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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Home Opener

One of the benefits of being the trophy spouse of an elected official is accompanying my Lovely Bride to various events. Typically these occasions entail fund-raisers, civic functions, or recognizing well-deserving members of the community.
The usual progression of events following our arrival soon finds LB engrossed in conversation with constituents, elected officials, or new hopefuls to the political arena. I generally become caught up in the swirling back-current and eddy of people which is observable in any such event. Eventually, I find myself in the company of the other trophy spouses.
It ain’t such a bad gig; as I am one of the few males in this select group. We commiserate with one another about the rigors of being arm-candy. Patiently, we await our cue; “I wouldn’t be here if it were not for my______.” Individually,  we set down our drink, smile and wave.  And the paparazzi…you have no idea!
However, there is one event I eagerly anticipate the entire year. I can be loud, boisterous, express my opinions, eat with my hands, and no one is appalled or offended
See, our town is home to a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Every year, the owners of the Lake County Captains graciously invite the local city officials and others to join them in their loge for the Home Opener.
Finally, an event I can understand.
Typically, I am somewhat befuddled with usual event conversations regarding matching State grants, zoning ordinance restrictions, whom is running for what, and inter-city tax reciprocity. I listen attentively, nodding my head in assent, or frowning as if deep in thought at the appropriate times. Meanwhile, I am wondering if the clutch in my Jeep is starting to go.
I have also discovered a fun (for me, at least) interjection to these discussions. While mustering my most concerned look, I will ask “And how does that make you feel?” It is great! Most people launch into a lengthy, impassioned diatribe. Meanwhile, I am estimating how much clutch parts are going to cost me.
Opening night, however, finds me an integral part of the conversation. Batting averages, earned-run averages, strategy of the sacrifice bunt, pitching rotations, and the most recent unbelievably bone-headed, blind-as-a-bat, what-game-is-he-watching call the umpire made, I am part of them all.
Let the others find refuge in the warmth and comfort of the loge. Three of our grand-children and I came here to watch Baseball! We opt to park ourselves in the blue plastic stadium seats on the loge balcony. The back of the seat in front advises to keep your head in the game and be alert for foul balls. With a masterfully balanced plate of hot-dogs with Stadium mustard, a burger, odds and ends, and with a frosty example of the Pennsylvania brewer’s art in hand, the four of us settle in.
Being an early April evening in Northern Ohio, the weather is perfect for football. First pitch temperatures in the low 40s; augmented by 20 MPH winds whipping off Lake Erie are much more conducive to a Browns game.
Undeterred, we burrow deeper into our coats. Following the National Anthem, I was proud to pass along some time honored baseball traditions to a new generation.
They learned quaint sayings such as “Hey Batta-batta-batta! Hey Batta! Swing, Batta!” They also learned “Open yer eyes, Ump!”, and that ever popular “Hey Pitch! Try throwin’ toward the plate!”. The grands also learned “Gee, Officer…. I didn’t know dumping Cracker Jacks on the people below us was frowned upon.”
(Incidentally, did you know Baseball, and its derivatives (kickball, softball, et al) are the only sports in which the defensive team has control of the ball? Oh sure,… I know someone somewhere is proclaiming “Cricket! What about cricket?!?”  Yeah, technically, they are correct, but we are talkin’ baseball here.)
During the latter innings (as an aside, cricket also has “innings”, whether one or more, the term is plural) of the game, after the loge crowd thinned somewhat, and we could no longer feel our toes, we withdrew to the warmth. It was very fortuitous we did so.
Usually, Peter Carfagna, the owner of the team, is surrounded by friends and well-wishers; except this time. The man was alone, watching the game unfold. Seizing the opportunity, I approached to express my appreciation for thinking of us. As well as talk baseball.
More than a discussion of hits, runs, and errors; I got a rare glimpse of the heart of an owner. His face lit up when I mentioned the article highlighting the Captain’s new starting pitcher. He shrugged; “Tonight wasn’t his best outing, but that is baseball. Each new batter, each pitch can become a brand new game. Besides, we have 140 games to play yet.”
We discussed the open-endedness of baseball; there are no limitations imposed by a clock. Each play can encompass any area of the diamond; not regulated to progress toward a specific, fixed goal. The conversation wended around greats of the past, future legends starting out today. Eventually, the topic came to the topic of scouting and recruiting, the support the Indians provide, and our mutual love of the game.
Peter’s face beamed while discussing the large number of Captains who have received the call up to The Bigs.  He grew wistful looking beyond the pristine diamond and bright lights, watching games and championship victories of the past.
Peter turned toward me, a smile on his tanned face. “I am so proud of each of them. My wife and I think of these boys as family. I am proud to have been part of their development.”
Our conversation broke off as another guest came along side. We parted with a handshake.
I watched as he was steered across the room to meet another official, this time a State Representative. Peter glanced over his shoulder, to reveal the face of a man who would be perfectly content to be sitting in a stadium seat with a mustard covered dog, a cold beer, and be talkin’ baseball.

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