Jaycen Hill may have only been eight, but he was old enough to know when he had been lied to. The baseball game his father Tim had dragged him to that Sunday afternoon was not going to be "Fun," or "Over Soon." No, he knew full well what was was in store for him over the next three hours, and what it was going to be was "A Fuck."
Jaycen Hill had just learned that word from Bryce, that red-headed kid in Mrs. Kimball's class whose parents let him pierce his ears and watch R-rated movies, and as a result, Jaycen had quickly found every excuse to insert it into his ever-growing vernacular like a new shirt worn every day for a week despite the growing pit stains. And while he wasn't quite sure he had the hang of using it yet, he knew of no better excuse to whip it out than in his current mental anguish at spending a perfectly good Sunday afternoon in a baseball stadium with his lame dad while he could be doing, oh I don't know, just about anything else.
Jaycen suddenly felt a tug on his shirt sleeve, and by the time his father had reminded him that he needed to apply the proper amount of sunscreen to his nose he ohh my GODDDDD, DAAADDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD stop ittttttttttttttt, so Tim just sat back in his green plastic seat, once again utterly confused over how to interact with the tiny human in front of him who would rather spend all afternoon shooting zombies on that Xbox game which was foolishly purchased as a gift during the previous holiday season. Tim took a sip of his Alaskan Amber and tried to tell Jaycen that the man throwing out the ceremonial first pitch was a soccer player on not only the Seattle Sounders but also the U.S. Men's national team, but Jacyen was kicking the seat in front of him while bouncing up and down, causing the twenty-something couple seated below to share amongst themselves how happy they were to not have kids yet, because ha ha ha, they could barely take care of a dog, ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha
ha ha, rang the laughter in Tim's ears. The beer tasted so good. But he couldn't have another.
Tim had heard a little about this James Paxton character, but wasn't entirely caught up on the latest ins-and-outs of the Mariners beyond the simple fact that they had so far failed to perform like all the newspapers had promised back in February. Things at work were getting a little crazy, and while he longed for the days when he would flip off Jeff Cirillo with his college roommates after too many beers in the bleachers, he was thankful that he could now do things like afford to eat out more than once a week, or buy Jacen an Xbox with an action-packed sci-fi video game with cartoon blood for Christmas. And why, god why, did he do that.
But after Paxton worked through the first two innings in short order, surrendering only a walk to Dustin Pedroia after a lengthy and well-worked count, he realized that you can still have fun at a ball game without knowing the intricacies of velocity changes and arm-release points for every pitching prospect down to at least the high-A level. Not so much for Jaycen, however, who was now working his way through a giant plate of nachos because there was literally no other way to threaten him with anything for acting up, as leaving was exactly what he wanted to do in the first place.
With cheese-encrusted fingers (what, you thought he would let the kid have them all for himself?), Tim worked through the program, stopping on a curious note that the day's starter for the Red Sox, Steven Wright, had turned into a knuckleball pitcher during the 2011 season while struggling in the Indians' organization. While he was reading this, he watched as a ball got by Sox catcher Blake Swihart, scoring Kyle Seager from third after he reached the corner on a single from Logan Morrison. He thought about turning towards Jaycen to tell him why the ball was so hard to catch, but after accounting for the day's previous successes in the field of parenting, Tim decided to just take another sip of his beer. There was a batting average metaphor hiding in there, somewhere.
But as Mike Zunino plopped one into center to tally the M's second run a few moments later, Tim caught Jacyen curiously looking around at the cheering crowd, seemingly transfixed at the sight of 39,000 people all gathered in one place and agreeing on something. His son had stopped kicking the seat in front of him, which was fine because the twentysomethings had long ago abandoned it for drinks in the 'Pen, but it seemed like a success nonetheless. As Jaycen quickly realized a thin layer of his Cool had just chipped off in full view of his lame dad, he readjusted himself in his seat and started thinking about saying the F word again. But Tim knew. He knew full well what had just happened. And if nothing else went his way for the rest of the day, he thought the two of them deserved a little something from a neon-shirted vendor for at least a moment's celebration, so he waved a twenty and the two split a tub of Dippin Dots, which Jaycen promptly spilled down the front of his shirts and into his pants.
Dwayne knew full well to bolt as soon as his customers had whatever sugar-encrusted good he was paid to deliver amongst the Safeco bleachers. So as he rapidly moved down the concrete steps, little Jaycen's screams receding into the air like water evaporating under the Sahara sun, he tried to get a little closer to those bottom rows to try and catch a little of the game for a brief minute. Dwayne had worked as a vendor inside Safeco for upwards of ten years, and while he didn't need the money--his wife's worker's comp more than made up for any bills they needed to pay--he liked the excuse to get just a little closer to the game he had always loved since he was a child, growing up in the tumultuous Sixties.
And at that moment, he took a break from slinging chocolate and red strings in order to lean on the green pole separating two sections of full seats. He watched as James Paxton gave up two singles during the third inning, escaping with a timely groundout off the bat of Dustin Pedroia to get the force at second and escape the damage. As the roar of the crowd echoed inside the concrete bowl in which he was standing, he saw the radar gun reading 96 and thought damn, that boy is starting to get it together. But after a tap on his shoulder, he remembered that he had a job to do--that even the best job in the world came with at least a few responsibilities. Also a sore back, because he should have probably been a ticket-checker or something now that he thought about it. What was he thinking?
