Caroline's First Game

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Caroline and her Dad at the Spinners game

Sometimes, you pre-write these things in your head. I knew precisely how this one was going to go. It was to be a somewhat cliched, sometimes sentimental account of my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter attending her first professional baseball game. During its better moments it would be informed by Donald Hall's essay "Fathers Playing Catch With Sons" and during its lesser ones by, say, The Bridges of Madison County. It was going to be a . . . let's not call it an ode. . . .

Well, sure, let's call it an ode.

Things don't always turn out the way you plan, of course, and life cannot be pre-written.

A good deal of thinking went into he choosing of Caroline's first ballgame. As with any Family Ritual To Be Handed Down, the elements that made the Ritual rich for the parents, back when their own parents bequeathed to them the tradition, would need to be replicated for the child. My brother Kevin and I are blessed to have in our memory banks the ne plus ultra first-game experience, the Gone With the Wind of first games. Dad wanted us to see Ted Williams play before he retired. The day was fine and fair, the car ride to Boston joyous. Our first-ever trip on the T was a thrill, and then we hastened to the Fens (see what I mean, about the ode?). Three hours in Boston, all pavement and buildings bigger than we had ever seen, affected our eyesight like a dark room, and so when we walked up the tunnel into the brilliant sunshine we were blinded by the field, an impossibly huge and bright emerald with a diamond eye. The Bosox stunk back then, and this was all for the good, because the sparse crowd allowed the sounds of the game to be immediate, hollow. The ball thumped into the mitt and cracked off the bat. I remember leaping to my little feet as the game's first fly ball ascended. Dad knowingly commentated, "Can-a-corn." The out must have traveled all of a hundred feet.

Williams did nothing that day, but who cares?—he played, and the hot dog and soda vendors performed admirably. I can't even recall who won. I'm sure the Sox didn't. But, again, who cares? The game was followed by not one but two rides on the Swan Boats in the Public Gardens, then ice cream sundaes at Bailey's. My brother and I slept on the back couch of the Oldsmobile all the way back to Chelmsford, no doubt dreaming.

Clearly Daddy—meaning, now, me—had a tall order in attempting to equal that picaresque with Caroline's first game. But that's what Daddies are for, to come up big in the clutch.

Lifelong Sox fan that I am, I certainly considered Fenway. But the team is so good these days that every game's a nuthouse experience. I felt that the whole megasized Major League showtime deal might lead to sensory overload, and Caroline would come away only with memories of shouting and screaming. Fenway just didn't feel right to me. I took Caroline to the Swan Boats last year—four rides!—but didn't even try to score tickets for that night's Sox game.

A few summers ago, when my wife Luci and I split a house with others at the Jersey shore, we had taken in a few Trenton Thunder games. A kid named Garcia-something was playing short for the Sox Double-A club that year, and he was worth watching. I was charmed by the lovely riverside ballfield, and the family-friendly feel of the games. There was a big, stuffed, Double-A quality mascot named Boomer and several Double-A quality contests between innings. I could tell a new science was being applied to minor league games; no doubt this was behind the bushies' upsurge. Good stuff.

Last year I was talking to my dad over the phone and I happened to mention, "Hey, I see where Lowell has a ballclub."

"Oh," he said, "they're all the talk! They built a park down by the Merrimack and it's beautiful. Kevin took me to a game. They painted the Aiken Street bridge and it looks terrific out beyond the fence. All the games are sold out, even though the baseball's not much."

The Lowell Spinners are the Red Sox Single A short-season affiliate a mere 30 miles from the mother park. They're a team of college grads and muscled-up American Legion heroes in possession of enthusiasm, dreams and not much chance. Shea Hillenbrand was a Spinner, a fact oft-noted in Lowell these days. But you look at what's happened to Hillenbrand during his second tour of big league pitching and you realize: maybe Lowell to Boston's not that short a drive.

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