Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fireworks seem secondary: Game 8 in Clearwater

Darren, Rachel, Sarah, and Tyler
The joy that I derive from watching baseball is intensified when I’m able to share a good game with friends.  In Clearwater, that happened.  The Stoub family from Orlando—Darren, his wife Sarah, and their two children Rachel and Tyler, ages 8 and 7—joined me at the Threshers’ ballpark for an early evening game.  Darren, a chemistry professor at Rollins College, had been my colleague at Whittier several years ago.  And a week before the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Darren, who has a pilot’s license, had taken Bonnie and me for an airplane ride over Whittier, Disneyland, and other landmarks in the area.  Now much of that airspace is more tightly controlled than the day that he gave us the aerial tour.
Tyler's delight!
Having spent the day at the beach, Rachel and Tyler attended their first baseball game.  The Threshers had provided us with marvelous seats behind the Clearwater dugout, and we enjoyed ample space afforded by the empty rows in front and behind us.  In the bottom of the fifth inning, a foul ball bounced toward the dugout and was grabbed by left fielder D’Arby Myers, who tossed the ball to me so that I could give it to Tyler.  Then, forget the game on the field!  Tyler got absorbed in tossing the ball a few steps up the aisle and fielding it as it would roll back down the steps toward him.  
That is, until the seventh-inning stretch, through which Tyler smiled while singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and which Rachel enjoyed when the video camera isolated her on the scoreboard screen. Up to that point Rachel had been most fascinated by the size of the women’s restroom!  After a mid-game visit there with her mother, Rachel was amazed by the “20 stalls in the women’s bathroom,” a fact that she reported with amazement on her return to our seats. 
Before the game ended, Rachel continued to have a charmed experience.  When the Threshers' staffers started to "bazooka" promotional T-shirts into the stands,  Darren caught one and handed it immediately to Rachel.  Emblazoned with the logo of the Threshers on one side, the shirt also featured the sponsor Ozona’s Southern Style Barbecue on the other.  And tucked into the tightly wadded shirt was a gift certificate!  But Rachel’s night was not yet done: After the top of the ninth inning, the Threshers’ fielder who had caught the final out tossed her the ball.  Incredibly, both Tyler and Rachel received balls from the players. 
During the game, the most distinct play was a second-inning bunt that rolled foul with its last breath. The Daytona batter laid down what looked like an uncontested single with the ball hugging the third-base line in front of us.  The Threshers’ fielder escorted it down the chalk, waiting to tap it once it might cross the line.  Yet it stayed fair, even while the batter stood watching and waiting on first base.  As the ball’s speed slowed, it held its course until its whisper reached the bag.  Then within a catch-breath of the base, it tilted across the line and died untouched in foul territory, a dime’s distance from the base.

Fireworks as I leave Clearwater's ballpark

Typically, a post-game fireworks display is the highlight of a young child’s experience at the ballpark.  Yet I’m not sure that even that colorful spray top the delight that Tyler and Rachel experienced eating ballpark concessions, getting game balls and a T-shirt, and being spotlighted on the scoreboard. 
While the Stoubs stayed to see the fireworks, I enjoyed a different celestial display of the full moon rising over Tampa Bay as I headed back toward Orlando to catch an early morning flight to Alabama for the Biscuits' game in Montgomery the following night.

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