Thursday, June 10, 2010

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

I can’t recall if it was the smell of freshly cut grass or the unique sound made when a baseball meets a wood bat, but as we climbed the stairs onto the field it was clear that this was a day to remember.

Like most boys my age in California, I never heard of lacrosse, rugby, or that crazy sport those Europeans call football. I played baseball. Whether it was an organized community game, a pickup game before school at St. Angela’s, Over the Line with my two brothers at the park, or the non-stop two-seam fastballs that hit the garage door over and over and over, I loved the game. As a young kid my heroes were Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, and Ron Cey. I remember sitting in the stands above Chavez Ravine and taking in Dodger Dog after Dodger Dog, followed by the Carnation Ice Cream, and driving my Dad crazy with continual questions about this player and that.

Fast forward a few years…and then a few more…

This past Monday we were invited to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, through a special program Brad Lidge runs with Children’s' Hospital of Philadelphia. For those who don’t follow baseball, Brad Lidge is a closing pitcher for the Phillies. He is the one that threw the last pitch in the 2008 World Series that gave the Phillies their first championship since 1980. In a town that has craved a championship for many years, that pitch unleashed a celebration even Dick Clark couldn’t handle. Wherever his baseball career takes him, he will always be remembered in this city as a champion.

Brad created Lidge's Legion in 2008. It benefits CHOP by inviting patients and their families to a game each month. Kate, aka the best Child Life Specialist on the planet, provided us with the tickets and the chance for our first experience at the Phillies' stadium. We arrived at the Diamond Club entrance with a few other CHOP families at 5 PM where the girls received a Lidge's Legion hat, pin, and tickets for the whole family. We then took an elevator down to the basement and followed the basement halls until we could see daylight. Up the stairs we went, passing the visitors’ dugout on the left and finding ourselves standing on the field in the midst of batting practice.

We knew the field visit was part of the night. I even asked the kids to take a second and breathe in the moment, because this old man had never stepped foot on a major league field and didn’t expect to again. It was something special. Now despite all that fatherly advice, within seconds I was ten years old again standing in the land of giants. Just a few feet away from us were today’s heroes Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Shane Victorino, each smashing balls into the outfield. And off in the distance was the familiar face of Davey Lopes, the Phillies’ first base coach. It was a thrill for all of us as we looked around the stadium, took photos, pointed out the players, and even kneeled down into the dirt just for the experience.

That was enough for us until Brad Lidge walked up. One by one he talked to every child and their families signing anything from baseball card after baseball card. He could see this was important to the kids and was in no hurry to move along. When he got to us he said hello, asked how we were doing, took pictures, and signed souvenir baseballs, hats and even Maddie’s Phillies shirt. After about 30 minutes he double checked with each family to ensure they had a good time and told them to enjoy the game. Off he went to play Major League Baseball and off we went to our seats, still a bit in shock and instant fans. Kind, gracious, and welcoming are not the words typically used for today’s sports stars, but Mr. Lidge had them all.

We soaked up the whole experience from the dollar hot dog night, laughing at the Phillies Phanatic, cheering on the team, and singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” at the 7th inning stretch. Unfortunatley, the Phillies lost in a nail biter, but it did not matter. We had a great time.

Back in February I shared a story titled Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley. It spoke to the feelings one has when they learn their child has a disability and compares it to getting on a plane to Italy only to find yourself arriving in Holland. One of my favorite sections from the story is:
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around....and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips.
As Maddie and I walked hand in hand to the car, we turned to admire our adopted home team's stadium one last time and talked about our great night. As I picked her up and jogged to the car, I wondered what Italy must be like this time of year and wished we could turn the plane around and land in Rome like all the other tourists. But just then I heard Maddie’s laughter and suddenly all I could see were windmills and tulips lining our path forward.  I'm sure Italy is a nice place to visit, but Holland is all right by me.

Go Phillies!
Matt

Credit to: Jack Norworth, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame"

PS: Brad Lidge is the Man!!