A-Rod, a strike-out before the strike

Somebody had shelled out some big bucks for this family outing. It wasn’t me. I never is. It was probably Grampa and step-Grandma. It’s what they do. It’s amazing and wonderful, so generous, so memorable.
The Ballpark in Arlington was new. No scuffs on the polished pavement floors, no bumps or chips along the glistening walls, no hinges squeaking in the stadium seats so clean they might as well have been sanitized for our protection.  I remember entering the stadium through a glorious corner gate that is probably architecturally aligned with first base. St. Peter comes to mind. But memory enhances visual associations with emotional experiences, good, bad, and to all extremes. So please understand this is in my head coming out here through the tips of my fingers, hardly virtual at this point, what once was real, actual, walking and breathing a physical experience.
Lot’s of air. That is, not many people where there yet. No worries about breathing the same breaths as everyone else. The game wasn’t for another couple of hours. My wife, our three children, and I followed our hosts into the elevator that opened to a nearby TGIFriday’s. Something about bold stripes, checkered tiles, and new furniture begs to be soiled, tried, tempted, tested as if on a shakedown cruise. Whatever is in the way will be tripped over. Whatever is slippery will be slipped on. Whatever sharp edges of new chairs will catch fabric and rip a hole in it will catch fabric and rip a hole in it. Full of nicely broiled burger and accompanying fries such a burger commands, the men’s room visit took some pressure off and broke my heart.
My favorite one-hundred-percent-cotton Hawaiian-print shirt I had purchased oh-so-many-years earlier at the Banana Republic at the Dallas Galleria (when they offered such apparel) had been torn. The new bench I had been sitting on, I concluded, snagged it, ripped it, exposed the pleasant rounding of my back (my white undershirt, anyway) from seam to seam. Heck, I blamed it on the bench. Truth is I had worn the shirt so much it could have torn with sneeze, so thin was that section of cloth. My favorite shirt was ruined. (For the record, had I known people were associating me with Jimmy Buffet because of that shirt, it’s brightly printed parrot, it would have not been my favorite shirt. I do not show my allegiance to any style of music through apparel. That’s why these days I were all black.) Most embarrassing was the thought that I had been wandering around with my torn shirt for who knows how long. Probably not long. No one looked at me funny or anything. So, I wasn’t too worried about it until I had to walk back out into the restaurant. That was the closest I think I’ve ever come to that dream where you’re walking around naked or in your underwear. Anyway, I made my way to the manager, made my case, and he happily gave me a polo-type shirt from the gift shop as a replacement. It was yellow, that shirt.
I think the Rangers were playing the Mariners. The seats were excellent, a dozen or so rows back from the Texas dugout and a bit toward home. This was probably the best view of all players who bat right handed. This was fine-America. Splendid America. Best seats at a baseball game at a new stadium. What else: a new shirt; stuffed with burger-and-fries; with the beautiful young wife and our three young children, and the grandparents and an uncle and aunt and or cousin or two or three. Like I said, somebody had shelled out some bucks for this outing.
People began leaving about halfway through the game. I couldn’t understand it. But I hadn’t been paying attention to the game as much as to the experience of being with everyone, and the event itself. Mariners were winning. A Ranger had just struck out and was returning to the dugout. The stadium countenance changed. The mass of departing souls slowed, some even returned as all hushed, gasped, then applauded. The only thing that had happened was A-Rod had trotted to home plate. He was already a superstar, but not yet the superstar he would become. I was amazed at how absolutely natural he held the bat, how humble he seemed, embarrassed even, at the attention, as though genuinely afraid who would not live up to whatever was expected. And so the pitch. I watched through the binoculars as the young player swinged a swing with such power that the ball would have done anything other than what it did if the bat had connected solidly. The ball went straight up, back, over and down. A scuffle ensued a few rows ahead. A happy bald guy with a gut as round as the ball itself raised his fist to smattering applause isolated to the area just below us where everyone could see his prize.
A-Rod, still at bat. My father informed us that he had been having trouble hitting lately. That it was because he must feel guilty. He received about $20 thousand per game. Someone with A-Rods upbringing would have difficulty reconciling such earnings with the earnings of those back home whom he surely must think more worthy or some other grounds, if not baseball. The next pitch brought another swing of what must have wielded stunning power, so effortlessly. Nothing happened. I marveled at how a player could handle a piece of would so elegantly and gracefully, such an iconic tool, so powerfully, so effortlessly. Nothing happened. Did I mention that? So effortlessly. All that power. No effort. Nothing happened. Wait a minute. Nothing happened. No effort. It looked like no effort because, hey, he was using no effort. He wasn’t even trying. He was just going through the motions. I was pissed! I wanted to walk right down there and chew him out. Did I have to be restrained? I don’t remember. Five years later, my bold-and-cocky years, I most assuredly would have to have been restrained if at all possible. I remember thinking that had I forked over all the money and effort to make this thing happen with a family, the hundreds of dollars spent on tickets, the logistics, the fine seats… if I had paid for it I would have been in A-Rod’s face. How dare he not even try. How dare he make as much money by striking out during one game.. as much money as I would make that year! Oh, excuse me… the whole league was due to go on strike in a couple of days. Oink. Oink. Pigs. All of them. Alllll, of, them.
We left. I remember the highlight of the game was on the way home. It wasn’t our journey home. It was at the game. Right where we were sitting. An extremely scantily clad lady made her way down the aisle as close to the dugout as she could get before security caught up with her. She passed right by the seat where I sat. Her adventure took up a good minute of the radio announcer’s workday. Who was that woman? What did she say? Was she chewing them out for not trying?
I told this story to a nice lady I met today at the 7-eleven during my daily Big Gulp run. I had just dropped my wife off at her part time job, ducked in to this place on the way home. The routine. I always get a refill. It’s cheaper. And so this lady was kind of in my way as I was reaching for a cup lid. Something inside reached up and made me say to her: “I really want to see a good movie day. I don’t know what it is about today. And I probably won’t go see one because I’m too busy right now and…”  “They have some good one’s over at the Angelica right now,”she interrupted me. Knew where I was going. She started naming them, the movies. Told me she was going out to the new ballpark in Arlington, the Cowboy Stadium. That’s when I launched into the story above. “Was that the time that woman tried to make it to the dugout?” I was stunned. “Yeah, but by then we were on our way home. We heard it on the radio.” “That wasn’t one of my better moments,” she said. “Here, let me get your Big Gulp for you.”

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