(Atlanta, GA) — We don’t get out much. Unless “getting out” means running out to Taco Bell because the fish we were going to cook has gone bad and there’s nothing left to eat in the house except half of bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and an 8-ounce can of water chestnuts. Unless “getting out” means going to Taco Bell one night and the grocery store the next, we really don’t get out much.
We get out so little, in fact, that about a month ago, I decided that we had to do something about it, something pretty grand, at least by our standards. We would have to rearrange our hectic work schedules, carve out a 48-hour swath in one of our endlessly booked weeks, and go somewhere to do something. We had been promising the kids that we would take them to the aquarium in Atlanta for, oh, three or four years, and with my son, Jack, now heavily into the new baseball season — his team this year is the Braves — I thought we could work a little Major League baseball game into our trip.
The next thing you know, I was on eBay buying tickets for killer seats down the third base line for a day game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Turner Field, while Tammy was working on a package deal for tickets to the aquarium and a nearby hotel in downtown Atlanta. Within an hour, we had tickets to the game, tickets to the aquarium, and reservations at the hotel for the following weekend.
We left fairly early on Saturday morning to make sure we made it in time for the first pitch a little after 1 pm. Tammy and Kayden were going to drop us off near the gate on Henry Aaron Drive, and then go to the mall for manicures, white chocolate, and other mallstuffs. In particular, Kayden was keen on going to the American Girl doll store to look at American Girl dolls, and Tammy was keen on going anyplace where she would not have to watch baseball being played for three hours.
We made it nearly an entire hour early, time enough for Jack and me to eat a couple of $8 hotdogs and watch a little batting practice from the outfield bleachers before heading down to our fairly remarkable seats about 20 feet behind the Cardinals dugout. Jack was decked out in his Braves jersey and cap, and we settled in for a pretty exciting pitcher’s duel. Two older guys next to us had just returned from Afghanistan, and one of them, a youngish grandfatherly type probably in his late 50s, befriended Jack by feeding him peanuts and teasing him about not catching foul balls that landed nowhere near us.
“You should have got THAT one,” he said, as a ball off Matt Holiday’s bat landed three sections over and about 20 rows behind us. “You gotta reach higher if you want to go home with a ball.”
The Braves took an early lead, but the bullpen squandered it as the Cards broke through for two runs in the top of the eighth to win the game 3-2. Jack didn’t care that much. He got to see “the big guys,” and as the crowd began to clear out, he made his way down toward the Cardinal dugout looking for bottle caps, loose change, or any other exotic souvenirs of his first big league ballgame
“Hey, little buddy,” I heard a woman’s voice call out. She was sitting directly behind the dugout with four or five other elderly fans, possibly connected with the team in some way, from the looks of it. “Come here. I’ve got something for you.”
Jack walked over and she promptly handed him a baseball, one that had actually been used in the game and tossed up to her as the teams changed sides between innings. Jack accepted the ball as if an astronaut were handing him a moonrock. We thanked the nice woman profusely, and finally made our way outside to take pictures of Jack standing with the statue of Hank Aaron in front of the stadium.
The cell phone rang. I told Jack before I answered the phone that his mother and sister were lost.
“We’re completely lost,” said Tammy. “I’m pulling off to figure out where we are, and then we’ll be there soon, OK?”
With a bit of time to kill, Jack and I wandered around Turner Field until we saw a small group of people clustered at the back, evidently waiting for the players to appear and sign their pennants, programs, and such. We just missed catcher Brian McCann, but when starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez came out, I grabbed Jack and hoisted him up among the throng, and in just a few minutes, his ball was autographed.
“I guess we’re lucky your mom got lost,” I said. “But I wouldn’t say that in the car, if I were you.”
Tammy and Kayden had as much fun at the mall as we did at the game, and the aquarium was an even bigger hit the next day. We got home pretty late on Sunday, exhausted, nearly broke, and pretty far behind on our work. It would take us days and a series of late nights to catch up, and we knew it. By the time we crawled into bed, we could barely form a coherent sentence.
“We need to get out more often,” Tammy mumbled, before nodding off.