As he tucked his new navy-blue Red Sox polo into his light brown khaki pants, Harold J. Dalton realized that he had locked his keys in his heather 2011 Audi S4, parked on the third floor of the Century Link parking lot next to Safeco Field. Yes, he had locked his keys in the car, and the Seattle Mariners were going to play his Boston Red Sox in only thirty-nine minutes, and gol durnit, it had been a year since he saw a game in person and he wasn't going to let this ruin his gol durn evening or anything.
"Honey, let's just call AAA after the game," is what Deborah said, a few gray hairs richer than her last trip to Safeco that found her explaining Kevin Millar's absence to Harold a year before. But it was all in vain. Harold was not listening to Deborah. Not now, not ever. The two had stared directly into the eyes of the twilight of love and came through baptized in the warm burn of the summer sun, leaving nothing but reddened skin painful to the touch of even the softest brush.
That same sun was setting, reflecting off the tall buildings rising in the financial district like a mirror into the soul of the Northwest and into the eye of Mr. Harold J. Dalton, worried about the braces he had put on eleven-year-old Stephanie that morning. Harold J. Dalton was a dentist and a husband, and at this moment, a Red Sox fan waiting to watch the team his father taught him to love with a set of keys stuck behind a translucent glass window like a part of him that he would never be able to touch again, and he knew it. He knew that it was gone and lost forever, but he was still here, wearing the navy-blue Red Sox polo shirt he bought on the internet last year as he thought about his father, staring at his keys only inches away from his face and out of reach.
That entire paragraph happened in Harold J. Dalton's mind within a matter of seconds following Deborah's brief intonation, and before you knew it, she was holding the phone up to her ear, speaking with whoever would bring a coat hanger to get Harold's goddamned car keys out from behind locked glass. Harold walked to the concrete border of Century Link's parking garage and heard Safeco's PA announcer say those names he had waited a year to hear, David Ortiz...Dustin Pedroia...Jacoby Ellsbury...but before he heard that last one that was never said it was 1974 again, and his father was throwing him baseballs in the backyard, wearing a worn brown hat emblazoned with a red 'B.' Harold J. Dalton realized he only knew three players on the Red Sox, and that was just fine for him at that moment.
By this time the first inning was over, and the Mariners were holding onto a 2-0 lead thanks to an Endy Chavez single, a James Jones walk, a Kyle Seager RBI double, and a Logan Morrison sacrifice fly. But Harold J. Dalton didn't see a minute of this action because he was in the Century Link parking lot trying to pick the lock of his heather 2011 Audi S4 with a paperclip, accidentally setting off his car alarm as he tried to calmly wave off nervous passerbyers with eager optimism. Harold was missing the baseball game, and Erasmo Ramirez was somehow dealing against the the ring-wearing Red Sox on his way to a two-strikeout, five-walk win with only four innings pitched.
The second inning had long passed, which saw Endy Chavez tripling in Brad Miller from first who had walked a few moments earlier. In fact, even the third and top of the fourth were old news at this point, the latter of which saw the Red Sox earning their only two runs of the game on a two-run dinger from Brock Holt. At this point Harold J. Dalton was watching Ryan from AAA unlock his car door to retrieve his keys which were sitting directly on the drivers' seat of his heather 2011 Audi S4. Joe Beimel was replacing Erasmo Ramirez on the mound only a block away, as the pitcher somehow managed to remain scoreless with 93 pitches over four innings, but neither of the Daltons saw any of this. Instead, Harold J. Dalton was handing Ryan a twenty-dollar bill with the same hand that now held his recently emancipated car keys, and there were four innings of baseball left to be watched.
Deborah grabbed her favorite purple cardigan from the backseat and the two Daltons walked down the staircase past the program peddlers to see their treasured Red Sox in person one more time. As Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino connected on a series of home runs literally seconds apart from one another during the fifth inning, Harold was busy interrogating the paper in front of his face that described some strange new lineup of Boston baseballers he had never heard of. Brock Holt? Jackie Bradley Jr.? He saw that John Lackey had pitched the day before, and that Jon Lester was still a Red Sock. But the world was changing, and he didn't recognize this team, and he knew it. He saw his reflection in a car as he passed and it was just as strange--muddled, incoherent. He needed to see Big Papi hit a grand salami to make all that better, and quick.
