On a crisp late April Thursday night, Team Murray arrived at Sprague Park in Narragansett in typical dramatic fashion. The team members – Mom Jeannine, (age withheld out of respect) head of the concession stand and home run derby committee; Dad, Derek, (birth age 46, actual age undetermined) league player agent and former URI catching standout; Evan, 12 years old, one of the fastest players in Narragansett Little League and a fierce prankster; Ellie, 9, fashion mogul who had recently stylized 100 pink scarves with rainbow swirls for South County Hospital (in one weekend); and last but not least, Nanny, (no way I’m saying how old) who maintains a constant dialogue with the home plate umpire on every “blown” call.
The impact on the Murray arrival was always like throwing a lighted match on a grill that’s been doused with lighter fluid. BOOOOOOOM – Jeannine is out of the driver’s seat and is greeted by cheers, screams, and a few wolf whistles by the other Moms. She raises both hands in air as if she has just won the Tour de France and slams the car door emphatically to further the act. Derek unbuckles his seat belt and then spins his head to face Evan, who is sitting in the back seat holding his baseball bag. “Hey, listen. Pops is going to start Josh on the mound today. You know you can waste a pitch or two before getting your shot.” Evan nods, wringing his hands on the bag’s handle in anticipation of one of his Dad’s traditional and unfortunately unavoidable pre-game speeches. “And let’s work on the burst, get geared up for that first step, you can steal on anyone on Ace Hardware, even Davey Pitman. You got this Ev, I want to see….” “Hey Lou Holtz,” interrupted Jeannine, “can we depart Notre Dame or is this going be another hour long session here Coach???” Evan raised his eyebrows and motioned to his Dad for the OK sign to exit the car. “Go get ’em Ev,” muttered Derek as he peered out at Jeannine. “I’m only trying to help the kid, Jean, you know I played…” Derek was cut off again by Jeannine. “Ok sounds good, now let’s help my mother out of the third row like a good boy!!!” Ellie, standing outside of the car, backpack in hand filled with coloring pencils and sketchpad, looked proudly up at her Mom, giggled.
Evan exits the car and jogs over to the field to be with his teammates. He walks into the Visitor’s dugout, located on the third base side of the field and hooks his baseball bag on the fence just about his eye level. He unzips the bag and finds his glove, fits it onto his left hand pushing his index finger through the hole in the back of the glove, reties his Dad’s cleats (a birthday gift), and heads out to the outfield where he finds his teammate, Mariano. Mariano’s Dad was a college student in NYC in the late 1990’s and was a huge fan of Hall of Famer and New York Yankee pitcher, Mariano Rivera. Evan loved playing catch with Mariano, as the two were typically either pitching or catching each other for Narragansett District teams in recent years. Mariano would also be joining Evan this summer playing for the Rhode Island Rays, so the two had become very close baseball friends.
Meanwhile, Derek had done his assignment and helped Nanny exit the car. Derek was then tasked with loading up the hand truck with 3 cases of Gatorade, 2 boxes of hot dogs, a box of sunflower seeds, and a few loaves of hot dog buns, then waited further instruction from Jeannine. “Anything else boss, what about the petty cash bag here?” Jeannine, with the speed and swiftness of Lou Brock stealing second base, reached into the trunk and snatched the cash bag with a certain and undeniable flair. “No honey, I will take care of this, you just march yourself right over to Bobby and get him those boxes.” Jeannine had the confidence of a heavyweight boxing champion and the heart of queen, and she extended her hand to Ellie.”Come one sweetie, let’s go get settled.” Ellie squeezed her Mom’s hand and looked back and winked at Derek. “Did you just wink at me? Wow, I am in trouble with you too Ellie?” Derek nodded to Ellie and Jeannine “Love you guys, see you in a moment,” and began the short walk over to the concession stand for his delivery. Jeannine paused and turned to Derek and winked.
Jeannine and Ellie set up shop on the third step level of the wooden bleachers centered between home plate on the Visitor’s dugout. Jeannine unfurled a blanket out of her carry on bag and began to fold it into a perfect square. “These playoff games can be a real pain in the butt, if you know what I mean.” The crowd of Moms, some Dads, friends, and family in earshot all erupted in laughter as Jeannine finished her folding and sat down on the comfortable square. Ellie was never one to sit for an entire inning much less an entire game, so she elected to just sit next to her Mom for the time being. It was still 25 minutes to game time and Ellie knew her girlfriends would be arriving soon. The sisterhood would go to the playground, check the game while their brother was at bat, share Instagram photos, and generally have a really fun time at the game. None of them would know the score during the game or who even won by the end of the game, but that didn’t matter at all. Game night was an awesome night of sisterhood and making memories with great friends.
Meanwhile, Nanny had set up in her lawn chair just left of home plate so close to the backstop that she used the fence as stability to lower herself into her seat. She always came game prepared – water bottle filled with ice chips, a lemon peel, and plenty of water; scorecard to score the game in pencil; and her now infamous cowbell, which she rocked every time Evan did anything in the field or on the mound or at bat. Nanny would ring that cowbell so loud and long and with such enthusiasm. At first, the other parents would get a tad annoyed at the loud clanging. But, it became sort of a hilarious act and even inspired other parents to bring percussion instruments. If you heard a triangle clinging, you would know that Brian Davis had done something. If you heard a Kazoo buzzing, Alexander Olsen was striking someone out. Nanny had inspired a percussion section that would rival a Santana concert and the Narragansett fan experience was filled with wonderful musical notes added to the cheers from the stands.
