The first time I went to a major league baseball game was in the early 70s. I was twelve or thirteen or fourteen years old.
I grew up in Indianapolis. We had a minor league team. The Indianapolis Indians. They were the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, my favorite baseball team.
I came of age with the Big Red Machine, as that amazing juggernaut of a baseball team was called. The Reds of my youth had Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey, Hal McRea, Bobby Tolan. Soon they would add Joe Morgan and George Foster like it was nothing.
I was too new to know how special this was and that it wouldn’t last. I figured every team had players this good. They were major leaguers, after all. And I figured my team would always have players this good. That’s the first lesson you learn in baseball. How to have your heart broken.
My father wasn’t from this country so he didn’t grow up with baseball, didn’t care for baseball, and didn’t understand baseball, nor did he understand what I saw in it.
By association, he never really understood me.
But he did take me to my first major league baseball game. I still remember walking into Riverfront Stadium in downtown Cincinnati for the first time, turning into the tunnel to go to our seats, holding a glove not because I thought I might catch a foul ball but, and this is the truth, I thought maybe I could get a tryout after (yes, I was that stupid), and seeing that overwhelming green astroturf field. It was a color of green I had never seen before.
That day I discovered a color. That color is still stamped into my memory.
I couldn’t tell you who won, I couldn’t tell you who played, what the score was, or even exactly what year it was. But I can tell you walking through that stadium was like walking on the moon. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Massive. Clean. Bright white. Filled with smiling people who were all Reds fans—hey, like me!—with musicians playing music, guys selling souvenirs, they even brought cotton candy to your seat. What kind of magic was this?
Then there was that green field, stretching out, in one massive new color, for as far as the eye could see.
Suddenly, there they were. Dotting the green, my green, with their white and red uniforms, my heroes from TV, only now just a few hundred yards away. It was really them. The Johnny Bench in front of me looked just like Johnny Bench.
I will never forget that day. And I never take that joy for granted. I feel it every time I walk into a ballpark. I’ve been to so many.
Eventually, I will go to the Rangers new ballpark. I can’t wait to experience that same sense of wonder as I walk in and absorb it all for the first time.
I might not discover a new color. But I’m not too old to hold out hope.