I’ve worked hard to keep my three-year-old daughter, Mirabelle, abreast of what I do for a living. It’s a world I’d be obsessing over anyway, and she’s curious, and my wife has an admirable but ultimately limited tolerance for discussions about things like replacement level, so I happily tell my daughter, still gloriously unjaded about what Daddy says, about whatever I’m working on that day.
This leads to glorious moments, such as when she explained to me, shortly after I wrote an Alex Rodriguez story, “Daddy, I don’t want to play anymore. I’m going to retire.” And then there was the time she saw a boy in the supermarket wearing a lanyard he made, probably at summer camp, and asked me quizzically, “Daddy, what’s that boy credentialed for?”
Much as I’d love to, I typically can’t bring my daughter to most of the games I cover. First of all, they’re past her bedtime. And second, as those in this business know, we don’t get free tickets, or discount tickets, or access to sold-out tickets. So I’ll be at the All-Star Game Tuesday night, but to bring my wife and daughter would cost hundreds of dollars.
But when I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on Monday at the Major League Baseball Fanfest at the Javits Center in New York City, it was perfect. The timing, 10 AM, meant my daughter would be in peak energy form to hear her daddy speak about the Designated Hitter. (The word “abomination” came up, repeatedly.) And then I’d show her, as much as I possibly could, the world of baseball, specifically moments that meant something to me, to my father and I hoped, someday soon, to her as well.
I am happy to report that Fanfest allowed us to fully embrace baseball in every conceivable way. Not to gush too forcefully, but we ran for hours despite what should have been overwhelming fatigue on all of our parts.
There was a designated section, called Rookie League, for the youngest fans to hit off a tee, throw soft baseball-ish balls, or even race from one bag to another. We barely even got there, with so much else to do first.
We didn’t utilize the map. We wandered. And it was glorious. One moment, we were taking a family picture to immortalize our experience on a baseball card. The next moment, I was showing Mirabelle, in an enormous map of the United States, where all the New York Mets farm teams play, and in exactly what town we experienced Chase the Bat Dog.
She colored various Major League Baseball helmets in a supplied coloring book, freestyle. (Atlanta Braves, your “A” is now green.) We posed in a team picture with the New York Mets, careful to keep our distance from the volatile Jordany Valdespin.
Seeing her bat off a tee, I was able to finally determine that Mirabelle is a natural left-handed hitter, like her father. “Just hold the bat like I told you, and swing level!” were my instructions. And she did, lacing a series of line drives off the wall nearly ten feet away at Lipton’s Tea Ball.
After a lunch break, we raced over to the Mascot Home Run Derby. Mirabelle’s favorite is Mr. Met, conditioned from games at Citi Field since she was four months old. It is a popular tactic in this house for me to cheer her up by putting on a Mr. Met t-shirt. But Mr. Met had bowed out of the home run derby early (one spectator speculated, with some inherent logic, that the size of his head has a profoundly negative effect on his swing). Instead, we took pictures with Orbit, the newly-revived Astros mascot, and Friar, the dignified San Diego Padres’ representative.
We were now hours past traditional nap time. And while I finalized a decision about purchasing a Cleon Jones 1965 Topps rookie card (I did, for $5, and it will happily live next to my Ed Charles rookie card), Mirabelle wondered why we hadn’t seen Mr. Met yet. He was in obviously high demand; I later determined that he’d probably taken the 7 train to Citi Field for the afternoon press events there.
My daughter started to cry, and as my wife and I tried to remind her of all the other mascots she had met, I looked up and saw my solution. Three representatives of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were on hand, ready to take photos or in this case, dispense advice.
“Excuse me?”, I said to Shirley Burkovich, once an infielder for the Rockford Peaches, now a kindly elderly woman looking on sympathetically at my family. “Would you mind telling my daughter if there’s any crying in baseball?
“Sweetie, there’s not!”, she said, smiling at my daughter, who took a deep breath and calmed down. “There’s no crying in baseball!”
We all took a photo together, three AAGPBL veterans and the three of us, while I happily explained to my daughter that Daddy is a writer, Mommy is a teacher, these women were baseball players and, if she wanted, that could be her job, too.
Ten minutes later, we were in the car, Mirabelle was fast asleep and I was waxing poetic to my wife about that sweet left-handed swing.