You feel these obligations as a father. For example, six years ago, when my son, Robby, was born, I experienced a primitive and powerful need to have my lawyer set up a trust fund. I have faithfully deposited money into this fund ever since, even though I have no real concept of how it works. For all I know, when my son turns 21 the money will go to my lawyer. But I figure a man has to do what a man has to do.
In March I decided to take Robby to an exhibition baseball game. It seemed like the thing to do. Baseball is a very important part of being a guy. In some ways it is the very essence of guyhood. and I wanted to expose Robby to it.
I had neglected this area of guyhood previously because, quite frankly, I do not have a ton of fond memories about baseball. I recall being in an Armonk, N.Y., Little League in the 1950s and facing pitchers who were technically my age but, because of early puberty and the consequent raging hormonal imbalance, were biologically 10 to 12 years older. Plus the pitcher's mound in Little League is only, what, 15 feet from home plate. So when batting I had to stand extremely close to extremely large people who could throw a baseball at velocities—this is just an estimate, because we had no radar guns in those days—upward of 180 mph and who had no control whatsoever over the direction in which it would go.
I was your classic Little League right-fielder, a total pune, the kind of kid chosen last in a pickup game. I always batted ninth and always prayed for the hitters ahead of me to make outs and for the game to get rained out. I also prayed—this seemed like the ideal solution—that I would be struck by lightning and never have to bat again. But inevitably my turn would come, and our coach, Mr. Parker, standing way over in foul territory, out of harm's way, would always yell the easy-for-you-to-say advice that must be the first thing they teach in coach school: "Keep your eye on the ball!"
I never kept my eye on the damn ball any more than William Tell's son kept his eye on the arrow. I kept my eye on the pitcher, and as soon as his arm started forward I went into a world-class squinting flinch, waiting for certain death. Sometimes I struck out. Sometimes I walked. Never did I get a dramatic game-winning hit, which was fine with me. I knew that if I ever showed even the tiniest shred of promise, I might be expected to play, God forbid, American Legion ball.
So after Little League I didn't play at all until I got a job as a reporter for a newspaper that had a softball team. I joined because we played other newspaper teams, which mainly meant we drank beer and tried to dream up comical forms of infield chatter, such as "Way to sling that eggplant!" But then we joined a league that was infested with guys who took softball seriously, guys who wore batting gloves, chewed tobacco and slid hard into women. Sadly, this attitude began to rub off on my teammates, who started to hold practices where they actually yammered away at one another about "hitting" the "cutoff man." Eventually, they wouldn't even let you bring your beer with you onto the field. That's when I knew it was time to hang up my glove, which was no small feat because it is a K-Mart Pro Softball Model with the Ball-Trap pocket and large enough to house a family of four.
From that point on, my interest in baseball was minimal. It was primarily restricted to rooting for a cement mixer to run over George Steinbrenner. Then, last summer, we moved to Miami. When spring rolled around, my neighbor Walt, who is a marriage counselor but really wants to be a catcher, invited me to a preseason Orioles-Dodgers game. I asked if I could bring Robby, and he said sure.
The game was on a weekday afternoon, so I had to get Robby out of kindergarten early. I didn't feel too guilty about that because when I arrived at the school the kids were whacking at clay with hammers, and I figured he could always catch up on this activity at home. On the way to the game I asked Robby if he knew how baseball worked. "I know there's a batter and there's an umpire and the umpire tells you the score," he said. "That's all I know. Is there anything else?"
I said no, nothing major. We got to Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium, the Orioles' spring home. It is not in the kind of neighborhood I would choose to live in. Or walk through. We parked in somebody's yard for $5. (Yard-parking is a major industry in Miami, ranking right behind tourism, international banking and pest control.) We walked by a souvenir stand, and Robby instantly decided he was a Dodger fan because the team's color is blue. Robby loves blue. If the Russians had picked blue instead of red, Robby would root for them in the arms race.
So I got him a Dodger batting helmet and myself a standard ballpark-variety, overpriced, watery beer, and we went to our seats. Great seats—front-row box, right on the first-base line. Not 15 feet away was Tommy Lasorda, looking just the way he does in commercials. If you listened closely you could hear the polyester filaments in his uniform grunt as they strained to hold together.