I'm not a baseball guy.
Growing up in East Tennessee in the early 1990s, baseball was a foreign concept. The only games I ever got to see were Atlanta Braves and other National League games, back when the senior circuit had some incredible pitching rotations.
Needless to say, it got boring. How many times could Smoltz nibble at the corner and leave the batter standing there, looking dumbfounded? Lots. And for a kid without a deep appreciation for the game, it got old. Fast.
Thus, I went against generations of Shipleys and became a football guy. I'm not an expert (at least nowhere near to the level of my kid brother down at UT Law) but I know my 3-4s from my 4-3s and dimes. I've got an autographed Franco Harris football on my desk at work.
Which is why it will likely come as a great shock to many to learn that Gracie and I made the trek down Prince William Parkway to see the Potomac Nationals play the Salem Red Sox today.
And let me tell you, it was an experience.
I learned never to trust stadium directions. It would seem that they never contemplated that anyone from outside of Northern Virginia proper would ever try to visit their park... but I digress.
The day was about Gracie, and how she reacted to her first baseball game. And did she ever have a big time.
After a marathon trek to the stadium, we settled into our seats just in time to see the first few pitches. Gracie tapped on my shoulder and pulled on my shirt to give me a very warm, wet whisper.
"Daddy, when he's done, can we go and get something to eat? We can get popcorn and have a popcorn race!" And so at the middle of the first we were down to the concession stand for our first trip of many.
For some reason, I thought Sunday's promotion was free hotdogs for kids day. Turns out it was some kind of bring your dog to the park day. So I laid out another stack of cash for food before we ran back to our seats. Gracie got pack of Crackerjacks, and I got a Gatorade.
We made it all the way to the third inning before the heat, about 85 degrees, started to take its toll. "Whew, it's hot," she said, dropping her hat. About that time, the stadium announcer mentions a misting station.
And so we were off again, this time to find the two water hoses feeding the cold water mist. Gracie was sufficiently refreshed, so we went back to watch the ongoing offensive futility.
She made it another inning before she had to go back to the mister. After that she, she was pleased just to splash herself with water from the water bottle Barbara had packed. (And let me offer my sincere apologies to the man and his son who sat behind us. Hand to God, if I had known the water would fly that far when she splashed her face, I would have told her not to.)
In the bottom of the 6th, the P-Nats started to show signs of life, scoring one with two out. But Gracie, now fanning herself and splashing water on her face, had decided that it was time to go, offense or no.
"Can we go sneak foul balls now?" she asked. "In just a minute," I answered. The Red Sox pitcher delivered a high fastball for a third ball. Full count. "How about now?" she asked.
So we left with one inning to go, and walked around the outside of the stadium looking for one of the legion of foul balls that flew out of the stadium during the past six innings on the way back to the car. We didn't have any luck, but we did find that lots of kids hang out outside the stadium snagging foul balls for the entire game.
While Gracie was chatting and sweating, Daddy found that the P-Nats have the spiffiest home jersey's I've ever seen. Available here. Hint, hint.
Pearls of wisdom from Gracie at the game:
After seeing a hard throw to the plate, successfully grabbed by the catcher right in front of the umpire...
• "Daddy, the vampire got it!"
After a long series of cheers at wholly inappropriate times...
• Daddy: "You have no idea what's going on, do you?"
• Gracie: A long pause... "No.... Go Nationals!!!"
The trip home was priceless as well. All during the trip to the stadium, I begged her to go easy on the drinks. I wasn't entirely sure where we were going, and I didn't want to make an emergency pit stop.
At the game she chugged like a college senior, but was sweating so fast I thought she'd have no problem making it home.
We had a good time on the drive back. We blasted the radio, and Gracie learned to sing along with the chorus of the Plain White T's "Delilah" in that tone that is at the same time very cute and earsplitting. She may be shy in public, but when it's Gracie, Daddy and the radio, she sings.
She sings loud.
About five minutes outside of Front Royal, she got a very plaintive look on her face, grabbed her middle and looked up at me.
"Daddy, I don't know how to tell you this, but I've got to go potty," she said. We were in the middle of nowhere. "We'll be in Front Royal in about five miles. Can you hold it?" I asked. "Okay," she said, looking very distressed.
"If you absolutely have to, I can pull over on the side of the highway," I offered.
45 seconds later: "Daddy, I think you need to pull over," she said.
And so on the eastern banks of the Shenandoah, along I-66, Gracie made her very first emergency potty stop. "Here? In the grass?" she asked. "Unless you see a potty nearby," I said. I did my best to help her, but suffice it to say that she rode home on a towel and I used up a LOT of hand sanitizer before I grabbed the wheel again.
And thus, Gracie has her first stories from the road. I'm sure they will be the first of many.