When people ask me about taking my son, Vincent, to a game and what it is like, I have an answer automatically. It’s like being the manager of a rookie pitcher on the mound. You don’t know what is going to happen but you hope for the best and by the end of the night, for your mood to not lose out to your nerve. Vincent is 2.5 years old, and he turns 3 in September. He is a little beast, all power and a little scrap. He is 37 pounds and stands a little above 3 feet tall. On Tuesday night, I took my wife, Rachel, and Vinny to the game. The Cardinals were playing the Pirates. When a pregame interview I had set up got cancelled at the last minute, a couple hours opened up before game time.
We stopped in Ballpark Village and got a taste of the Hall of Fame Museum. My son stared up at the Hall Of Fame plagues of Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Ozzie Smith with an intriguing glare that ended with this statement…”baseball, daddy”. For the entire visit to Ballpark Village, my son kept saying baseball. Basically, dad, all this historical stuff is nice and will have a bigger meaning when I am older but right now I want to see Fredbird, watch some baseball and say hello to the other 35,000 people at Busch Stadium.
In case you didn’t notice or guess, my son is a people’s person. He wants to stand up on his seat, turn around and talk to people behind him. He wants to say hello to strangers. He wants life, in general. This was Vinny’s 4th or 5th game but the first one where he seemed to really have some fun.
As the pregame cermonies started, he sat there and asked nicely if he could go on the field. The answer was no. I am sure the security guards wouldn’t stop him but they would arrest me so it wasn’t happening. He then asked if we could go home. NO! For the first time in a public place, though, I noticed my son being patient. He watched the field. He looked at the sky. He scanned the crowd. He ate three cheese sticks, 2 bags of chips and a couple pretzels. Suddenly, the game started and he was ready. He looked like me with a glee that one couldn’t possibly explain with words.
Remember how I said in the beginning that taking your child to a game is like being a manager and watching your rookie pitcher take the mound. Here’s why.
The first game they ever go to is going to be tough. If he or she escapes the 2nd inning, consider the win a day and pack up the diaper bag. The first few games will be short outings. He will whine, complain, search for ways to get your attention. Like baseball, being a kid is a struggle. There’s all this colorful stuff to look at and one thing you must let dad do. Pay attention to the game that is going down on the field. The first few starts are always risky and you are lucky if you get through 3 innings without a lot of crying(runs) scoring.
The 4th game or possibly the 5th(when they are 2 or 3), things get interesting. You can give the kid a pitch count and let them find the patience. Now you are thinking quality start. Possibly 6 innings or even 7 innings. If they cry or complain, resist. Let them find their way. This is important. If you tell them going home is an option, then how will they ever learn how to be a grown up and appreciate the game and life itself.
Vinny lasted 7 innings on Tuesday night. He was a great kid and I looked down at him at times to see if the crying screaming baby was there and he wasn’t. I was sitting next to a little boy. He could have lasted longer, but then he would have seen a walk off home run by Kolten Wong and a lot of fireworks and noise. Hint. My son isn’t fond of big noise. He hates lightning. Fireworks make him cover his ears. He didn’t care for a big celebration. He was happy to sit there and let mom and dad enjoy the game.
For fathers who are diehard sports fans, taking your kids to games is the first part of truly connecting with them. They will learn about the real rules and laws of life eventually, but the game of baseball presents so many metaphors for the game outside the stadium that it works as a practice booklet.
Show respect to your opponent. Play hard. Obey the rules. Leave it on the field. Be cheerful. Smile occasionally. Understand the importance of fundamentals and never let your talent overshadow the modern basics of the game. Vinny doesn’t any of this yet but he will. I will teach him.
I will teach him to like baseball but not force him to love it. That kind of devotion is grown on his own time.
The most important part is this. He made it through 7 innings and almost lasted the entire game. He isn’t a baby anymore. He is a boy and a very ambitious and curious one. He likes this baseball thing that dad seems to live and die over. One day, he will want to learn. I will be there to teach him. That’s all part of the plan.
Thanks for reading this mostly non Cardinals post. I promise I will keep them to a minimum.