dad nodded and said, “Of course.” Molly looked at me like that was something really good she had done for me.
Then her dad looked at dad and said, “Nothing like a hotdog at a ball game, right Eric?”
Dad nodded but looked worried. He said, “Liz packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for each of us. Our budget is kind of tight right now.”
“I get that Eric”, Molly’s dad said, “You’re still a grad student. You need that sheepskin before you can put out your shingle. So I’m buying. The kids gotta have a hotdog, that’s part of the whole experience!” Then he stopped talking and was thinking and finally said, “I’m buying Hygrade Franks for everyone. My treat. You drove Eric, so it’s only right!”
“You don’t have to do…”, dad started to say, but Molly’s dad started talking before he could finish.
“Not another word Eric”, he said, “My treat! Case closed!”
Dad nodded and did that laugh through his nose and said, “Okay fine. Thanks Jack! It IS part of the experience, you’re right.” And then he looked back at us and said, “And maybe you two will get to see one of the greatest men to ever play the game, put on a show and hit a homerun, and you’ll be able to tell your own kids someday that you were there in the stands.” I nodded. Molly saw me nodding and she nodded too.
“All this talk of food, I do have a hankering right now for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Seven-Up”, dad said, then glancing back at Molly and me, “How ‘bout you two?”. Molly and I nodded. It was interesting that talking about food sometimes made you want to eat some.
“Here, let me dole ‘em out”, Molly’s dad said and turned to look back at us.
“No need”, dad said, “Let the kids do it!” Molly’s dad nodded, then looked like he was thinking about something different and looked worried.
“I’ll do it”, said Molly, the words kind of exploded out of her mouth, like she had always wanted to and finally could. She quickly reached over me and grabbed the bag with one hand and the pop holder with the other. She reached in the bag and gave a sandwich to each of us, then pulled out the last sandwich.
“For yours true”, she said. I looked at her because I had no idea what she was saying.
“That’s ‘yours TRULY’, girlie girl”, her dad said, laughing through his nose. Molly looked mad that he told her she didn’t say it right, and looked out the window holding her wrapped sandwich. Since Molly was mad, I didn’t ask what that meant.
Molly’s dad looked worried that she was mad at him and said, “Hey sweetie, there’s a bottle opener to open up the bottles.” He reached into the back seat and took the metal thing that mom had put with the pop bottles.
She looked at him, still mad, and picked up the thing the Seven-Ups were in and held it out for him and said, “You do it!” I noticed she didn’t say “daddy”, and I think her dad noticed too.
He took them, opened each one, and gave one to the rest of us, and then holding up his opened bottle said, “Bottoms up!” and drank some. Dad said, “Bottoms up”, too, holding his bottle towards Molly’s dad and drinking some.
I had seen grownups do this before with that stuff in the brown bottles or the red “punch” stuff at Molly’s birthday party. Molly looked at me, still kind of mad, and I raised and lowered my shoulders like I was saying, “Strange grownups. What can you do?”, but I didn’t actually say it. But I think she figured that out, because she didn’t look mad anymore, but had a different look on her face that I couldn’t quite figure out and said to me quietly, “Tops down”, and took a big drink with her eyes looking fierce. I don’t think either of our dads heard her say that. I took a drink of mine but didn’t say anything.
We kept on driving on the same street but there were no more buildings, just trees. There were still a couple houses, but not like where we lived where the houses were all right next to each other.
“Hey look kids”, Molly’s dad said, really excited, “There’s a plane coming into Willow Run airport.” He pointed out to the left side of the car and Molly and I looked and saw it. I had seen planes in the sky but never one so big as this one.
“It looks like a Corvair 240 prop plane”, said Molly’s dad, “That’s Mohawk Airlines’ workhorse.”
It was kind of scary how big it was. It got bigger and went right over the car and you could hear it really loud too. I didn’t think something so big could fly in the sky. Molly looked at me and opened her eyes really big.
“You know Eric”, Molly’s dad said to dad, “They built the B-24 Liberator bombers at Willow Run during the war. That’s why they built the Edsel Ford Freeway in the first place, to get all the workers there.”
“Yeah I know Jack”, dad said, nodding slowly. I could tell he was feeling mad but he was pretending not to be. “Liz and I flew out of there back to Binghamton a couple times.”
“Yeah but times are changing,”, Molly’s dad said, shaking his head slowly, “Wayne County Airport a bit further east has the longer runways that can accomodate the new jet airliners like the DC8 and the 707. Willow Run can’t compete I’m afraid.”
Dad pushed his lips together and shook his head, still looking out ahead of us.
“Have you been to the Ford Rotunda by the airport?” he asked dad, “It’s quite an exhibit. I think the kids would love it sometime.”
“I haven’t been there”, dad said, “But that would be fun sometime, to take the kids.”
