Kids catch the waning days of summer

September 01, 1997

They've already spent their last day at the pool. They've stayed up until the wee hours for the last night, slept until noon for the last morning.

And yesterday, they went to their last baseball game.

The kids in Camden Yards were, as you can imagine, excited and eager to return to the wonderful world of books and learning, teachers and report cards.

"Yuck," Daniel Levere, 10, says.

"Uck, headache," Adam Aronow, 8, says.

"I'm going to laugh and get straight Fs," Curtis Swauger, 8, promises.

Perhaps the only happy student in the stands yesterday was George Balobalo, 8 ("and a half"), who as a Washington public school student has bureaucratic failings to thank for a school year that won't begin until Sept. 22.

"I want to come here every day," George says dreamily as he plots the rest of his seemingly endless summer.

It is one of the many ways adults are mean to kids: School begins even though baseball isn't over yet.

In Chicago, where The Fan got her early training as a Cubs devotee, it was particularly galling -- all the home games were played during the day, so rushing to get your homework done and getting to watch the game on TV at night wasn't an option.

Boys sometimes used to sneak radios into school -- through some elaborate system, an earpiece was connected to a wire that was run down the shirt and into the pocket where the radio was hidden. The nuns at Sacred Heart, though, were rarely fooled. So the start of school basically meant the end of baseball.

The Fan has never lost that feeling, that no matter what the schedule says, the end of August means the end of the season. (Perhaps that also has something to do with the Cubs -- the season usually was over for them in August.)

So yesterday, a day at the park seemed like a particular treat: the last, best game. Kids were everywhere, bouncing on their last reserves of summer energy. Their parents seemed particularly indulgent as well, OK-ing an extra hot dog or last souvenier.

"I'm wearing my new T-shirt over another one," Emily Battaglia, 10, of Columbia announces.

Emily, an aspiring writer whose current short story stars an Oriole named "B.J. Murray," goes to the park about one Sunday a month with her parents David and Cindy and 3-year-old brother Christian.

"It's a good family day," Cindy says, "and we had to get the best seats today since it's the last weekend."

They got to the scalp-free zone at 10 a.m., and lucked out on some box seats by first base and Rafael Palmeiro.

"We usually get the cheap seats, the upper reserve," David said, "but then we had the opportunity to get these and I thought, 'It's Labor Day, it's the end of the season.' "

Rae Levere brought her four kids down from Harford County, which starts school tomorrow, and could only get standing-room tickets. Still, it was baseball, and something they could share, even the 15-year-old daughter who likes to collect expensive cards but not really watch the games.

"I remember going to games when I was a kid. I grew up on the east side, not too far from Memorial Stadium," Rae says. "I used to like Paul Blair; he was my favorite, I thought he was so cute."

As a teen-ager, she drifted away from baseball, only to return when she had kids of her own. Daughter Danielle, 18, took a class trip to Camden Yards in eighth grade, became a big fan, and re-ignited her mother's passion. Son Daniel, 10, has also caught the bug and has his own favorite Oriole, Mike Bordick. "He's cool," says Daniel, a shortstop himself.

Sometimes The Fan thinks the only reason baseball survives all its modern-day crises is this genetic thing. Parents pass the game to their kids, or sometimes the other way around.

The Fan's father was a great O's fan. He remembered the O's coming to Baltimore in 1954 -- the parades and the excitement -- and seeing some of those first games. He became a fan for life. In retrospect, The Fan thinks her father loved baseball and his first car -- a big black Chevrolet -- in much the same way: the way an immigrant loves something so totally American.

The Fan's family eventually moved to Chicago and the Cubs. That's where The Fan's father took her to her first baseball game. It was chilly in the grandstands, even though it was summer. Parts of Wrigley Field are like that, shaded oases where the wind from the lake chills your bones even as a hot sun burns over the field. Surely the Cubs lost that day, who remembers at this point? What The Fan remembers is her skinny little sister shivering in her seat. We wrapped her in pieces of the Sunday paper, like a fish, and she laughed so hard she forgot she was cold.

On this particular Sunday, Robert Nathan of Columbia is remembering how his father gave him a quarter to take the bus to Memorial Stadium. "Back then, the Orioles had kids day, when kids under 12 got in for free."

"That was, like, a hundred years ago," pipes in his son, Michael, 9.

Not exactly -- more like 40 years ago, when his father was about his age and had just moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia. Today, Robert Nathan's sons know all his baseball stories -- the time he went to the World Series, the time he caught a foul ball. But someday, Michael and Eric, 8, will be the ones with the stories of the Season of '97.

"They're going to win the World Series," Michael predicts.

"In four games," adds Eric.

Pub Date: 9/01/97

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