Still, he missed the double from Justin Ruggiano to lead off the third as he was delivering a Choco Taco to 87-year old Bernice Schnitzler, Mariners season ticket holder since 1980 and proud connoisseur of unhealthy frozen delicacies, because when you get that old you deserve to enjoy every goddamn minute of every day for crying out loud. Bernice was quite the avid baseball fan herself, remembering the days before integration and always championing for the voiceless during a long life that had seen the worst of racism, patriarchal power, and just plain ol' stupidity.
Over the next few innings, she had found herself sharply explaining the on-field events to the man sitting next to her, starting with Paxton's rebound with a 1-2-3 fifth inning and a surprising-but-not-exactly-unexpected solo home run from Brad Miller, his third in just two days. By this point it was 3-0 Mariners, and although Steven Wright had been pulled for Sox reliever Matt Barnes in the sixth, giving the M's two runners on after a walk to Logan Morrison and a well-placed single off the bat of Rickie Weeks, the game progressed with little else to speak of.
The man was slightly confused, but was mostly just upset that his Sox were yet again wallowing in a sea of ineptitude on this, his third yearly pilgrimage to the Big Leagues on a day off from his Kirkland dentist office. He had been asking Bernice about "Wakefield" all day, which surprised the octogenarian as quite the inverse of the expected dementia playing itself out, but realized that perhaps he was just too daft to realize that there are, in fact, other players capable of wearing a Red Sox uniform and throwing knuckleballs. And she had just about seen them all.
As she was being lectured by this man, twenty years her junior, she realized that she should have probably just avoided the whole thing in the first place, and quickly began devising a scheme to escape without letting on any amount of visible social discomfort. Hey, some things never change, even when you're eighty--but for just this moment she realized that she let her faith in people get the best of her. But as she began to ask herself what was I thinking, she realized there was something present, alive inside the man's eyes who had seen his fair share of time and suffering. It may not have been entirely his fault. But it also didn't mean she had to be the one to break it to him.
So savoring the last sugary bits of her daily indulgence, Bernice crumpled up the sticky wrapper into her pocket and left for the bathroom while Mookie Betts' foul ball was being reviewed inches from the foul pole. It wasn't a homer, by a longshot, and although the review seemingly took hours she knew that it was probably just Red Sox manager John Farrell trying to throw James Paxton off a bit, give his team any sort of competitive advantage as the highly-touted lefty prospect returned to his pre-season promise to bolster what was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the American League.
She missed Kyle Seager's eighth-inning home run a few moments later, which put the M's up 5-0 after Nelson Cruz drew a walk and Craig Breslow entered the game to try and salvage just about anything for the Boston nine. She missed it because she knew the Mariners were probably going to win the game and she took off to take a nap, leaving her former seat partner, who had just about had it, and was now calmly gesturing his hand in disgust towards the field because Mookie had hit it out, for crying out loud.
"Harold!" said his wife Deborah, sitting in the seat next to him, surprised by such a violent outburst from her usually calm and collected dentist of a husband, but he would have none of it. Truth be told, he couldn't tell you who Mookie Betts was, or Alexi Ogando or even this Kyle Seager kid, and the worst was that he had finally come to accept that he may just have just aged into the bracket where you get a free pass on all that with every graying hair and added inch to an already heavily policed waistline. And as Fernando Rodney sat back down in the pen to give Carson Smith the final three outs of the game, Harold J. Dalton decided that maybe, just maybe he was getting too old for all of this.
But as the pounding music seemed to carry the departing crowd out of the Safeco seats and into the asphalt streets named Edgar and Dave, Harold noticed a small, eight year old boy wearing a brand-new Kyle Seager shirsey with the tag still dangling from the sleeve, following his father who had very clearly broken the one-beer rule he had set for himself earlier that afternoon. They were both wearing smiles, and Harold thought that maybe he was being a bit too harsh on himself. Maybe there isn't an expiration date on finding joy in the little things, from staring at a random series of causal events performed by grown men batting around a ball with a wooden stick and ascribing meaning to them even though it all means nothing, at all, whatsoever, in the end. What was he thinking?
But he didn't quite think that last bit, because he was just a dentist, and also he was sixty three years old and worrying about his own children and grandchildren and of course, that pesky waistline. But still, the thought he had was at least close to something like that sentence up there, and he suddenly began to struggle with that strange feeling from deep inside his stomach, or heart, or whatever it is that acts up when you start to feel emotions you can't put a name to. He didn't know it would be the last Red Sox game he would ever see, but it was enough for him on that pleasant May afternoon in the great Pacific Northwest.
And after calling his grown children that evening, telling them about the boy that reminded him so much of them, he put his fraying Sox hat back on the bookshelf where it sat for the other 364 days of each year and went to sleep next to his wife of forty years. For some reason he would follow the rest of that Mariners season in the newspaper clippings, not remembering a single name but wondering each day about that little boy and his visibly overwhelmed father, quickly entering a phase of life that felt more akin to treading water in the deep end than the water wings that actually come with it. For Harold J. Dalton may not have known much about baseball, but he knew how to raise a family. And he's also the only person that knows whether the Mariners are going to end up making the playoffs come October. So treat him well, folks. Treat him well.