“Let’s do that”, said Molly’s dad, nodding. He seemed like he wanted dad to be his friend. He looked at Molly and me and said, “You two would love it! They have this great exhibit of ‘cars of the future’.”
We kept driving on the same road and we started to go past more buildings and houses again. We kept going by more buildings and houses for a long time, and stopped at all those lights that were red, until they turned green. I looked up ahead and I could see giant buildings faraway. I remembered those big buildings Molly and I had seen in that “Woo-are-ster Park” place we’d ridden our bikes through when Molly was trying to find her dad’s new house. But these buildings looked much bigger than that. We kept driving.
“There it is guys”, dad said, “Tiger Stadium! Well actually, Briggs Stadium.” He had his window open and he stuck his hand out and pointed at it up ahead on the left.
Molly and I looked. It was this giant building, white on the top part and dark green on the bottom part. I had seen buildings taller, but never one as wide as this one was. It was even wider than that giant school place by our house that Margie went to.
“My buddies say the best parking lot’s caddy corner at Trumbull and Michigan”, Molly’s dad said.
Dad shook his head and said, “I’ve parked at a lot a bit down Trumbull. It’s not a bad walk and probably MUCH cheaper.”
“Hey Eric, I’ll pay for the parking”, Molly’s dad said, “You drove and all!”
“That’s fine Jack”, Dad said, “But you don’t want to pay those exorbitant rates just to be a couple minutes closer to the stadium.”
“My treat Eric”, Molly’s dad said, “I know money is tight right now, you being a grad student and all.” We were stopped at the corner and the car behind us started honking its horn.
Dad looked kind of mad, but he pushed his lips together, didn’t say anything, and nodded his head and we started going again and turned right into a place with a bunch of cars. This guy came up to dad’s window. Molly’s dad leaned over towards dad and handed that guy a couple of those green pieces of paper out the window, that I guess was that other kind of money that dad kept in his wallet too. Dad drove around in this place with lots of cars with no people in them and drove our car between two other cars and stopped. We all got out and walked toward the street.
“So girls and boys”, Molly’s dad said, looking down at the two of us as he and dad walked just in front of us, “You ready to root for our Tigers?” Molly and I nodded as we walked behind them and looked at all the other people heading towards the stadium.
He put a hand on dad’s shoulder and said, “And we’ll root for Ted to knock one out of the park for the kids while we still root for the hometeam.”
When he said that, I thought of that song dad sang to me sometimes about baseball…
Let’s root, root, root for the home team
If they don’t win it’s a shame
For it’s one, two, three strikes your out
At the ole ball game
As I looked at all the other people, grownups but some kids too, walking towards the stadium, I started to get really excited. I looked at Molly walking next to me, and I could see that she knew that I was, and she was too.
We crossed the big street and the sidewalk filled up with other people behind and next to us. It was hard for Molly and I to see anything but each other and the tall grownups right around us. One looked down at us and asked if this was our first game and we nodded but didn’t say anything. I was okay now talking to grownups I knew, but not to ones I didn’t.
The four of us got in a line and had to just stand there. Dad said we had to, “stand in line to buy tickets”. Molly’s dad said he would buy all the tickets but dad said he wanted to buy the ones for him and me. Molly’s dad kept trying to buy them all but dad wouldn’t let him and even got a little mad again. After we bought the tickets we had to stand in another line where we gave our tickets to this guy who then let us go through this big gate. Then we were inside and the floor was that hard gray stuff like the floor of our basement.
Once we got through the gate there weren’t as many grownups around us and Molly and I could look around and see other stuff. I couldn’t remember ever seeing so many grownups walking around, talking, and looking happy. There were a few kids too, some who looked like us, but most who looked older. A lot of the kids and some of the grownups were wearing baseball caps. A lot of the caps had that strange white thing on it that I’d seen before but never could figure out. We walked into a tunnel and I couldn’t see much in front of me because of dad and Molly’s dad in front of us, but I could hear the sound of lots of voices faraway talking like they were excited.
“Here we are”, dad said, “A Tiger baseball game at Briggs Stadium”, and he moved behind me so I could see more and put his hands on my shoulders. Seeing dad do that, Molly’s dad did the same thing with Molly.
I looked out and saw a giant baseball field, so much bigger than the ones at the park. The outfield part was all green grass like at the park, but the infield part was green grass too, except there was a dirt part between the infield and the outfield where all the bases were. There was also a circle of dirt in the middle and where the home plate was. Those lines that started at the home plate and went out into the outfield were really white, shiny even.
But what was really different was what was around the field. I couldn’t really figure out what I was looking at, because it was all so big and so different from anything I had seen before. It looked kind of like giant dark green buildings all stuck together, around the edge of the field, but there was no wall so you could see inside them.
