Not every decision fueled by nostalgia and encouraged by a couple beers ends up working out and, up until about 5pm on the evening of July 3rd, I was thinking that my decision from a couple months prior was going to be one I’d live to regret. But as the sun occasionally shines on a canine’s behind, so it did on Smokies Stadium.
I think we had been to see a family movie earlier in the evening, so I was feeling all hyped up about that and thinking of something fun for us to do. I may have even been editing a minor league post too, which would make sense. And so I got a wild hair and decided to by tickets for me and my son to see the Tennessee Smokies.
At the time, Kyle Schwarber was still there and we had missed opportunities to see him last year. And the first baseball game my son had ever attended had taken place there in Sevierville five years earlier, only a couple weeks after Starlin Castro had been promoted from AA to join the Cubs.
“Isn’t that kind of a long drive,” my wife asked with more than a trace amount of concern. “Eh, it’s only about 6 hours and it’s all interstate,” I replied. I was hoping for a fun road trip with my son, something we could enjoy together.
But as the morning of our departure dawned and it was pouring rain in Indianapolis, I checked the forecast to see much the same thing for Eastern Tennessee. And just light rain either, but flat-out thunderstorms. I was beginning to have a great deal of trepidation about the prospect of a 12-hour round trip with nary an inning of baseball to show for it.
Long story short, the rain abated as we neared our destination and the sun actually began to break through the clouds soon after we passed through the gates and into the quaint venue that lauds itself “America’s Friendliest Ballpark.” I can’t say as I can validate that, as I’ve not been to enough to compare, but I can’t think of a nicer one yet.
I can’t really put my experience there into words without trimming out so much of the raw emotion as to render the description dull and lifeless by comparison. But as I watched my son bounding down the steps to the wall near the field to snag an autograph, Smokies baseball in hand, I teared up a little.
Seeing that little boy in that little ballpark allowed me to feel the kind of unadulterated joy that the myriad filters and constructs of life experience don’t often grant us. As he ran down the concourse, Cubs cape billowing out behind him, Ryne was possessed of no less than the miraculous super power to carry me back through time and allow me to be a simpler man for a couple hours.
He had picked out a hat in the team shop earlier, but I had passed on the opportunity. I really wanted the road cap, but for some reason New Era managed to size of the 7 5/8 ones just a wee bit big. The 7 1/2 hats were the correct size, so they were too small. For what it’s worth, the home hats were correctly sized. In any case, I stewed on that for a bit.
We left the store, but came back again later for me to try my luck again. “Why don’t you get the one like I got, daddy?” my son asked. I’m not sure why it hadn’t hit me earlier, as I really did like it; the blue/black/gray digi-camo stretch fit was pretty cool. But, more than that, it was also a symbol of our shared experience at the game. It’s cheesy but it’s true.
So we sat in our matching caps and watched a back-and-forth game, cheering the whole time. At one point late in the contest, I leaned over and pressed my head to his and just whispered, “I love you, buddy.” “I love you too” came the answer, just loud enough for me to discern over the PA. That’s it, right there. It really doesn’t get better.
The outcome of the game really would be been incidental to me at this point, but the Smokies actually ended up winning in walk-off fashion, as Billy McKinney hit a bases-loaded single to drive in Albert Almora and incite a mob to chase him out into right field. Talk about a great feeling.
And then, to top the evening off, they had fireworks. It wasn’t the most awe-inspiring display I’ve ever seen, but I don’t think I can name another time when I felt more at piece. I sat in my seat with a big, goofy grin on my face as my son oohed and ahhed. After putting up some fireworks of their own, the Smokies players had even come back out to watch the festivities.
I know it’s trite, but I just sat there wishing it would never end, that we could just sit there in that place and in that moment for eternity. But the lights eventually came back on and we made our way back to our hotel to eat some McNuggets and a bowl of microwaved mac and cheese that we had to eat with a room key because I’d left our extra plastic spoon in the car.
So I’m home now and still floating on a bit of a cloud. I’m not sure many will read this, as the mushy non-Cubs stuff doesn’t tend to gain much traction. But it felt good to share this; if I can encourage just one dad or mom out there to take a similar trip with their kid(s), I’ve accomplished my goal.
And now it’s time for me to head out and see my own dad, maybe play catch with my son too. Thanks for reading.