ENGAS: Baseball is for healing

Every Nats Game's A Story is our project aimed at describing what it's like to be a Nats fan, one game at a time, from the voices of those who experienced it. Today's story comes from Jen Underwood, who's the mother of the two most adorable Nats fans A and S. Follow her adventures in "Raising Nats Fans" on Twitter at @vandygirl1998.

I have a million baseball memories, but one of my favorite is of Opening Day at Nationals Park in 2010. The Nats played the Philadelphia Phillies and President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch. The opponent is important because it’s what created the opportunity for me to go to the game. My family is full of Phillies fans and I grew up a Phillies fan. Like the Nationals, I’m a DC transplant, and when they moved to town they became my adopted team. My family called it mutiny and we’ve been at odds ever since. We are full of love except at the ballpark.

Anyway, with Opening Day against their beloved team, my dad decided we needed to go to the game. He, my mom and my brother drove down from New Jersey for the game and I took the afternoon off of work. My girls were still little – S was in preschool and A wasn’t even 2, so Mom was the self-designated babysitter. It was a beautiful day – we are in short sleeves in all the photos.

This wasn’t just any old trip to the ballpark though. I was in the middle of a very messy, very painful divorce and there were days where I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Mom and Dad were with me through all of that; through the ugly, the sad, the angry and the moments full of despair. And Dad knew. He knew I was at my wit’s end. So he arranged for the tickets and planned the whole thing. My only job was to drive, since Mom needed their car to pick up the girls.

We went down to the ballpark and I headed for the $5 parking lot, which was about a 6-7 block walk from the stadium. (It’s $10 now which is still a decent deal). But Dad insisted on parking close. “It’s not about the cost today. It’s about the game” he said. So we paid $50 and parked close. We were early because of the extra screening due to the President’s visit and we observed snipers along all the roof lines. We got our food and wandered to our seats. I don’t remember where we sat – but I do remember the conversations. We posed for a picture in front of the blooming cherry blossom trees.

For three hours, the real world wasn’t even on my mind. We talked baseball and gave each other a LOT of good-natured ribbing. My dad and my brother were in their Phillies jerseys and I in a US Olympic USA shirt and my Nats hat. I didn’t own even a Nats shirt then – trying to figure out life on my own with two little girls didn’t lend itself to buying extra T-shirts. We played moundball as we watched the umpires in between innings. We laughed and hollered and debated how to properly put condiments on hot dogs; they like mustard, I’m a ketchup girl. For three glorious hours I felt like myself again. The pressures of single parenting and potty training a little one and a looming court appearance faded away.

I was reminded that at the ballpark we’re together with a common interest. That life doesn’t always need to be on the very front of your mind. That day, baseball was a little healing for my heart. The picture of us in front of the cherry blossoms now hangs beside my desk and brings me a reminder every day – that even in the midst of the bad, baseball is always good.

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