In the middle part on the other side, it looked like the buildings didn’t have a top part, so they weren’t as high up. But above that middle part, there was this dark green wall with letters and numbers on it. Some of the letters and numbers were yellow and others were white. Above the wall were giant pictures with letters and words. One of the pictures had one of those brown bottles that we sometimes had in the refrigerator and dad would drink. It looked like a pop bottle but dad said that kids wouldn’t like it. He let me taste it once and he was right, it was bad. And then above those pictures was what looked like a giant dark green square clock.
I looked behind me and there were stairs that went way up. Like the stairs up from our basement except they went up really really far, and they were that gray hard stuff instead of wood. On either side of those stairs were dark green chairs, more than I could count even, that all looked exactly the same and were in long straight lines going away from the stairs. Each line of chairs was higher up than the one in front of it. There was a top part above us, but it was way up high.
I looked at the chairs close to us and they were shiny green and all attached to each other. Each one had a white number on the top part. If you looked down the row of chairs and you saw the number of each, it was like counting, either regular counting or backwards counting. Each row of chairs ended at another one of those gray stairways, but then started again on the other side and kept going, what looked like all the way around the field. I remembered the stadium by our house. It didn’t have chairs like this one, or a part on top, but it had the same kind of gray staircases and the sitting parts went up.
And there were people all over, mostly grownups but some kids too. There were people sitting in some of the chairs and other people were walking up and down the stairways. There were other people out on the field and they had on those “uniform” things with baseball caps.
I felt dad’s hands pat my shoulders. “Really something Cloob, isn’t it”, he said. I couldn’t think of the right words to say, it was all so strange and amazing, so I just nodded. I looked at Molly and she shook her head and made her eyes really big, like she thought it was amazing too.
Dad kind of bent down so his head was close to mine and said quietly, “Wish I could see it through your eyes.”
He stood back up and patted me on the shoulders again and said, “Well, let’s find our seats.” I had heard that word “seats” before, but now I could see that it had to do with sitting in chairs.
Dad and I climbed the gray stairs and Molly and her dad were behind us. We went way up before we stopped.
“Row W”, dad said, “Seats seven through ten. Just down here.” He walked down to where a couple of grownup men and an older boy were sitting.
“Excuse us”, dad said, and the grownups pulled themselves back so there was more room in front of them for us to go by.
The kid did not, but the grownup next to him tapped him hard twice on the knee and said, “Be polite son. Scooch back so they can get through.” The older boy nodded and moved back.
That “son” word was kind of like a name. Some grownups used it with kids when they didn’t know their names, but sometimes even when they knew the kid had a different name.
The grownup looked up at dad and asked, “Bringing your son to the game? Is it his first one?”
Dad smiled and nodded and said, “Yep. See a big league game. See the Tigers play, but also a last chance to see Ted Williams swing a bat before he retires. My son has a pretty good swing as well and he’s a lefty too.” Both the grownups smiled and nodded like that was really good. The kid nodded too.
“That’s great”, said one of the grownups. Then he looked at me and asked, “What’s your name son?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. If a kid asked me my name I’d say it was Cooper, but this was a grownup that I didn’t know, and I wondered if I should say my regular name instead. I didn’t say anything and looked at dad.
“Your son shy?” the grownup asked dad.
“No”, dad said, shaking his head, like he really wanted that guy not to think I was shy. “It’s just that his given name is Jonathan, but his nickname is ‘Cooper’.”
“So how’d you come up with ‘Cooper’, and not ‘Johnny’?” he asked, looking up at dad and then at me.
Again I wasn’t sure what to say, I had so many nicknames that I didn’t really remember how ‘Cooper’ became the regular one. But Molly was behind me and decided she better help me.
“I called him Coob. I gave him that name”, she said, like that was a really neat thing she did and he should know that.
“Okay”, said the grownup, looking at Molly like she was strange to say that, like a girl shouldn’t say or do stuff like that.
Dad was looking worried and said, “Well, one of his nicknames was ‘Clubius’ and we called him ‘Cloob’ sometimes and his best friend Molly here liked to call him ‘Coob’ instead.” Dad waved his hand and said, “It’s a long story.”
“Well none of my business really”, he said, “Sorry to bother you. Please, come on by and enjoy the game!”
Dad nodded and moved forward waving me to follow. I nodded and followed dad. Molly nodded and followed me.
Molly’s dad was behind Molly with her hands on her shoulders and said to the two grownups, “Enjoy the game!”
Dad finally sat down and patted the chair next to him for me to sit. Molly sat next to me and her dad sat on the other side.
“Nothing better than a Tiger baseball game on a nice summer’s day” her dad said, as he sat down next to her.
