Not too long ago I was in Arizona, hiding from the sun under a large hat, sitting in the first row at the ballpark, right next to the Cleveland Indians dugout. My 11-year-old son was the bat boy, and designated hitter Travis Hafner was stretching in all his muscular glory an arm's length in front of me, preparing to go up to bat.
My son stood poised to run for a bat at a moment's notice, his focus sharp on the game while chewing gum with the big leaguers. I took a bite of my hot dog as Hafner touched his toes and practiced swinging his bat.
The players patted my kid on the back and taught him a complicated version of a High Five, which he used moments later to welcome Carlos Santana to home plate after his home run.
It was another year and another Spring Training, our ritual of driving through the desert to Arizona to commune with my son's heroes for a week.
This is tradition for my son and me, a tradition he chose, insisting that I share it with him, even if I don't know what a force out is.
If I were to have chosen bonding moments with my 11-year-old, it would have entailed the opera, but my son wisely guided me to baseball, the sport that invaded his heart and took over his thoughts after his grandmother brought him to his first Padres game four years ago.
As for me, I knew there was no crying in baseball, that if Kevin Costner would build it he would come and Susan Sarandon practiced the religion of baseball. So, basically everything I knew about baseball came from the movies. Outside of a movie theater, baseball was just another sport that I didn't watch on TV. I never imagined the role baseball would play in my life as a mother.
At the first baseball game my son dragged me to, we stood at the fence separating fans from the bullpen. My child stared at the pitchers, his eyes glazed over in awe, when Heath Bell approached him, signed a ball and tossed it to him. It was nothing short of a miracle, and just as we thought life couldn't get better, Mike Adams followed with his autograph.
"You have a really good slider," my son told Adams. I didn't know what a slider was, but I suspected it had something to do with pitching. Adams thanked him, sending my son to float in the clouds with sheer joy.
Baseball players make themselves accessible to the fans, arguably more than athletes from any other sport. It's the democratization of sports, a representation of America, I suppose, as the nation's pastime.
Baseball memories have built on themselves for us: The time Matt Latos started a birthday ball for my son; when Adrian Gonzalez held onto his ball through the National Anthem, careful to make sure my son got his autograph before the game began; when Bud Black invited us to sit behind him during a game.
Baseball has been another parent, teaching my son more than I can about good sportsmanship, grace under pressure, patience and respect for others. Without exception, baseball has treated my son with generosity and kindness. So, here's my thank you to baseball.
To Addison Reed for teaching my son to pitch. For Will Venable and Nick Hundley for calling my son by name every time they see him, taking time out to listen. To Mark Shapiro for his unflagging caring and hospitality. To the group of minor leaguers who gently corrected me when I called them "sporty." To the lady at the concession stand who gave my son free french fries for a whole season.
To baseball for the afternoons and evenings with my son, sharing stats and filling out hundreds of All-Star voting ballots, for cheering on as our team lost or won, going extra innings or finishing quickly. To baseball for welcoming us into its community with open arms, for giving us a place of belonging. For the love of the game, the camaraderie, the music and the kettle corn.
For all of this, thanks. So happy to be back with you inside third base for another season.
Now, if only the Padres could go the World Series. Is that so much to ask?