The games grown up boys play

June 28, 1994|By Russell Baker

YOU WANT to know about baseball, I'll tell you about baseball. Hank and me, father and son. It's baseball that brings us together.

Thirteen times a year we drive 160 miles for baseball. That's 80 miles to Baltimore, 80 miles back. Thirteen times 160 miles makes 2,080 miles we drive every summer. Just for baseball. Father and son. Driving to and from Baltimore. Together.

Thirteen times we park the car at $5 per park. Makes $65. Thirteen times we sit in our $14 seats way out in right field. That's $364 for seats, plus $65 to park, makes $429.

The parking is of the way-out-in-right-field type, too. You can tell Hank feels . . . well, "ashamed' isn't quite the right word . . . maybe "disappointed" is closer to what Hank feels.

Feels disappointed in his dad. I don't know how you know this, because Hank is good at keeping his feelings under deep cover. Maybe Hank doesn't feel disappointed. Maybe the old man is imagining feelings his son might have, based on the feelings he -- Hank's father -- would have if he were accompanying his own father to these games.

He'd feel -- no, not "disappointed" in the old man, that wasn't the right word either. He'd feel "embarrassed." The old fellow was shelling out $429, and for what? Seats way out in right field. Parking space, too. Way out in parking-lot right field.

What I'd be thinking if I were Hank would be this:

"The old man can't cut the mustard, else he wouldn't settle for way-out-in-right-field treatment."

Baseball. It brings you together. Father and son. "Isn't it great to be out at the old ball game, Dad?"

"I don't care if I never get back, Hank!" cries Dad, then wishes he hadn't. Never getting back from a Baltimore Orioles game has become an alarming possibility of late as games get longer.

The three-and-a-half-hour game had become common. Four hours was always a distinct threat, what with batters killing time by striking beautiful poses and managers bringing games to a dead halt by incessantly changing pitchers.

After one five-and-a-half-hour game Hank and I, father and son, had come perilously close to complete honesty with each other about our feelings toward baseball. Only a father could take the lead, however.

So, "Hereafter," I said, "let's make it a rule that we will leave the game, no matter what, and head home after they've played three hours."

Hank's quick agreement -- "Three hours is long enough" -- was jolting. Had I somehow failed to imbue him with an essential American love of the game?

If he liked it as much as a man was supposed to like it, wouldn't he have said: "Hereafter when they hit the three-hour mark just buy us some peanuts and Cracker Jack and we won't care if we never get back"?

It crossed my mind that maybe he thought I was in deep financial trouble and that this had stifled the cry for sustenance in his throat, for the ballpark price of peanuts and Cracker Jack for two could wipe out a $10 bill.

The 80-mile drive home after the game tests our character as football is said to test character, and this is hard to take. What I've always liked about baseball is that nobody ever made any silly claims about its testing character, or molding men.

Sometimes it was an ordeal, but at least you didn't have to listen to grown men talking drivel the way you did when football was going on.

Anyhow, driving 80 miles in the middle of the night is heavy going when you've been up since 5:30 a.m., Hank's getting-up hour, but he insists on doing the driving anyhow. Says he likes to drive and isn't really falling asleep at the wheel, but I know what he's thinking.

"Can't risk my life letting the old man drive at this hour of the night. At his age, probably blind as a bat. Reflexes all shot, too."

I know what he's thinking. It's what I'd be thinking if I were Hank. Worse than that, he knows I know what he's thinking, but both of us have too much character to speak these thoughts. Baseball )) doesn't build that character. It just brings you together. Father and son.

Russell Baker is a syndicated columnist.

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