There was this guy wearing dark blue clothes with a catcher’s helmet on the top of his head but not down over his face. He had this big dark blue pillow thing on the front part of his body. Dad said he was the “umpire”. I’d seen guys like that at those regular games out in the park. That umpire guy was talking to these other two guys, one with the Detroit team black baseball cap with that strange white thing on it and the other with a black cap with a red “B” on it. Dad said that was, “The two team managers exchanging lineups, saying which of their players are in today’s game, what position they’re playing, and what order they’re batting in.” Then all the team guys for both teams ran out in the infield and stood in two lines. All the Detroit team guys in one line and the Boston guys in the other.
There was this loud voice that everyone could hear. I couldn’t figure out who was saying the words. The loud voice said, “Welcome to Brigg’s stadium for today’s game between the Boston Red Sox and YOUR DETROIT TIGERS!”
Dad and Molly’s dad clapped their hands along with most of the other people sitting around us. Molly’s dad yelled out, and dad put his hands up to his mouth and blew out air and made a whistling noise. A lot of the other people were making noises too.
The loud voice said, “For the visiting Boston Red Sox here is today’s lineup… Batting first, playing shortstop, number one, Don Buddin!” This guy at the beginning of the Boston team line took his cap off his head and raised it up in the air.
Dad clapped, but not as much as when the voice said “DETROIT TIGERS”. Some other people were clapping too, but not very hard. I remembered the college songs dad sang where you didn’t like the other team, but you didn’t hate them either.
Dad looked over to Molly’s dad and said, “I read that Buddin was a big prospect for the Sox, but he makes a lot of errors, which you really don’t want, particularly at shortstop.”
I looked at dad and asked, “Errors?”
Dad looked at me, smiled, nodded, and said, “Yeah. That’s when they hit the ball to you and you mess up and can’t catch it and throw them out. Most of the hitters are right-handed and so most of the ground balls are hit to the shortstop, so he’s gotta be good. You don’t want your shortstop making a lot of errors.” That made sense, so I nodded. Molly nodded too.
“Wow Eric”, said Molly’s dad, “You really know your baseball!”
Dad pushed his lips together and nodded.
Then the loud voice said, “Batting second, playing second base, number three, Pete Runnels!” The guy next to that first guy lifted his cap.
Dad clapped and said, “He’s been on the American League all-star team for the past two years, and he’s a much better defensive player than Buddin.”
“Eric”, Molly’s dad said, “You could be doing color commentary up there in the announcers booth!”
Dad laughed through his nose and said, “Well, George Kell and that new guy, Ernie Harwell, are pretty damn good! I couldn’t keep it up for two or three hours like they do.”
Then the loud voice talked again, but this time he sounded different, more excited. “Ladies and gentlemen. Batting third, playing leftfield, in his final year, number nine, TED WILLIAMS!” Dad stood up and clapped really hard and whistled again, and Molly’s dad stood up and clapped too. Other people were standing up and clapping really hard and yelling too. I had seen grownups clap before, but never stand up and clap. Molly and I weren’t sure what to do, so we stood up too and clapped.
I could see that Ted Williams guy lift his cap and wave it a little bit before he put it back on his head. Though he was smiling and far away, I could tell he looked sad. I wondered if he was sad that he wasn’t going to play baseball anymore. I wondered why he wouldn’t play anymore.
Unlike with the first two guys, people kept clapping and yelling, dad was still whistling, and that Ted Williams guy nodded and took off his cap and waved it again. I looked at dad and he looked like he was going to cry. I had never seen him cry. I’d seen mom cry but not dad. I don’t think men were supposed to cry. I felt like something special was happening, but I couldn’t figure it out. I looked at Molly but she raised her shoulders like she didn’t know either.
Dad rubbed his fingers in his eyes and then looked at Molly and me. His eyes were big, brown and sad. He held his finger up in the air, moved it back and forth and said, “I hope you two never forget that you saw probably the best left-handed hitter to ever play the game of baseball! You may watch baseball games for another half a century, but you’ll never see anyone like him!” Molly and I both nodded. I had never seen dad like this before.
“Eric, are you alright?” Molly’s dad asked.
“Yeah”, dad said, “I’m okay. It’s just that, all my adult life as a sports reporter I’ve followed Williams’ career. He was born the same year I was. I love the game, and he was always the player that as a kid I wanted to be.” Dad was looking like he was going to cry again and said, “In 1941 at just 23 years old he hit 406, for god’s sake! No one had hit over 400 since Bill Terry in 1930. No one’s done it since. Stan Musial got close, but it may never happen again!”
Finally people stopped clapping and yelling and sat down again. Ted Williams put his cap back on, nodded again and lowered his head and looked at the guy on his Red Sox team standing next to him. That loud voice said that guy’s name and what number he was and people did just regular clapping, then all the rest of the guys standing on the field. Then the voice said the names of the Detroit players, and the people clapped and yelled for them, more than they did for the other Red Sox player, but not as much as they had for Ted Williams, even though he was on the other team and not OUR team.
