We settle into our seats with a pretzel and soda. She’s taking it all in, this loud, boisterous baseball stadium with thousands in the crowd and their din of voices. I marvel that she’s doing it, my little sprite who struggles with noise and crowds and squeezy places. But I can see it in her face, in the eyes that are cataloging everything in the last rays of the day’s sun. She’s entranced.
And of course she is. She’s Daddy’s girl, after all.
It’s a cruel trick that I’m the one bringing her to this game instead of her Daddy who loved baseball so much. He was a longtime Yankees fan and when he traveled for work, wherever it was, he always tried to squeeze in some baseball. Even in Iowa, where he sat on the bleachers and gazed at a field of dreams surrounded by cornstalks.
She was about two years old the last time we took her to a game. Then cancer crept in and he grabbed games on the road and we never made it back to the ballpark with her.
Kevin wanted to take her to a ball game, one she’d remember. Then he saw the Yankees were going to be in our neck of the woods for Mother’s Day weekend and, despite the wheelchair and portable oxygen tank, we decided to go see the pinstripes play. We ordered new team shirts and Kevin found some cheap seats in the outfield.
They say life happens while you’re making plans. Well, death happens, too. Less than a month before our trip, Kevin died. I stumbled through the days that followed, numb, directionless, crying constantly. Searching for Kevin. Sifting through papers on our desk, looking for a few words he might have written, needing to hold all the bits of our life that I could find.
I found the tickets that he’d printed off. Now what? Could I take our daughter to this baseball game? On Mother’s Day weekend? Less than a month after his funeral? I had to. It was his Mother’s Day gift to me, he’d wanted us to make a fun family memory. He wanted to share his love of the game with his daughter. Now it’s up to me to share the things her Daddy loved. So, for Kevin, I would go…and hope that I remembered enough of his patient tutoring to fake my way through explaining the infield fly rule.
She bounces with excitement in the seat next to me and laughs at the antics caught on the jumbotron. Her iPod records everything she wants to remember about this game: the number on the back of the seat, her drink resting in the cupholder, a blurry self-portrait of her and her beloved Dora doll. Being here without Kevin feels odd, but I also feel joy nudging grief aside for a moment because who can be sad on a cool May evening at a baseball game with this magical imp who shines more brightly than the stadium lights piercing the dark night?
I’m not the only one bewitched by her guileless charm. The Australian college student sitting behind us falls under her spell when she politely asks for his photo. He thinks she should be in it, too, so he lifts her to his shoulders and I snap the two of them just as a homerun is hit, so up he jumps with the cheering crowd, and her with him, shrieking with joy and her bubbles of giggles float to heaven and I know Kevin laughed.
Watching her drink up the icy Dr. Pepper her Daddy loved and remark, “It tastes like the ballgame, Mama”, I am struck by how very much of her Daddy she embodies. She loves being one with the loud crowd, belting out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the seventh inning stretch. It’s true what she smiles up at me: “I guess baseball’s in my blood.”
It’s not easy, being here without him. I cried, trailing my daughter through this city her Daddy and I loved to explore. But we did what he wanted. We made a fun family memory. Not the way he planned…but still. I should’ve known that the force of his love and God’s love would be enough to get my girl and me through this “first” – a weekend trip without Daddy.
And if I think about it, we weren’t without him. He’s with us everywhere, even at a ballgame, beaming at his Little Bear in her Yankees t-shirt. He surrounds her with love, settles into her memories and, with any luck, whispers the intricacies of the infield fly rule into her ear.
Because he knows me so well…and I’m probably never going to get that rule right.