Baseball Nights

We fly down the sidewalk, the wheels turning furiously on our scooters. The bags hanging from our handles swing as we turn sharp corners, coming close to knocking us down.

“First stop, Sweet Green!” I shout, the wind seemingly making the words trail out behind me.

We slow to a stop at M St., and I race to push the button that allows us to cross.

The droning voice starts,“Please wait. Please wait. Please wait…” Until finally, the voice turns surprised, like it never expected the light to change.

“Walk sign is on across M St., Walk sign is on across M St., Walk sign is — ”

We cross before the voice finishes its third repetition, hindered only by the weight of the bags. We pass Harris Teeter (a blur of red and green), an office (a smudge of boring, old grey), and slow to a stop as we pass Takorean (Sharp outline of dark grey with a splash of yellow.)

Parking our scooters at the line between Takorean and Sweetgreen, my mom opens the door. Already focused on the chalkboard menu, she asks me,“Same as usual?”

I nod and head over to the forks and napkins, placing two of each in the Nationals bag slung over my shoulder. My mom finishes quickly, and we hop back onto our scooters, turning right and heading down Tingey St. past Nando’s Peri Peri, pasers, the suit store, and Unleashed (streaks of brick, brick, brick, and brick). We soar past the trapeze school and up to the towering Nationals Stadium. The sounds of the vendors and fans wash over us.

Tickets, tickets for sale. Did you hear that Rendon got hurt again! Water! You excited for the game? I have already gone seven times. Five dollars in the Stadium only two here!  Caps, caps for sale! Scherzer pitching tonight. Think that he will be up to standard? Peanuts! Anyone want some peanuts?

The stadium is mostly made of concrete, with big Washington Nationals banners on all of the entrances. It takes up a whole city block and feels like two. The North side has silver baseballs hanging from the top that are as big as cars, giving a shine to the garages that make up half of that side. The south side has a stunning view of the Anacostia and Yards park. The people that are not big Nats fans can spend most of their time looking at the view and eating at all of the restaurants that Nats Park has to offer. The crowd is filled with all kinds of people, young and old. They are all talking loudly to each other, lighthearted with the prospect of a whole night dedicated to baseball.

We push through the swarm of people and make our way to the first base entrance. The crowd thins, and we lock our scooters past the crowd of people smoking.

“Race you to the top!” I say to my mom, turning the last ring on the lock.

We climb the steps two at a time, neither going as fast as we can, but caught up in the excitement of the crowd. We place our bags on the white fold-over tables and walk through the metal detectors, knowing that we have nothing in our pockets, yet being a little bit nervous anyway. Next, we get to the spidery ticket machines where you have to insert your ticket into the blue-green light that emanates from the top. A satisfying beep comes if your ticket is okay, along with a green light that instructs you to push your way through the spindly legs of the machine.

As soon as we get through the many layers of security, we enter the many layers of boisterous crowd. Navigating our way to the escalator, we push by the fans. Everyone is here. Lawyers, retirees, hipsters, little league boys, senators, representatives, families, doctors, tourists, children, teenagers, young adults, adults, women, men, impoverished, middle class, wealthy, one time fans, kind of fans, normal fans, avid fans. We all turn to one at the sound of “Let’s play ball!”

My mom and I bolt up the escalator and into our “nose bleed” seats right after “The Star Spangled Banner.” A long time ago, we had convinced ourselves that the 400s were the best seats in the stadium. Lots of reasons pushed us into those seats, partly because we come to so many of the games that we cannot afford any other ones, partly because we actually enjoy getting to see the whole field from such a high vantage point. My mom and I have sat in those seats for so long that we have gotten a little protective of them. Whenever we are with other baseball fans who are talking about how horrible those seats are, we jump right in with the 400s’ list of values.

The screen starts its whole spiel about the Nationals, and I pull out my giant scorebook. Each side is as big as a laptop, with a dashing black cover and red writing. I slowly write down the teams and the date, savoring all of the time that I have, then I start to scramble as the screen races through all of the lineup.

My grandpa and Mom taught me how to score. I remember sitting down with them when I was eight, them teaching me in their usual way. My mom looking up the most concise, but complicated way and making me struggle through it, my grandpa telling me exactly how he does it, and scribbling down the positions in his beautiful, yet messy handwriting. My mom then took me to a game. We watched, engrossed, as the players went through their complicated motions, writing down as best we could together.

We got on the Washington National’s Facebook page that day. Mother Teaching Daughter How To Score, the caption said underneath the picture of us, arms around each other, bent over our scorebooks. Sweet moment between Mother and Daughter. And it was. My grandpa took over from there until he was killed in a car accident when I was ten, after our second baseball scoring season together. He would take me to many games and talk to me about the people surrounding us, the players, what was happening, what he thought was going to happen, and what had happened before I was brought into the baseball world. After he died, my mom and I became eager baseball fans, going to ten, twenty, thirty games a year, and of course, scoring.

Like always, the minute we sit down, my mom pulls out her food and starts to eat. With her jumbo water bottle in one hand and her many different snacks in the other, she begins to watch the game.

“Let’s play ball!” says a little kid wearing a Harper shirt in front of a microphone, his voice enlarged and projected t

hrough the stadium, and the game begins.

First inning:

“Scherzer going to pitch a no-hitter?” I ask my mom.

“Maybe!” she answers, drawing out the “be.”