After that, the loud voice said, “Please stand for the singing of the National Anthem!” People stood up. Dad and Molly’s dad stood up. Dad put his hand out toward me and moved his fingers like he was telling Molly and I to stand up too. There was a different loud voice that started to sing. Dad, Molly’s dad, and other grownups started to sing too. I had heard the song before, but I couldn’t remember where I heard it. I couldn’t remember dad ever singing it to me…
O say, can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming
I couldn’t figure out what the words were talking about.
Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched
Were so gallantly streaming
When I heard the part about “stripes” and “stars” I remembered that picture of that flag thing on TV when someone else was singing this song. I guess this was our “American” team song.
And the rocket’s red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there
Those rockets and bombs made it sound like a song about fighting a war. I wondered again if I would have to fight in a war like dad did, except the badguys would be that “Soviet Union” place that grownups and some older kids were always talking about.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free
And the home of the brave
I didn’t want to have to be brave and fight in a war. I liked pretending to fight in a war with other kids, pretending to be brave but I didn’t want to fight in a real one. Have to be shot and maybe killed or wounded.
When the song ended, dad and Molly’s dad and all the other grownups clapped. That older kid that we walked by was clapping too. I was too worried to clap. Molly didn’t clap either. Then everybody sat down, all the players ran back to their special places where they sat, and it looked like they were going to start playing.
The Tiger players ran out of their place and out onto the field with their gloves to get ready for the other team, that Red Sox team, to take their turn and do the hitting.
The loud voice said, “The first batter for the visiting Boston Red Sox, number one, Don Buddin!”
This guy with the Red Sox uniform and cap walked up toward home plate, but before he got next to it he took a couple swings of the bat like he was pretending to hit. Then he walked up to the home plate and stood on that other side for the right-handed guys. He moved his feet back and forth and banged his bat on the plate and then moved it back and forth as he looked at the pitcher. Then he bent down a little, held his bat up in the air behind him, and stopped moving. The “pitcher” guy on the Tigers that threw the ball to him to try to hit it, looked at the “batter” guy, nodded his head, and then lifted his leg, put the ball in his hand behind him and threw it towards him.
The Red Sox guy with the bat didn’t swing. That “umpire” guy with all the dark blue stuff on made a loud noise and pointed his arm down to the ground.
“Ball one”, said dad, “He’s feeling the pitcher out.”
I looked at dad, not knowing what was happening, not even knowing what to ask about.
Dad was still looking out at the field, but said to me, “It was a pitch that wasn’t in the strike zone. That’s called a ‘ball’.” He waved his hand in front of his face and shook his head. “I know it’s confusing”, he said, “But if the pitcher throws three more pitches that aren’t in the strike zone and the batter doesn’t swing at them, the batter gets a “walk” and can go to first base.”
The batter guy moved his feet on the ground again, moved his shoulders, moved the bat back and forth, and then held it up behind him and looked at the pitcher guy.
There were so many questions I could ask, but the pitcher started to throw the ball again so I didn’t. The batter guy still didn’t swing at it. The umpire, “Stee-rike one!” Some people around us clapped. Other people yelled out words.
The batter guy walked away from the plate and took two pretend swings, looked out at the field and nodded. Then he walked back to the plate and did those same things he had done before, moving his feet back and forth, shaking his shoulders, banging the plate with his bat, then moving his bat back and forth and finally holding it up again behind him.
This time the pitcher guy threw it and he swung and there was a crack noise, and the ball went up in the air above the top part above us so I couldn’t see it. The guy that hit it started running towards first base. The guy on the Tigers that was way out in the middle of the outfield looked up, yelled something out, started to run, waved his arms, stopped still looking up, held up his glove, and the ball came down into it. People clapped and yelled.
The loud voice said who was going to be the next guy and he walked to the plate and did a lot of the same things that the first guy did. But he stood on the other side of the plate where I would stand if I was trying to hit the ball. He was left-handed like me.
I pointed at him and I said to Molly, “He’s left-handed like I am!” Molly nodded slowly but she looked a little worried, like something wasn’t good. Other times, when I was worried about stuff, Molly could tell, and if grownups were around who could hear, instead of asking me what’s wrong, she would just look at me, and make her mouth move like she was asking, “What?”, but not saying that word. So this time I decided to do that with her, and I looked at her really hard in the eyes and did a “what” with my mouth without saying it.
She looked even more worried and looked over at her dad and then back at me and then shook her head just a little bit, like she didn’t want to tell me because her dad would hear, and I guess my dad too. I nodded like I had figured that out.
