My story is about Game 3 of the 2012 National League Division Series — or was it Game 1? The date was absolutely October 10, 2012, but the rest is more complicated.
Like many, I've grown to know my dad through baseball, and baseball through my dad. When I was 8 years old, he surprised me with tickets to see the Pirates in the 1979 World Series. It was an uncharacteristic splurge by a frugal man, but he and I lived and died through every game of that season watching "The Family" on its disco-infused ride to a championship.
A lifetime later, as my newly-beloved Nationals roared into the playoffs, I was humbled that the honor would fall to me, now a dad myself, to bring my own son to a game. And thus began a sacred rite in the lives of men.
I had a clear vision for the entire event: I would buy 3 tickets and only 3 tickets. They would be for me, my 11 year-old son Nathaniel, and my dad. I would sit between them, an arm around each as I inhaled the day and reflected on the good fortune which led to three generations of us ensconced in red, behind rows of bunting, watching our Nats pound the smug Cardinals into dust.
It was a Wednesday, so dad would take the day off, as would I. Nathaniel had school of course, but so what? It is every American boy's birthright to one day be pulled out of school for a baseball game. He was to give no outward hints of this conspiracy, wearing his red Nats shirt under his school shirt.
My own part of the crime was in signing him out with the bullshit excuse of "family event," which felt like a lie at the moment but gained truth upon reflection.
As we all assembled before the game, I did my traditional compulsive ticket examination to make sure everything was in order. I had in my possession three individual tickets for that exact day. "GAME 3" they said... game three. They bore no date or time since those details were still undetermined when purchased. As I pored over the laser-printed sheets, a wave of dread washed over me—what if today is actually Game 1 since it's the first home game?
YOU'RE JUST BEING PARANOID, I thought to myself. GAME 3 IS GAME 3 IS GAME 3.
"Guys, hold on a sec," I said, as I placed a discreet call to the Nats ticket office. The voice on the phone would confirm the worst; I wasn't being paranoid at all. As far as the Washington Nationals were concerned, that Wednesday was indeed "Game 1." And we were fucked. Having tickets to “Game 3”— Game 5, in the literal sense; an “if necessary” game—meant we could possibly miss the series altogether.
I'll say now that I broke out in a cold sweat, and I probably did, but all I really remember is the sinking look on my dad and Nathaniel's faces, both bedecked in gear and raring to go, as I broke the awful news.
"Guys... I screwed up. These tickets are for Friday's game, not today."
They looked at me with disbelief and confusion. "How? WHAT? But they say 'GAME 3?!"
Frantically, desperately, I checked the Nats website to see if any last-minute tickets could be had. I felt stupid even trying, but there they were; just two, and in the PNC Diamond Club. Pricey of course, but at that point the price could have been "Left Nut" and damn if I wouldn't have offered up the other one, too.
"Shit," I said, looking up from the laptop and straight at my dad. "I can only get two." My dad, being my dad, did what he does: "It's okay. You guys go.”
And so we went. Day saved and boy thrilled, but me with a lump in my throat as I watched my dad get into his car and drive away. To Nathaniel, I was a hero for pulling victory from ashes. To myself, I had simply let down the man who'd made me a baseball fan in the first place. It was hard to recover, but seeing Nathaniel’s giddiness as we made our way to the park brought me back into the moment -- YOU'RE THE DAD NOW. AND IT'S YOUR TURN TO DO THIS. SO SNAP OUT OF IT, BUDDY. Which I did.
The beauty, the true splendor of that game—the first playoff baseball in Washington since 1933—cannot be overstated. It remains for me a gauzy memory of a brilliant blue afternoon spent swaddled in that happy, roiling sea of Nats fans. All smiles, Curly Ws, and “can you believe this?” joy.
The record states that we lost that day, 8-0. But it sure as hell didn't feel like it.
Epilogue: I was finally able to make things right in 2014 when all three of us attended Game 2 against the Giants. I’ll never forget the sight of Joe Panik’s almost home run in the top of the 9th, passing silently overhead like a ghost ship portending doom. A foul ball by mere inches.
Of course we also froze our asses off. And lost. You’re welcome, dad.