EPISODE 28: two men out
Going to the All-Star game this past summer with Nicholas was a night I had looked forward to with the same level of expectation that in my bachelor days was reserved for a big date. Instead of primping in front of the mirror to Chumbawumba, though, I boarded the 7 train to Flushing with an eight-year-old boy decked out in Mets gear and a baseball glove. There would be no foul balls for Nicholas to catch that night, though, just a few object lessons in the fine line one walks between being a fan and being a lout.
The All-Star game is the one time during the season when the best baseball players from the National League square off against the American League's finest. It is a hot ticket as the location moves from city to city every year. This past winter when Nicholas found out that the game would be in New York and at Citi Field (the home of our beloved Mets), he was desperate to go. We made a deal that if he was an All-Star second-grade student during the spring term, we would be attending the All-Star game. At least once a day in May, some variation of the following exchange took place.
"Dad, I got an A on my maths test. How are you doing with the tickets?"
"You worry about the subtraction, and let me worry about the tickets."
We made a deal that if he was an All-Star second-grade student during the spring term, we would be attending the All-Star game
Since The Mets play in the National League, we would be rooting for the National League, and in particular the starting pitcher Matt Harvey. Nicholas and I both have a man-crush on the 25-year-old phenomenon. He came out of nowhere this season and has been a bright spot in a lackluster Mets season. Harvey can throw a fastball that consistently clocks in around a jaw-dropping 98mph. He's also willing to poke fun at himself - on the day before the game he did a segment for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where he asked New Yorkers, who had no idea they were talking to the real Matt Harvey, what they thought of the real Matt Harvey. Oh, and he reportedly dates Anne Vyalitsyna, a Victoria's Secret model (admittedly more impressive to man than boy).
Instead of striking out the first batter, however, Harvey allowed Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels to rip a double down the first base line. When Trout connected, I looked over at Nicholas and noticed his lower lip starting to quiver. I said a silent prayer that Harvey would regain his composure as he prepared to pitch to Robinson Cano, one of the best hitters on the New York Yankees. Instead of striking him out, he hit Cano with a pitch on his quad muscle, an injury that would take Cano out of the game.
"Yes! Way to go, Harvey. Show 'em who's boss!" screamed Nicholas at the top of his lungs. On the one hand, an American League star leaving the game in the first inning was a boon for us, but I don't subscribe to the anything-goes-at-the-ballpark school of thinking. (Case in point: in the eighth inning, Neil Diamond took to the field and sang "Sweet Caroline", which is the sing-a-long anthem for Boston, a city that endured a terrible tragedy this spring. A few rows away from us some over-served Yankee fans yelled, "Hey, Neil, go the f$%k back to Boston." The remark wasn't just rude, it was ill informed, as Mr Diamond was born and raised in Brooklyn.)
With the exception of politicians and Muhammad Ali, no one ever won a competition or played better by berating his opponent
To me, how you behave at the ballpark should be a continuation of how you behave everywhere else. With the exception of politicians and Muhammad Ali, no one ever won a competition or played better by berating his opponent. So I filed Nicholas' outburst away on my parental iCloud and made a note to follow up. That moment arrived a few days later when he was reading the sports pages at the breakfast table.
"Bad news/good news, Dad," said Nicholas as he looked up from his New York Post. "The Mets lost to Atlanta last night, but Eric Young stepped on their pitcher's foot. Tim Hudson broke his ankle, and he's out for the season. Yes!"
The heir extended his hand for a high-five.
"No high-five, Nicholas," I said. "You can't cheer when someone is injured. You remember how we have been talking about empathy a lot this summer, and how I'm hoping to see more of that from you? Cheering for Tim Hudson or Robbie Cano's injury is anti-empathy."
"I thought empathy was being nice to my little sister?"
"It is, but what it really means is looking at a situation from someone else's point of view. Like the old Native American* saying goes, 'You can't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.'"
"I like moccasins, but I didn't have a pair this summer."
Sometimes parenting feels as if you're an ocean eroding a cliff face. In the short run, who can tell the difference?
I tried a different tack. "Maybe there will be a new boy or girl in your class this autumn. Empathy would be remembering what that experience was like for you and then trying to make the new person feel at home. That's what a gentleman does: he makes other people feel comfortable."
"OK, OK, I get it. Can I just eat my breakfast, please?"
I let the matter drop. Sometimes parenting feels as if you're an ocean eroding a cliff face. In the short run, who can tell the difference?
I didn't give our pow-wow much thought until a few weeks later when we were spending the weekend at a friend's country house. Nicholas had been hanging out with another houseguest, Tim, a five-year-old boy. They had spent the weekend playing basketball and attacking adults in the pool. My wife, Honor, had bought each of the boys their own balsawood glider, and the younger one had broken his. At first he tried to switch his broken plane with Nicholas', and when Nicholas put a stop to that, Tim threw a fit.
Nicholas and I stood on the lawn of the house listening to the younger boy wailing away inside the house. Suddenly, my son breathed a sigh of resignation and went after him. When he returned, he no longer had his airplane with him.
I kissed the top of Nicholas' head and said, 'You're an All-Star son.' I was proud of him, and I felt as if I had just pitched a perfect game
"Where did your airplane go?" I asked.
"I gave it to Tim. I didn't want him to be sad."
Before I could say anything, another father, who had witnessed the scene, said, "Big moment, little man. Give me five." Nicholas gave the dad a high-five.
I kissed the top of Nicholas' head and said, "You're an All-Star son." I was proud of him, and as we headed back into the house I felt as if I had just pitched a perfect game and was now exiting the field while the PA system blared Chumbawumba.
*I honestly do say "Native American" because children now grow up in such a PC, nut-free, free-range, everything-is-groovy sort of way that Nicholas has corrected me when I refer to the bad guys in the cowboy movies as "Indians".
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