We heard the crack of a ball being hit by a bat. I looked at the field and that second guy had hit the ball and was running fast to first base trying to get there before he was “out”. But one of the Tiger guys in the infield got the bouncing ball and threw it to that other Tiger guy at first base before the Red Sox guy could get there. I saw that there was another “umpire” over by first base wearing the same dark blue stuff as that other umpire guy, but not the big pillow thing on the front part of him. He stuck out his arm and yelled something, but I couldn’t figure out what he said. People clapped and yelled. Dad clapped and whistled. Molly’s dad clapped and yelled.
The guy running ran over first base but he turned and stopped running and started to walk back to that place where the rest of his team were sitting in a row. I figured he was “out”, and that’s what the umpire had said. This was all making sense to me.
Then the loud voice said, “Ladies and gentleman, the next batter is NUMBER NINE”, and the voice took longer saying those last two words, and then said, “TED WILLIAMS!”
People clapped harder and some made noise or yelled words even though he wasn’t on the Tigers team. Dad whistled and Molly’s dad clapped and said, “GO TED!”
That Ted Williams guy walked up to the plate and started doing his things to get ready like the other guys did, and he did some different stuff too, lifting up each shoe and hitting it with the end of his bat. Then he looked at that “catcher” guy behind the plate who had that special mask on, smiled and nodded and said something to him. That catcher guy then started to nod too. Then he banged his bat on the plate, looked at the Tigers pitcher guy, got a little lower, brought his bat up and behind him and stood still, waiting for the pitcher guy to throw the ball towards him.
The pitcher guy stood there in his spot in that middle part of the infield, on that little mound of dirt. He shook his head, but no one was talking to him so I couldn’t figure out why. He shook his head again. Then he finally nodded, and he started to move his arms and raise his leg to throw the ball but stopped. I looked at Ted Williams and he had stepped away from the plate. It didn’t make sense. If he was so good at hitting, I wondered why he didn’t want the pitcher to throw the ball to him so he could hit it. I looked at dad.
Dad saw me look at him and said, “Yeah. He’s trying to rattle the pitcher.”
“Rattle?” I asked, only remembering that word as a toy that my brother David had that made noise when he shook it.
Dad nodded, looking out toward the field and not at me and said, “Make the pitcher not think very well so he has more trouble throwing a good pitch.” I nodded, though I was thinking that didn’t sound very nice.
Ted Williams stepped back up next to the plate, smiled, moved his bat around and finally pulled it back, stopped moving, and waited for the pitcher to throw it. The pitcher finally did. The umpire behind that catcher guy said something and moved his arm down.
“Ball one”, dad said and shook his head, “Not in the strike zone. Williams will almost never swing at a bad pitch. That’s one of the things that makes him such a great hitter.”
Molly’s dad laughed and said, “We’ve got our own George Kell here girls and boys!”
Molly looked at her dad. He saw her and said, “Coop’s dad really knows his baseball.” Molly looked at my dad then looked at me. I lifted my shoulders and put them down again like I didn’t know that, or what was going on.
The pitcher threw the ball again and it wasn’t in the “strike zone” either.
“Ball two”, dad said, and he shook his head and laughed through his nose. He turned towards all of us and said, “What do you bet Foytack walks him.”
“Foytack walks him?” I asked.
Still looking out at the field, dad smiled and nodded and said, “Foytack is the Tiger’s pitcher. I think he’ll end up throwing Williams four bad pitches which will mean he can go to first base.”
“But doesn’t he want to hit it?” I asked.
“Sure”, dad said, still looking out at the field and not at me, “But he’s going to make the pitcher throw him some good pitches first.”
That Foytack pitcher guy threw another pitch and the umpire put his arm up instead of down and said, “Stee-rike one!”
“Was that a good pitch?” I asked dad. He nodded.
“Why didn’t he hit it?” I asked.
Dad nodded and said, “Ted’s studying the pitcher to see what kind of stuff he’s got, what his pitches are like. He’s waiting for the best pitch to hit.”
Molly was listening to dad and I talk and I could tell she wanted to join it. “What’s the best pitch to hit?” she asked. Dad nodded, pushed his lips together, but smiled too.
“The best pitch to hit is one that’s out over the plate”, dad said, “And Ted figures the pitcher has got to throw one of those or walk him.”
Foytack threw another pitch but Williams didn’t swing, and the umpire said it was a ball.
“Three and one”, dad said.
Both Molly and I asked, “Three and one?” at the same time. Molly’s dad laughed. Dad looked at Molly’s dad and did a big smile but kept from laughing.
“Yep”, dad said, “That’s called the ‘count’. How many balls and strikes the batter has. Ted has three balls and only one strike. If he gets four balls he gets a ‘walk’ and gets to go to first base. If he gets three strikes, he’s ‘out’, and has to go back and sit with his teammates and wait for his next chance to bat later in the game.”