Soon it was the sixth, and they were standing at Safeco's home plate entrance and Harold didn't know what to do. He had paid three dollars for his cherished program, and while his treasured blue Red Sox polo shirt from the internet was more than enough to wave the flag of his allegiance this evening, he quickly realized that the Red Sox were growing up and leaving him behind. He didn't understand--they had just won the world series and now here they were with unknown players carrying strange names his father never knew, and it wasn't fun. Big Papi wasn't hitting home runs, kids were driving by and listening to loud music, and he was flat out confused at the whole turn of events.
This wasn't why he watched baseball. This wasn't why he started following the Sox from his father, who knew the home zip code of Yaz and stayed up until midnight to see the Sox win the crown in 2004 with a tube tied to his nose while the cancer ate away at his bones. These strange names and new faces felt alien, just as alien as the young kids coming in to get dental work in his Kirkland office with tattoos and strange piercings, and to hell with it, the whole world was changing, and for the worse. Harold J. Dalton thought about his father and he thought about crying, and then Deborah reached into her purse and realized that she had left the tickets in the tray of their HP printer back at home, and they couldn't get into the game at all.
The Daltons stood at the gate of Safeco trying to argue their case, and the seventh and eight innings were old news. James Jones stealed a couple of bases, Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina had good appearances, but the game was almost over. By the time Brad Miller had singled in Mike Zunino in the eighth to score the Mariners' eighth run, Harold J. Dalton was crawling in his skin, arguing with the Safeco gatekeeper like a child argues with the guy at the candy store in the mall standing between sugary freedom and parental wisdom.
The eight inning was over. Mariners fans were flocking to the gates with a six run lead in the ninth. Yoervis Medina was taking the mound to face the three Red Sox that Harold J. Dalton still knew--David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, and Daniel Nava. Deborah had tried negotiating with the guy at the gate but it was no use. But Harold knew what he had to do.
Just as he saw a large family leave carrying an uneaten ice cream cone and bags of team store merchandise, Harold grabbed Deborah's arm, thinking about his father and the earnest years of his childhood, dragging her past the metal detectors and ticket scanners. He heard a faint yell in protest, but took her arm like a rope climbing up a steep mountain to make his way down to the low, low seats by home plate to finally see a goddamned second of this baseball game he had been waiting for all year.
He watched David Ortiz strike out and realized how lucky he was to see one of the greatest hitters of all time only sixty feet away from his face. He saw Mike Napoli ground out and he took a blurry photo on his Blackberry Bold which was ready for a new contract in April. Daniel Nava grounded out and he didn't even see it because he was telling Deborah about his father's Red Sox card collection that he literally just remembered right there and then. Everyone rushed to the exits but Harold J. Dalton stood sitting, not thinking about the braces appointment he had tomorrow or the tax thing that Jackie forgot to deal with because he was in a ballpark and suddenly his father was real and right there next to him.
He watched those three at-bats, and Deborah was driving silently because she knew that it was just what he needed. His eyes were still closed later that night, silently riding across the I-90 bridge and dreaming about days spent with a golden brown sun and Ted Williams on the radio. She knew that he would wake up tomorrow and completely forget about baseball until exactly a year later, when the Red Sox came to town again. She could put the photo albums back into storage and not have to hear about 1986 for a while. But as the cars passed them like shooting stars she realized that they had just spent four hundred and seventy-nine dollars on tickets to a baseball game they didn't even get to watch, and she was fine with it.
Besides, she knew these Mariners had a better run differential than the Red Sox and that Felix was on pace for his second Cy Young. She snuck a minute on her ESPN iPhone app and updated her fantasy team as Harold slept on the drive, and then stuck her phone back into the cup holder of their 2011 Audi S4, following the flow of traffic like red blood cells moving back into the deep center of Seattle's heart. Harold needed those three at-bats, but so did she, and right then and there she realized she was ready to face another twelve months of her life married to the man that she loved.