First pitch, strike. Scherzer struggles a little bit and lets two runs.

“Ugh. No perfect game, no-hitter, or shutout!” I complain.

Scherzer promptly turns it over to the offense who score three.

“Thank goodness!”

Second Inning: Scherzer comes back and… lets two runs.

“Scherzer! You can do better than that!” I whisper to myself like my grandpa always used to, and write down the score.

The Nats fans are on the edge of their seats, and I am furiously scribbling down the runs. The Nationals come back with nothing this time though, and the fans relax, expecting the second loss of the season.

Third Inning: Finally, no score for the Braves. The fans sigh and relax, this time happy, even though the Nationals are losing. However, Danny Espinosa hits a Sac. fly and Ryan Zimmerman runs home, tying the game.

The light is dimming, and the park turns the big overhead lights on. I snuggle closer to my mom and get a blanket from the bag.

Fourth Inning: Another scoreless inning for the Braves, and one for the Nationals too.

By now, my mom and I have eaten all of the food, and every blank space in my scorebook page is filled with doodling. It is completely dark. Now is the time that my Grandpa would stop watching the game for a second and look for nighthawks. Out of habit, I glance up at the sky too but only see the moths fluttering around the lights.

Fifth Inning: The Nationals pull ahead with help by Zimmerman and Murphy. Nothing else happens except for a single by Ramos that hits the second base ump. The ump jumped to the side to avoid the ball, but it hit him anyway, and he rolled to the ground.

Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Inning: After a long break from stress for the Nationals fans, it starts up again. The Braves score two runs in a row and sighs rocket around, mixed with a few cheers. I settle back in my seat with a sigh.

“They are never going to be able to win now!” I mourn.

Ninth Inning: A zero score in the top of the ninth for the Braves. Nationals up. Score: Braves 7, Nationals 6. The Nats fans inch to the end of their seats. There still is a chance.

Zimmerman steps to the plate. He is 3 for 4 tonight. There still is a chance. There still is a chance. First pitch, strike. The fans inch one millimeter back. There is still a chance. Second pitch, strike. One more millimeter back. Then, bang! The ball goes rocketing to left field where it lands as Zimmerman rounds first base, coming to a rest at second base. There is a smatter of applause, and you can almost hear the squeaking as the fans resume their position at the tip of their seats.

There is still a chance. There is still a chance. There is still a chance. Werth steps up to the plate. The pitcher curls and unwinds, letting loose a shrieking fastball. Crack! The ball makes solid contact with the bat, and it flies through the air. There are gasps, and the crowd rises as one. The ball hangs in the air for a moment and drops… right into the home run seats. There is silence until Zimmerman rounds third, and then eruption. I clap until my hands are raw.

“Werth! Werth! Werth! Werth!” chants the crowd.

“N-A-T-S! Nats! Nats! Nats! Woo!” cries everyone, one for each of the runs.

The team comes running to home plate, ready with a bucket of Gatorade to dump on Jayson Werth, the hero of the night. Werth sprints the home stretch–90 feet from third base to home plate–his long hair flying out behind him. As he reaches his teammates, he leaps into the air and comes down in the middle of the throng. The bucket of gatorade comes down after him, and he parades around the field, his happy teammates trailing after him.

My mom and I turn to each other, and our hands collide in a high five. Everything is perfect. I am with my mom. The Nationals won. It has been a good night, but as we meet in the middle, the young girl sitting behind us bursts into tears. At first, I am confused. Why is she crying? Then I see her Braves shirt, her Braves bag, her Braves hat, her family all adorned with Braves merchandise.

Ohh no, I think, blushing. Did our high five and overwhelming excitement make her cry?

I pull my hand away and bend down to gather up all of our stuff.

Why do I even care this much about baseball? I look down at my Nationals shirt that my mom got me for my birthday, spotted with pen smudges and stains from all of the messy dinners we have eaten here. I look over at my mom, with her short, brown, curly hair, a matching nationals shirt to mine, the bags already on her shoulders. I think about my grandpa, who I loved spending time with, who loved spending time with me.

The crowd roars again in harmony, Werth’s pumped fist coming from the dugout. Another curtain call night.  

I love baseball because my grandpa did, and my mom does, and this stadium does. I love baseball because of all of the scruffy scorebooks, delicious dinners, and fun scooter rides. I love baseball because the crowd is one, cheering and clapping for the eighteen players on the field. I love baseball because it is a memory of my grandpa. I still run into people at the stadium who still think he is alive and just haven’t seen him recently. I love that in some people’s minds, he will live on forever, coming to baseball games, being with me, talking, laughing, living. I love baseball because it is a night alone with my mom, talking, laughing, living. We mimic what my grandpa had done before us, everything from his comments to the players, to nighthawks, to being together in this way. I hope these nights will never end.

The mom of the girl behind us exits the aisle.

“Don’t cry,” she says roughly. “I told you I was sorry I forgot to get you cotton candy.”

Thank goodness, I think. So she wasn’t crying about us.

A big weight is lifted off my shoulders, and I grab the final bag.

“You sure you don’t want me to carry more?” I ask my mom.

“Nope. I got it,” she answers.

I put my arm around her shoulder, and we walk out of the aisle together and down to the stairs. The noise of the crowd is all around us, but we are oblivious to it. In our minds, it is just each other, together.


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