Foytack pitched again and Williams still didn’t swing. The umpire said it was a ball and stuck his hand out and pointed towards first base. Williams tossed his bat back toward where the other players on his team were sitting and ran slowly down to first base.
“Walked him”, dad said, looking at Molly’s dad. I could tell dad liked that he knew so much about baseball.
The next Red Sox guy, when he finally hit the ball, hit it straight up in the air. I looked up but couldn’t see where it went because the top part above me was in the way. That Foytack guy, the catcher and two other Tiger guys all ran to the same spot near where people were sitting watching. Foytack the pitcher yelled, “Third base” and pointed at another guy who waved his hands and caught the ball.
“Three outs”, said dad, “Now it’s the Tigers’ turn to bat.” All the Tiger guys who were out on the field ran to their place where they all sat in a row, and the Red Sox guys came out of their place and ran out on the field. I remembered that this was how it worked in the games that kids played too in the park. Three “outs”, then it was the other team’s turn.
On the Tiger’s turn, two guys got out, then two other guys walked, then the next guy got out, so it was the Red Sox turn again. Two of their guys hit the ball backward, which dad said was a “foul ball”, and finally got out. The third guy hit the ball the right way but the Tigers guy got it when it was bouncing and threw it to first base before he could get there. Then it was the Tigers’ turn again and some of their guys hit the ball better and it bounced out into the outfield and other guys could run around the other bases and get back to the home plate and get what dad said was a “run”. The Tigers hit so much that the Red Sox “manager” guy, dad said he was the guy in charge of the team, came out to talk to the pitcher and told him to stop pitching, and had a different guy start pitching because the first guy wasn’t doing very good. Before they got out, the Tigers had three of those “runs” and the Red Sox didn’t have any.
Then the Red Sox got another turn and they started hitting better too, and when it was Ted Williams turn, he hit the ball right at that pitcher guy but he couldn’t get it and it bounced out into the outfield. Before they got out the Red Sox got three runs too. Dad said the game was “tied”, which meant that both teams had the same number of runs. But the Tigers got more runs in their next turn, so he said they were “ahead” again.
Then when it was the next Red Sox turn to hit the Tigers had a different guy pitching, and the next time Ted Williams got up he hit the ball really hard, but the Tiger guy in the middle of the outfield ran and got it, though he fell down when he got it. Dad said it was a “great catch by that young guy, Al Kaline”, and though Ted Williams hit it really good, he still got out.
Then when we were waiting for the Tigers to take their turn again, this guy started walking up the gray steps near us with this big silver box in front of him that was attached to his body so he didn’t have to hold it with his hands. He kept yelling, “HOT DOGS! They’re HYGRADE!”
Molly’s dad said, “Okay, boys and girls, time for the best hot dogs in the whole world!” He stood up and held up his hand with four fingers out. The guy with the silver box nodded his head and opened up his box and took four hot dogs out.
Molly’s dad turned and pointed at Molly and asked, “Ketchup?” She nodded. Then he pointed at me and asked, “Coop?”
I liked hot dogs with mustard so I said, “Mustard.”
He looked at dad who said, “Mustard, onions and pickle relish, if they’ve got it.” I guess the guy with the silver box heard what we all said and nodded.
Molly’s dad said, “Same for me.”
The guy with the silver box nodded and held up a hand with two fingers, and said, “Two dollars.” Molly’s dad took one of those “wallet” things out of his pocket and took two of those green pieces of paper out that I guess was another kind of money called “dollars”, different from the metal coin money. The box guy fixed up all the hot dogs and wrapped each one in a piece of white paper and gave them to the grownup guy sitting next to us who then gave them to Molly’s dad. Molly’s dad gave those two dollars to that same grownup guy sitting next to us who gave them to the guy with the silver hotdog box.
My hotdog tasted good. It was kind of like the hotdogs we had at home except the bun was warmer and softer, which made it taste better. It had a lot of mustard which made it really tasty, almost too tasty, but I ate it, because I didn’t want dad or Molly’s dad to get mad.
Then each team kept taking turns but couldn’t get any more runs. Ted Williams walked again, and the next guy too, but then the next guy got out. The next time it was the Red Sox turn, two guys hit the ball into the outfield and were able to get to first base, and the first guy was able to run over to third base. Then this other Red Sox guy hit a ball up in the air in the outfield and the Tiger guy caught it, but the Red Sox guy got to run to home plate and get a run. Dad said the Tigers were still ahead.
Later dad said it was the “last chance” for the Red Sox to take their turn. The Tigers were “ahead”, because they had more runs, which meant the Red Sox were “behind”. If they didn’t “score” at least one run, the game would end and the Tigers would win. The first guy to try to hit for the Red Sox hit the ball way up in the air but the Tiger guy in the outfield caught the ball and that guy was out. Then it was Ted Williams’ turn again.