Derek knocked on the side door to the concession stand with a “Bah Dee Dee Bop Bop….Bop Bop” rhythm pattern. “Who is it?” mouth Bobby Olsen in a very high pitched voice. “Special delivery, sir” returned Derek as the door opened. Bobby and Derek had a hearty laugh as Derek handed the hand truck over. “Let’s go Ace Hardware,” mouthed Bobby in his regular voice and he extended his hand up in the hand for a high five to Derek. “Yeah Yeah Yeah!!!,” yelled Derek and slapped his buddy Bobby’s hand with authority. Bobby drove the hand truck into the concession stand and began to unload. Just as he was unboxing the hot dog buns, Ellie appeared at the front of the building with the petty cash bag. “Hey you go Mr. Olsen.” she said as she handed over the bag. “Thank you Ma’am,” replied Bobby Olsen. “Hi Daddy, Evan needs you.” Derek nodded and motioned to Bobby “my work is never done.” With that Derek and Ellie walked over to the visitor’s section of the field. Evan was still on the field playing catch with Mariano and hadn’t seen his Dad just yet. Derek took up his usual spot with some of the other Dads about 5 feet behind the bleachers section.
Derek and the other Dads picked up right where they had left off from last game’s discussions. Patriots draft picks, the weather, home remodeling projects, kids flushing Lego tiles down the toilet, that home run they hit back in 1987, and so on and so forth. The Dads had formed this sort of non-alcoholic social lounge type atmosphere at each game and the chatter never stopped, it just would get quieter as a Dad’s player was at bat. But the chatter, the teasing, the mocking – all in good fun – never stopped. Sometimes, it would carry over on text message after the games, at their jobs the next morning, on social media posts. Derek and the Dads were champions at heckling each other and loved every second of it, every single game. “I remember going on this booze cruise in college for our Senior Trip,” Andy Peters threw out of nowhere with, “we get to the boat and out in the harbor and the captain comes on the loud speaker and proceeds to tell us the bar is closing because the air pressure tanks or whatever runs the kegs malfunctioned. Malfunctioned?” Just as the Dads waited for where this story was going, Evan ran up to the fence and yelled for his Dad.
“Dad, Dad, can you go get my batting gloves?” Evan yelled. “Why aren’t they in your bag Champ, where they are supposed to be?” responded Derek. Evan paused for a moment to stare down his Dad. “Because you used them the other day for…” Derek stopped his son in mid sentence “Ok, Ok, that’s enough I remember where they are. Hold tight, I’ll run and get them.” “The ground can’t take your weight, dude, you better walk or we will have to call in DOT to fix your potholes big guy.” And The Dads pounced and began to jaw at Derek. Derek laughed, knowing he could lose a few pounds, then did his best attempt at tip-toeing away from the Dad Lounge and headed back to his car. As soon as Derek was out of ear shot, Andy yelled down to Evan, “what’s the deal with the gloves? You gotta tell us Ev!” The Dads all cheered for the truth and Evan began the story.
“My Dad was spraying the bare spots in the backyard last Sunday with some grass thing he got online. He noticed a bird lying on the ground, motionless, found a stick, then poked the bird to see if it was alive. Then, he called me over and asked me for my batting gloves. He said he was going to dispose of it over the fence before Rufus (the family dog) found it and brought it in the house. So, I grabbed my gloves out of my bag, where they are supposed to be.” The Dads had almost stopped breathing listening to this story. Evan was mature way beyond his years and often dreamed of being in the Dad Lounge one day, just to try it out. Evan continued, “He put the gloves on, they were kinda small for him but he didn’t want to touch the bird. He squatted down like a catcher in front of the bird and scooped up the bird. Then, he held the bird up in front of him, inspecting the bird for any sign of life. And then, the bird moved and realized that my Dad was holding him/her. My Dad shrieked like he was in a horror movie. The bird then popped out of my Dad’s hands, pecked my Dad in the chest and started to fly away. But the best part of the whole thing, the bird actually crapped on my Dad’s head as he was flying away. A big, white, wet plop on the top of his bald head.” The Dads, who had been on edge with every word from Evan, broke into a mosh pit dance, bouncing against each other and laughing so hard they knocked each other on the ground. And then Derek arrived.
“What the hell happened here, somebody rip one?” asked Derek as he passed through the Dad Lounge and over to the fence where Evan was waiting. “Sorry Dad” mouthed Evan just as he grabbed the gloves and ran back to his teammates. Derek turned to see The Dad Lounge pointing and laughing at him and then realized what Evan had done. “Freaking dang bird crapped on me.” he said and the Dad Lounge erupted once again. Derek looked over at Jeannine, who along with the other Moms were deep in conversation as the first pitch was just about 5 minutes away. “You couldn’t stop the boy from blabbing about the bird, Darling?” Derek said to Jeannine. “Why, it’s a hilarious story. I posted it a photo of it on Sunday to the girls with the bird crap still on your head.” With that the Moms erupted in the bleachers, and Derek sauntered back to the Dad Lounge to be greeted with handshakes and mocking hugs.
And then, a baseball game was played.
Editors note: Names and events in this story are completely fictional and for creative writing purposes only.