It has been said that a daughter will always be “Daddy’s Little Girl”, and that the greatest insult towards any boy is to insult his mother. These sentiments discount the power of the mother-daughter dynamic (I hesitate to call it a ‘bond’ – ‘dynamic’ seems more accurate) and minimize the devastating impact of the father-son relationship on both combatants. And nothing cements the bond of father and son like the banality of baseball. So I vowed to someday force the glue of baseball into the crevices of my relationship with my son, thereby giving us both something to talk about when I was old and bitter. A common passion for baseball and all of its history and rules would keep us together, and fill the countless hours avoiding our feelings with idle conversation at future family events.
I have known for a long time that once my son was of the age where he understood the infield fly rule and the suicide squeeze play, I would travel with him to the meccas of the game. Together, we would share the sites and smells, the tastes and the statistics, the heroes and the villains – everything that once made baseball the National Pastime. If we could discover the joys of baseball as a family, perhaps for us, it could be Our Pastime.
Truth be told, this trip was planned long before Thomas was born, but having him around made the entire escapade easier to sell to his mother. There were moments when I believed that Cherie believed that the trip was about strengthening the father-son bond, but those moments were fleeting. I think she knew that I would have made this same trip alone if I had to. It was on my Bucket List.
It was an ambitious adventure. The plan was originally to head to Williamsport for some of the Little League World Series; head north to Cooperstown for a day at the Baseball Hall of Fame; turn east to NYC for a day in Manhattan, followed by an evening (or 2) of NL/AL baseball, then return south for the Phillies, Orioles, or perhaps the Wilmington Blue Claws or Trenton Thunder. Because of family scheduling conflicts, the Little League World Series fell off the calendar of events, so we attacked the trip counterclockwise instead – NYC, then Cooperstown, then Philadelphia. Because that seemed too ambitious for 4 days of travel, the plan shortened to NYC and Cooperstown, but as you will read, that was enough.
Thomas was very excited as we planned and the day of departure drew near. I was excited, but scared. I was scared because I had planned the trip like a man. That is, I planned in a haphazard fashion, and I was smart enough to recognize the potential flaws in my itinerary. What if it rained? What if I got lost? What if he got sick along the way? These fears were misplaced, because we had a wonder drug working in our favor – adrenaline. Naturally occurring adrenaline would be our St. Christopher and protect us on our travels.
DAY ONE: “Magic Rat drove his sleek machine…”
With car packed, we headed out of northern VA, and luckily did not have any traffic for the first 10 minutes of the drive. I have lived here since the late 1980s, and I still occasionally think that I can outsmart the other drivers in the region. Surely, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in early summer, no one else will be headed north at 3:30 PM.
Wrong. But hey, this is bonding time, quality time in which to talk with my boy about life, politics, school, anything. This was not a traffic jam. This was an opportunity, a “30 miles in 2 hours” opportunity. I was a lucky man, ready to build the foundation of our manly brotherhood.
We sat in silence listening to sports talk radio for 90 minutes. Well, this was after all, a sports vacation, I rationalized.
I did force feed him Springsteen’s Born to Run from beginning to end while we cruised along at 5-10 mph. We were headed to New Jersey that evening, and I thought it was important to set the mood properly. The boy needed to get in touch with his inner Jersey Boy, and there’s nothing like 10th Avenue Freeze Out and Jungleland to awaken his dormant Jersey genetic code. We’ll work on his accent later during the ride. He needed to say “coffee” and “walk” with the right attitude and inflection if was to survive in the City, even for just a day.
Along the way, we did observe slice of Americana. A late model muscle car with Florida plates was pulled over to the side of the highway, and a Maryland State Trooper was searching the vehicle while the brown skinned driver sat nearby. I remarked to Thomas that some people run drugs from Florida to the Northeast on Route 95, and that this car and driver might have fit the profile that the police were looking for. Thomas said, “But that's illegal. They can’t stop you just because you drive a car from Florida and look like that, can they?” Ah, my little Libertarian. I can hear him arguing one day with an officer, “Hey, you got a warrant????”
To save time with stops, we ate pre-packed Subway sandwiches and snacks on the road, and finally arrived at my sister’s home in NJ, a 3 hour trip completed in 5 hours. Here, we met up with our sherpas to the first base camp of our baseball ascent, Citifield, home of the New York Mets. My brother-in-law Mike and his son, Ryan, were veterans of the trip to NY, so they would serve as our guides the next day. If Thomas and I were going to get lost on this trip, it was not going to be on the first day in NY. We had hired professionals.
We relaxed with family, and enjoyed complimentary chips and salsa before bed. Beer was on the menu for the adults. We were so relaxed in fact that I neglected to make the good night phone call home, a major mistake when on a man-cation. The last thing you need is a wife who feels forgotten, and a restless night’s sleep on a lumpy bed of guilt. Oh well, I’ll buy her a souvenir tomorrow. That should fix everything.
We were all ready for the next day’s journey to see the Mets. We had everything we needed. Almost everything, as it turned out. I had forgotten to pack my toothbrush. Now, I am sure that all you dads out there have asked your children hundreds of times before an overnight trip, “Did you pack your toothbrush?” I probably had asked Thomas that question before this very trip. Now I was stuck. Everyone had gone to bed. My teeth needed brushing (see previous entry for “chips, salsa, beer”). I made an executive decision, and I am confessing for the first time right here and now.
I used Thomas’ toothbrush.
It did gross me out for the first few swipes through, but I soon forgot about the germs and bacteria from my son’s mouth that was now swimming around in mine. In a way, I felt that this sharing of the toothbrush was bringing us closer, although I would never be able to tell him that. It was much like making a blood pact, without the blood. We were one on this trip, even if I was the only one who knew.
I went to sleep, and prayed that my new blood brother didn’t have a cold.
DAY TWO: THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE
TO BE CONTINUED...