“So Eric”, Molly’s dad said, “What’s Williams’ strategy this time?”
Dad seemed happy since we got to the stadium and I could tell that he liked watching the baseball game and talking about all the guys who were playing and what he thought they were going to do. But now he looked over at Molly’s dad and looked happy and worried at the same time.
“Well”, dad said, “Aguirre’s pitching well, but Williams will take another walk if Aguirre doesn’t give him anything good to hit. Williams hit him pretty hard the last time he was up, and it was just a great play by Kaline in Center to catch that thing, otherwise it would have been a double. But Aguirre won’t want to walk him and put the tying run on base.”
Ted Williams walked up to the plate, and like he did those other times, he said something to the Tigers’ catcher and the umpire. Then he did all the things he did before, knocking the bat on his shoes and moving it back and forth. Finally he pulled the bat back and didn’t move. The Tiger pitcher threw the ball, but Ted Williams didn’t swing.
“Stee-rike one”, said the umpire. Ted Williams looked at the umpire and nodded his head.
“That looked like a good pitch by Aguirre, low and probably caught the corner”, dad said.
“Caught the corner?” I asked.
Dad nodded, still looking out at the field, and said, “When the pitcher throws the ball and it gets to the batter it has to be over the plate and below the batter’s shoulders and above his knees for it to be a strike.” He touched his hands to those parts of his body when he said them. “And that pitch was probably just above the knees and caught the inside corner of the plate.” Wow, I thought, baseball had a lot of rules.
The next three pitches the pitcher threw were all balls and Ted Williams didn’t swing and just watched them.
Dad moved his body around in his chair, put his hands on his knees and leaned forward, like he knew something was going to happen. The pitcher threw the ball and Ted Williams swung and there was that crack noise, really loud this time. The ball went way up in the air out into the outfield, and the Tiger guy out there ran back to the wall behind him, but didn’t even put his glove up to catch it. The ball came down in the sitting part out there behind him and bounced farther up in that sitting part.
“Homerun!” dad said. It kind of exploded out of him, like he had been waiting to say it for a long time, and was so glad he finally could. He wasn’t worried anymore and I couldn’t remember seeing him so happy. He looked at Molly and me with a really big smile on his face. “Did you two see it?” he asked. Molly and I nodded. I could tell that made him even more happy.
Molly’s dad made kind of a whistling noise and said, “Wow!”
Dad, Molly’s dad and most everybody else watching stood up, clapped and yelled, even though Ted Williams was on the other team. He ran around the bases, but not really fast, and took his cap off his head like he and all the other players had done before the game when the loud voice had said their names. I looked at dad and his eyes were wet like he was going to cry again. He looked at me and his wet eyes sparkled as he shook his head slowly. He didn’t seem like a grownup anymore, just a kid like me and Molly.
“Oh Cloob”, he said, “I’m so glad we came and you got to see that! The greatest lefty ever to play the game!” He put his fingers in his eyes and rubbed them.
“He’s right you two”, Molly’s dad said rubbing Molly’s shoulder, “This is something you can tell your own kids someday!”
I really thought about what Molly’s dad was saying. That Molly and I would be grownups someday and be a mom and dad and have our own kids. I still couldn’t quite imagine that. All the grownups I knew were so different from Molly and me and all the other kids I knew. We would never be like them We would be completely different!
So the Tigers didn’t get any runs when they took their last turn, so the game was still “tied”. Dad said that if it was a football game or a hockey game it would be over and would be a “tie game” that neither team won.
I remembered what mom kept saying about “America” against the “Soviet Union”. She didn’t want it to be a war. She thought the best thing was if it were more like a game, a game that nobody won. That would be a game that stayed “tied”. But would that mean that nobody could get anymore runs? If it were a baseball game it wouldn’t be very fun if you could never get runs or even hit a homerun. Or maybe if “America” got some runs, then they’d have to let the “Soviet Union” get the same number of runs when it was their turn, but not more. I didn’t know how that would work, and it seemed maybe like more strange grownup stuff.
But dad said that in baseball, if it was tied, you had to keep playing more turns until one of the teams got more runs than the other and won the game. He called that “playing extra innings”. So the Red Sox took their “extra innings” turn but didn’t get any runs. But when the Tigers took their turn, they scored a run, and as soon as that Tiger guy ran over home plate, the game was over and they had won.
Dad was so happy. He liked the Tigers but he really liked Ted Williams and wanted me to see him hit a homerun. So he did hit that homerun and I did get to see it, but the Tigers still won the game. So dad got both things he wanted. I don’t think he usually got all the things he wanted.