We could hear the strains of the national anthem as we hurried across the immense parking lot, headed to the main gate. A light breeze, unusually cool for July, fanned our rushing faces. I pulled the folded-up ticket printouts from my pocket, ready to hand them over to the guy with the scanner, even as I passed my bag to the woman who gave it a cursory poke then waved me on.
My girl tugged on my hand, reading off the numbered sections. “C’mon, Mama. Keep going this way.” And we walked and walked and swerved to avoid giggling groups of teenage girls in team shirts. Finally Bear announced, “Section 201. Here it is, Mama!” And we sank into our seats as the first inning played on.
“Sorry we missed the national anthem, Beary,” I apologized. “But we’ll definitely hear ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ – okay?”
She nodded, eyes on the crowd, on the sun-setting sky, on the ads flashing across the electronic billboard across the field from our seats. Taking it all in. She’s like her Daddy; she loves coming to a baseball game.
We snapped a quick selfie, posted to Facebook “Great night for a ball game! This one’s for you, Kevster”, then I sat and wondered. Wondered if we were doing the right thing. The game we came to last year, just after Kevin died, was so…magical, I guess, for want of any other way to describe it. Could we capture that feeling again? Capture feeling Kevin so close to us? My girl insisted on this tradition, insisted that we come to a baseball game, but did she know that it might not feel the same this year?
The first inning ended, the second began. “Mama, can we get some peanuts?” Part of the tradition. Peanuts and Dr. Pepper. She cracked them against her seat, then pried the peanut out, dumping the shell onto the concrete beneath her shoes. “Do you think Rafael will be here again?” Not our cat – the Australian college student from last year. When I said I doubted it, she replied, “Well, I think something special will happen. We just have to look for signs.”
My eyes gazed across the field, to the first base line. We’d sat there for a Yankees game nine years ago. Me, about twelve weeks pregnant with the Bear and down with morning sickness all day long. The drive into the city had nearly done me in, and I was nauseous and unsure about being at a baseball game. But it was the Yankees, and Kevin’s little-boy excitement was pretty contagious. Determined to help me feel better, he bought some Sea-Bands at a local drugstore, little elasticized cloth bracelets that applied pressure to take away seasick feelings. I was skeptical, but willing to try anything at that point. At the game, we asked a woman in the row in front of us to take a photo, and it’s one of my favorites. We’re both smiling – Kevin because he’s about to see the Yankees, and me because for the first time in three weeks I wasn’t doubled over heaving. That was something special, for sure.
Just over a year later, we were back at the stadium, this time lugging a diaper bag and a baby girl. She slept through most of the game, and Daddy fed her a bottle when she woke up crying. He was so proud to bring her to her first baseball game. I didn’t know exactly how proud until sometime during a break between innings when giant messages started streaming across the jumbo-tron, and suddenly there was our daughter’s name with a big welcome from the baseball team. Then I knew why Kevin had asked for the camera. He stood snapping pictures of the message and the bright stadium lights were nothing next to the love shining from his face. I should’ve known he’d do something to mark the day. I have a photo of him holding Bear and her bottle, and it’s one of my favorites, too. Something special.
Another year passed, and we headed back to the city for a baseball game. It was a giveaway day at the stadium and as we walked through the gates, a guy handed Beary a stuffed koala bear. It was nearly as big as her tiny 16-month self; she grabbed it with both hands and a big smile broke out behind her binky. Nothing could tear her away from her new toy. We hadn’t counted on the weather turning cool and rainy, though, and I’d forgotten a sweater for my girl. So Kevin searched a couple of stadium gift shops until he found a child-size team jacket. He paid way too much for it, and it was too big, but we rolled up the sleeves and she was warm and snug, thanks to her Daddy. Again, a kind stranger took a photo of the three of us – and the koala bear – and, yeah, it’s one of my favorites. Kevin’s arm around me, the Bear on my lap, with her bink and her bear. Something special.
The game played on. And my girl kept finding signs of something special about to happen. A bit of cloud floating down in front of us — Daddy watching the game, she said. A bright flashing ad for her favorite long-term parking spot at the airport. A triple peanut – very rare, she informed me.
And then, I heard it. Just a handful of notes at the beginning of the crowd sing-along and my girl and I looked at each other. Stared at each other in disbelief.
Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere
“Hey!” she cried in surprise, hands flapping with joy. “Daddy sent us his song!”
The excitement in her voice was something special. I lifted her up on the seat beside me and wrapped my arm around her tightly. Tears streamed down my face as I heard her clear little voice sing out with such love and gusto the words her Daddy blared on his car stereo at every chance:
Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feelin’
She was right. Something special happened.
I thought about how I’d felt just a few innings before. Wondering if coming to this baseball game was a good idea. Wondering if we could capture the magic of Daddy with us one more time.
I should have known better. I should have known that being in that stadium, with so many wonderful memories, where we shared so many great times, would be a good thing, a special thing. It always has been. I should have known he would still be with us, and we’d feel all the love he ever gave us, ’cause it goes on and on and on and on. Cancer couldn’t stop it; death can’t, either. That kind of love is something special.
I don’t know how you pulled that one off, Kevster, I thought, but I’m glad you did.
Don’t stop believin’.