Do you remember White Castle? You know, the place where you could get a dozen burgers for $5 or so back in the day?
I hated that place, couldn’t stand their food. But it’s one of those places that holds a dear spot in my heart.
Reason being? Because we’d stop at the White Castle on Front Street, by the river, on the way to the Royals game every once in awhile.
But only when it was only a boys trip. Dad, brother. No mom or sister. Not their kind of place. Not my kind of place really either, but it’s a spot that became part of the experience.
It would start with me waiting in our little front entryway, looking out the window for my dad’s car. He was never right on time, but he’d always show up.
Part of the effect of a divorced home was this waiting game. Was he at work? Was he late? Did he forget? Maybe he didn’t remember?
We didn’t text or FaceTime back then, so I would simply wait. And hope that he was coming.
And he always did. Tickets in hand, smile on his face, a few bucks in his pocket. Enough for White Castle, a game program and a frosty malt.
We didn’t have much growing up, so I knew it was a huge deal. These baseball games. We’d sit out in GA or maybe if we got lucky, somewhere on the other side of the foul pole, a touch closer to the dugout. Not much, but a touch.
One of those lucky days came in 1991. A summer day in June, I was a 10-year-old boy. Somehow, some way my dad got a couple tickets for the Nolan Ryan vs. Bret Saberhagen dual.
Like I did all those times, I waited in that entryway for him to come. Glove on my right hand, left hand waiting to fling the door open, sure as can be that I’d catch a George Brett foul ball that day.
Like he did all those times, he showed up. We swung through White Castle and found our seats.
I don’t remember a ton about that game. Like other pieces of my childhood, some of the memories are blurred. Partly because I was young, partly because life wasn’t a bed of roses then.
But I do remember that it was the longest game in the history of the team. 18 innings. I also remember, vaguely, that #5 went 4-6 that day. Or maybe 4-7. I also remember that when it was finally over, we were late to my sister’s softball game. Or maybe soccer game.
And I remember that white White Castle bag being in the backseat when I climbed in after the game.
I thought about that bad burger joint on my way home from work today. See, I was fortunate to snag a couple tickets to tonight’s ALDS so I ducked out a bit early to grab my son.
He’s only five, or five and a half as he’ll tell you, but he’s been way into baseball this past year. I’m sure you’ve seen all the photos if you’ve seen my Instagram. The kid is all in.
On the way home to grab him, as I crossed the same river and saw the same exit where the White Castle used to be, I called my dad.
“This is your old man.”
“You’re not that old dad.”
“Well, I can see old coming.”
“Hey dad, I’m taking Silas to the game tonight. Wish I had an extra ticket and I’d have you join us, but you know, he’s getting to that age. If they lose tonight, I want him to at least say he went to a playoff game.”
“Oh he’s going to love it. I remember another boy about that age that was way into baseball. Do you remember that Nolan Ryan, longest inning game? The one where we were late to Darcie’s game afterwards?’
“Yeah, vaguely, I do. Not every pitch, but I certainly remember parts of it. I hope Silas will remember tonight.”
I got home, lost the sports coat and picked up a blue sweater. Silas was ready already. We buckled him in the backseat and as we were leaving the driveway, he said, “Hey dad, I forgot my glove.” I tried to tell him he didn’t need his glove for a second, we were pushing our luck with time, but as we got out of the car, Brooke was waving us goodbye and reinforced that he needed his glove.
Glove in hand, away we went. Back down that same stretch of highway, past that White Castle exit, and across that old muddy river.
He held that little glove out of his window nearly the entire way to the stadium. Not sure if he was catching flies or pretend baseballs.
My office is close enough to the stadium that we could park there and walk. We made the walk with a good friend, a colleague of mine, and his son. A little older and a little bigger than Silas but close enough that they realized how cool this was. A night with dad at the ballpark.
We saw two tailgates full of friends on the walk. Before these boys even had their tickets scanned and that old turnstile turned, they were loaded up with soda, bubble gum, cookies and a mound of M&M’s. The dads got a free beer and a great conversation out of the deal.
We filed into the stadium, took the obligatory entrance photos and found our seats. Nobody needed anything other than being sure we saw the first pitch.
The stadium was electric, filled with blue. Incredible pent up emotion, a whole Midwest city’s worth.
The same city that lost a couple of their firefighters this week, tragically. A whole slew of KCFD personnel paraded out behind the Royals for the national anthem. And then a couple big groups of people. Those groups were the families of the fallen. And then a moment of silence. A long, quiet, powerful moment.
If you had a dry eye after those intros, you weren’t paying attention.
The national anthem played and Silas looked up and said, “Dad, do I put this hand or this hand over my heart?”
We got him squared away, watched an inning of baseball and then were off to the nacho line. A quick bathroom break, a water, a beer for dad, and two orders of nachos later we settled into our seats. In a three hour baseball game, we only walked up those stairs to the concourse twice. Once for those nachos and once in the middle of the 7th for the second restroom pit stop.
The rest of the time. Pure baseball. Through the eyes of a five year old, well five and a half.
Rally towel smacking my face every other batter. Pounding the glove waiting for that hard foul ball from Gordon or Moose. Sneaking into the aisle so he could see around the tall man in front of us. Standing on the back of that tall guy’s chair when he didn’t want to be in the aisle. High-fiving and fist-pounding anyone who would pay attention to him.
He realized, I’m sure, that he was there with 40,000 other people, but you sure wouldn’t know it. It was his world, he legitimately hung on every single pitch.
Like I imagine Rain-Man would if he watched a game live, Silas rattled off pitch counts, MPH, balls and strikes and outs remaining before we win.
I happened to video the last out of the game. I debated it because I really wanted to be in the moment with him, not be the lame dad that was holding a phone up the entire game.
But I had this weird fear, misplaced I’m sure. Will he even remember?
I flashed back to my own days at the ballpark with my dad. I don’t remember it all, but I remember the smell of my glove, the hum of the light standards, the sound of the crack of the bat, and the awe at seeing #5 dig his left foot hard into the batter’s box.
I could see that same look tonight with Silas. Watching Cain hunt down fly balls, seeing Zobrist scratch his way to victory and witnessing Morales hit a “huge bomb” as Silas called it.
7-2. Royals win. ALDS Champions. On to the ALCS.
We stayed for 10 minutes or so after they clinched. We saw the fireworks, the Gatorade bath, and the on-field celebration.
As we left, Silas was on cloud nine. Racing down the spiral, playing imaginary catch in his glove, sliding into the grassy medians. He didn’t say a word to me, but I could tell he realized what had happened tonight wasn’t ordinary. It was extraordinary.
We walked back to the car, popped inside my office for the third and final bathroom break and then hit the road.
Across that muddy river, past that White Castle exit and towards home. A home that’s about 10 minutes from the one I used to wait in that little entryway for my dad to grab me and take me to the ballpark.
As I pulled into the garage, killed the engine and opened my door, I looked in the backseat.
He was out. Cold.
I reached for my phone. I wanted to grab a picture of it. But it was dead.
But if I don’t get this picture, will he remember it?
My dad said it best, “he will.”