Harold J. Dalton slammed the door on his heather 2011 Audi S4, parked on the fourth floor of the Century Link parking lot next to Safeco Field. Through the opening in the concrete fifty feet in front of him, he could make out a tall yellow foul pole peering over the wall, towering above a series of flags holding the logos of various American League teams, and quickly spotted the familiar white crest with two red socks, dancing in the warm Seattle afternoon.
For a moment, he felt like a child again, hearing his father's voice echo commands to keep his eye on the ball, to leave his elbow up when he swung a bat. It was a kid's game, but it was a beautiful game at that, and even though he hadn't been following his Red Sox since the late 80's, he always made sure to try and catch one game a year as a welcome break from his dentist's office in nearby Kirkland. It had been a few years since his last one, but with the timing of the Sox's arrival this year, he was finally able to etch it onto his calendar. He thought about his small card collection as a child, his father relaying stories of Yaz and those old Red Sox teams that seemed to only exist in black-and-white photos, just like his childhood, now distilled so far away into the ether.
He was only awoken from this little dream when his wife Deborah slammed the car door. She was such a trooper to trudge along with him on these jaunts, and he knew she was going to feign interest as he once again explained the rules of each play to her. What he didn't know was that she knew them well enough, and in fact, had a much better understanding of the in-and-outs of baseball than he did. But she loved him, and knew that it made him happy to think he was giving her a part of himself as he once again was going to explain that the runner on second has to tag the base after the ball is caught before he can run to third, and when Tito was going to make 'em bunt. Harold J. Dalton did not know Tito was in Cleveland tonight.
They made their way to their seats above the first base side, but not before stopping for the ballpark tradition of a dog and a beer--nothing too wild though. A Coors was going to be just fine for this dentist trying to heed his doctor's orders to watch that waistline as he was quickly approaching the big 6-0. As he took his seat to watch the Mariners taking the field, he looked around to see a surprising amount of white and red jerseys. Red Sox fans. Well, of course, he thought. They were America's team after all. For a brief moment, he wondered if he should have looked into that nice navy blue Red Sox polo on the internet to wear to the game, but he then realized the fraying brown Sox cap he had pulled off his shelf for this game was going to be just fine. Don't want to overdo it, he thought wondering if he would see one of his patients here at the ballpark.
When Felix Hernandez took the mound to get through a quick first, he realized that this was that pitcher that the Seattle media loved to talk about so much. Just his luck! A game with his Sox and the Mariners' ace. If only his father was there to watch the game with him. The first inning went by relatively fast, with both Hernandez and Jon Lester getting rid of the enemy bats in short order. His mind had quickly wandered during this time, to the root canal appointment with Barbara next week, to the new intern who just wasn't cutting it, and then, who else came up to bat but BIG PAPI HIMSELF? He turned to nudge Deborah, and to explain to her what David Ortiz did in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, but before he knew it, Ortiz had launched a single into centerfield off of Felix Hernandez. "Hey, that's my Papi! Go Sox!" he shouted, but the threat quickly died, and Felix had the M's back with their bats in no time.
He wasn't quite paying attention to the bottom of the second or the top of the third, as he was flipping through the day's program to see who was coming up. In fact, the first three innings went by relatively quickly despite Mike Zunino and Brad Miller singling in the bottom of third, and after Hernandez struck out Mike Carp and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the 4th, the Mariners were back up, ready to hit.
And hit they did. Harold watched as first Kendrys Morales singled, followed by Kyle Seager, a Justin Smoak double, a Mike Zunino walk, and before he knew it Jon Lester was in deep. With the bases loaded, Lester walked in a run with Michael Saunders at the plate, and suddenly the Sox were in trouble. After Raul Ibanez hit a home run in the 5th inning, and all of sections 122-125 began apparently booing him, he was even more confused. "I think they are saying his name," Deborah said, knowing full well what was going on while trying to lead him into understanding, gracefully. He didn't care. This wasn't how this game was supposed to go.
The Sox got on the board with two in the top of the 5th, but by the sixth inning, Hernandez was absolutely dealing. Coasting through Mike Carp, Salty, and Iglesias on 11 pitches, the King defiantly walked back to the Mariners dugout, and the Seattle bats continued. It was relentless. It was brutal. After giving up singles to Justin Smoak and Mike Zunino, Lester was pulled for Sox reliever Alex Wilson. Harold had never heard of Alex Wilson, but he was sure that he was the team's bust arm after Michael Saunders doubled off a 2-0 count, and the very same Raul Ibanez drove him in a few batters later. It was 6-2 Mariners, and the Red Sox had to think of something fast if they wanted to come back and take this game from the Mariners.
But Harold J. Dalton was confused. He was flipping through the glossy pages of his program, filled with unfamiliar faces and names he had never heard of. He turned to Deborah. "Now wait, hon, where's Kevin Millar?" Deborah knew the answer to his question, but she chose not to answer him, enjoying her own, brand new game at Safeco Field that was invented on this nice Seattle evening. "We gotta pinch Millar in here if we want to come back, just you wait. Just you wait and see." Of course, it didn't happen, and after Hernandez scorched through the 9, 1, and 2 Sox hitters with only 7 pitches, the Mariners were back to the plate to let the offensive nightmare continue.
By this time, Harold had taken it upon himself to try and absorb the rest of the Major League Baseball experience he had left for the remaining two innings. He saw the disappointed faces of fellow Red Sox fans, and the absolute maddening jubilance emerging from the red-faced, yellow-shirt wearing crowd above the third base side of the diamond. A child's game, he thought. He didn't even notice the 4 runs the Mariners tacked on in the 7th, with another Justin Smoak double that was joined with doubles by Saunders and Nick Franklin as well, leaving Jason Bay as the only Mariner without a hit in the game. He looked into the faces of the people in this stadium who joined him as taxpayers and citizens of the State of Washington, filled with a strange emotion that he couldn't quite pin his finger on, but one which reminded him of something like what he had felt in October of 2004, when time was defeated by timelessness, and years of pain dissipated like they had never been felt in the first place. A child's game, but a great game, none the less. He realized he was happy, and that he had a fine life, and even if his Sox were losing, seeing a real game again was just enough to satiate his baseball interest until next year.
As Harold J. Dalton made his way back home across the I-90 bridge that night, he didn't even regret watching his Red Sox lose the first game he had seen them play in four years. He was a Baseball Fan, but he was a husband first and a dentist second, and he realized that the Sox would be back in business in no time. They are America's Team, after all. And under the warm blanket of the R.E.O. Speedwagon CD playing through the speakers of his Audi S-4--but not too loud as to wake Deborah--he was unable to hear the shouting in the car behind him, as they listened to the voice of Aaron Goldsmith talk about Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, and Michael Saunders. He couldn't see the smiles on their faces as they remembered 2008 and thought that maybe, just maybe, this was finally the turning point. No, he was unaware of all of that, driving 5-over in his Audi S-4, thinking maybe next year I'll wear that Red Sox polo shirt I've been thinking about.