Take Me Out . . . To the Ballgame
By Matt Gordon
Last week, my sons were unbearable. The usual tactics wouldn’t suffice for their level of supreme depravity. No, I needed to get cruel and unusual, so I loaded them up and took them out to the ballpark to watch the last-place Cardinals boot the ball around. It was a sellout—misery loves company, I guess.
It was also approximately 200 degrees out. In the shade. Fortunately, our seats were in the sun, so we could have all the boiled water we needed, right there at our seats!
To prepare for this momentous day of Americana I packed a cooler. The stadium allows certain styles and sizes of coolers. Apparently, however, they do not allow the particular cooler that I had loaded up with bottles of water, candy, chips, sandwiches, pork loins, burritos, tire irons, ponchos, headlamps, light reading material, parachutes, and other gameday essentials. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks? No, but I can offer you some insect repellant and an icepack.
“This isn’t technically a soft cooler,” shouted Barb at the front gate.
“It’s pretty soft,” I countered.
“Yes, but not soft enough. Look, it has an insert.”
She was right, it did have an insert, but don’t we all? Without some skeletal frame, how would my potatoes keep from mashing?
“What’s the hold up?” shouted Randy, the ticket scanner guy.
“This cooler isn’t soft! It's too firm!” shouted Barb.
Randy came over to inspect. “Yeah, it’s soft. That’s just the icepack.”
It wasn’t. It was the insert.
“No, that’s the insert!” shouted Barb, correctly.
“No, it’s soft,” shouted Randy.
They went back-and-forth like this, shouting everything, for a couple hours, and I decided to use this tiff as a tactic, as I didn’t really want to hoof it back to my car or sacrifice any of my dried goods.
As I mentioned, this was a sellout, which accounts for about 45,000 people, and who knows how many different types of coolers. And as Barb and Randy engaged in the philosophical quandary for the ages regarding the rigidity of my cooler, I noticed approximately 44,000 people piling up in the line directly behind us there at Gate 5. The tactic was simple: just be as slow as possible. I just stood there pretending to be German when a supervisor finally approached.
“What’s the problem?” she looked to me.
I shrugged and tried some German-sounding noises by squeezing a fake sneeze out a mouth contorted by itchiness: “Ich niet firm?” was about how it came out.
“His cooler is too hard,” Barb reported.
“It isn’t,” Randy countered.
Oh, the debate for the times was back on, and the line continued to amass, like a billowing wall of water pressing firmer than a cooler against a weakening dam.
The supervisor then stepped away and spoke into her walkie-talkie, probably relaying something about a small German man with two American children holding things up with a cooler filled as if it was setting forth on the Oregon Trail.
She came back and nodded. She didn’t say anything. I zipped up the cooler and proceeded to Randy, who was still barking at Barb, who was still barking at Randy, and got our tickets scanned. I had stayed firm, and so had my cooler. I could only hope my boys had witnessed this and noted their father’s steadfast courage in the face of adversity.
We stopped to binge on some candy to lessen my load, and then trudged off to our oven seats.
Upon arrival at the seats, Joey, my younger son, asked, “Can we leave?” It is fun to see the love of the game brimming to the surface at so young an age, and I saw it, too, in so many of the young people around me. “Dada, can we leave yet?” he asked again.
“You all want to go to the playground?” I asked, hoping for appeasement. I really wanted to make it through at least one inning—I had all those snacks to eat, after all.
We whined halfway to the stadium playground before I remembered the socks. The boys were in slide-on shoes but would need socks to enter the playground. I had packed the socks in the cooler, so we belly-ached our way back to our seats, grabbed the chilled socks, and cry-babied back toward the playground.
The playground is segmented into two parts and already one was closed. At the barrier of the closed section stood a stoic attendant, and I asked him what happened, figuring something gravely serious, like someone smuggling in a too-hard cooler or something, had occurred.
“Puke,” he answered.
Enough said. Just enough, actually. Later in the game, after approximately nine pitches and some rotisserie chickens from the cooler, we returned to the playground, and the attendant was still there.
My kids played and played, and he stood and stood. He was like a Buckingham Palace Guard but instead of standing there serious, pretending his outfit isn’t ridiculous like those guards, he’d just greet anyone who approached with a terse, robotic, “Puke.” He must have said it thousands of times. He said it more than Musial base-hits. Puke. Puke. Puke. I was very impressed, and as we left that round of playground time, I went over to thank him for his service.
“Puke,” he answered. Hero.
We spent the third inning in our seats. And in my lap. And taking turns getting into the cooler and zipping ourselves up to cool down and pretend to be in a coffin—to sleep, perchance to dream.
During this phase of the game, I might as well have been sitting with Barb and Randy for all the arguing between my sons. They argued over who was taller, who had a better hat, who was hotter. On and on it went. Even from there, inside the cooler, I could hear them squabbling.
The usher must have heard them, too, because she came darting over and informed us, “It is really hot out here today, guys.”
“Puke,” I replied.
“Since you have little ones, I wanted to inform you that the team store in the concourse is a really great place to cool off.”
My kids heard store and off they went, with their grandfather in tow. By the time I caught up, their grandpa was already in line with two Nolan Arenado t-shirts. I grabbed the tag to see what he was going to have to pay and there wasn’t a price—just a little picture of a kidney. I had suspected an arm and a leg, but this? No, this was too far.
“It’s too firm,” I told him, using a technique I had learned earlier from Barb, but before we really had time to squabble it out, my kid tugged my arm.
“I have to poop,” he said.
“Me too,” said his brother.
“Puke,” I answered. At least they had finally agreed to something.
We trotted off to the bathroom, found a stall, and spent about an inning-and-a half in there. One kid pooping while the other whined that it was his turn, as if the toilet were a pinata or something.
There was a 40 ounce can of Busch Light there on the toilet paper receptacle, and I considered downing it. I thought it was a low-point in life.
“Wipe me, Dada!”
Ay, there’s the rub—there’s the low point.
Butts a-ready, we headed back to our seats. Sat down. “Dada, can we leave now?”
There was the crack of the bat, the ball sailing through the air, fielders in pursuit, and we headed toward the exit hum-muttering, “I don’t care if I ever come back . . .”
A few days later, we headed back from St. Louis. We had gone to the pool, swam in the lake, visited a park. We had eaten good food, watched movies, and purchased fireworks.
“What was your favorite part of the trip?” my wife asked the boys, as our van hurtled across I-70.
Without pause, Joey piped up: “The baseball game. Definitely the baseball game.”
MJ joined in, “Can we go again?”
“Puke,” I mumbled, as I opened the ticket app on my phone to look for seats near the playground.