The tears started during the 7th inning stretch, and by the 9th, I was praying for extra innings. It wasn’t the one game, it was the culmination of roughly 14 years of ball crashing to the field all at once, like a barreling collision at homeplate. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so much joy and happiness, and sadness at the same time.
I’d watched my oldest, Megan, finish her final softball games the two weeks before. She was scheduled to go to college at the start of August, and told me she wasn’t going to play ball in school. She’s loved the game since she started playing t-ball when she was 4yrs old, but realistically, it started way before then. When Amy was pregnant she bought me a baseball onesie, and I joked that meant our baby would be a girl, like that was somehow going to stop her from loving the game. When I was on duty, I’d rock her in my recliner with a bottle in one hand, while the two of us would watch the game. I’d sing ‘Take Me Out To Ballgame’ to her at bedtime. Since she was a leap year baby, it meant she was literally born at the start of a new season. But there she was, playing her last games. She hit two homeruns that weekend, including a grand slam. As she walked off the field I gave her a hug and held her a moment. Watching her had been my greatest pleasure. I wept as softly as I could, overcome with an emotion akin to the death of a loved one. I didn’t expect it, but there it was, behind the reflected lenses of my sunglasses.
It was May, and I was in line at the DMV with my youngest, Mads. We were waiting for their driver’s license when I gasped out loud. The Dodgers were holding a summer Fantasy Camp at Dodger Stadium. I’ve been to a number of Red Sox camps, along with a few with the Pirates at PNC Park. Dodger Stadium has always been a Top 5 park for me, but for Megan, it’s always been #1. I took the kids to Dodger Stadium for the first time in 2013. We’d made an epic road trip, just the three of us, and since then, Megan has seen more games at Dodger Stadium than any ballpark, including our home park in Seattle. And now they were holding their first camp at Dodger Stadium at the end of July. It was fate.
I text Amy while we’re still in line. My stomach hurt immediately. I had visions, standing nightmares, of it selling out in the time it would take her to respond… She was OK with it. But what about Megan? We’d talked about doing other things during the summer, but she ultimately wanted to stay home to be closer to her boyfriend before going to school. Would she even want to go? We texted on the way home. She was in. I found out later she had been texting with Amy, who encouraged her to go. She told Megan it would mean a lot to me. She had no idea.
I don’t know how many of you have sent your first kid to college, but it comes with a whole lot of emotions. I’d managed to stay level most of the summer, outside of her final tournament, but things in the house had been dicey. It had been a summer filled with goodbyes at school and at home, and leaving for school hung like a specter the night before we left for camp. Megan feigned excitement, and I could tell at that moment in time, she was doing it for me. We’d boarded our flight and landed in Orange County when I could see the stress start to fade. By the time she’d had her In N Out (I don’t get the hype, but we have to stop every time we’re there, which is pretty often,) things started falling into place.
We pulled up to Dodger Stadium that night and I could feel the smile stretch across my face as we checked in at the top of the park. Like other Fantasy Camps I’d been to, the camp was filled with mostly men of all ages, sizes, and skill levels. Megan had wondered if she’d be the only woman at the camp, but it ends up there were four in total, which balanced out perfectly between the four teams. As we stood in line waiting, Megan was quick to say ‘Hi’ and introduce herself to the other people in line. It was fun to see her so outgoing, and really helped dampen any fears I had of her meeting people at school.
Checked in, we took the elevator downstairs to the Dugout Club, walking past the wall of Cy Youngs, MVPs, Gold Gloves, and of course, World Series trophies. Rick Dempsey, Bill Russell, and Orel Hershiser were all talking with campers while Megan and I checked out the most important thing, the spread. It wasn’t the filet and salmon that caught our eye, it was the dessert table. LA-adorned caramel apples, cookies, and cakes… It felt like a shame to spoil dessert with dinner. Out of the camps I’ve been to, the Dodgers spread was undoubtedly the most impressive, and was a promise of the few days to come. Orel Hershiser spoke to the camp, before passing his World Series rings around the room and taking pictures. Megan and I walked out to the completely empty field and just stared out at the dark. If only we could have slept there.
Like other camps, the night before is the absolute worst, it’s like being a kid on Christmas Eve. It’s a tough call which was harder; waiting to wake up to stockings and the GiJoe or Transformer I wanted, or knowing that I have a jersey waiting for me in a locker with my name on it. Megan and I walked down the stadium hall to the locker rooms, passing through the men’s locker room first since we had to cut through to get to hers. I had her wait just long enough to make sure everyone was dressed before we walked through. I glanced at my locker but had us press through, I wanted her to have her moment. The first thing she saw was her #7.
Megan and I had played catch at Dodger Stadium a few years before. We’d ran on to the field before fireworks and played a rushed game of catch while a few onlookers wished they’d thought to bring their gloves. When we went to a game the next year, it went extra innings, so the on-field access was canceled for that night. Megan was so bummed that we left before the fireworks started. But here we were, not only stepping foot back onto the field, but doing so wearing full Los Angeles Dodgers uniforms!
The morning started with a slow churn through individual and team pictures. It’s hard not to look at the field and just long to play on it, but if we were stuck waiting, at least we were waiting on the field. We’d been selected to Steve Yeager’s team that we referred to as the Yeager Bombers. Steve Yeager was co-MVP of the 1981 World Series, ended his career with my hometown Seattle Mariners, then became an accidental ‘movie star’ and technical advisor for the Major League movies. (Fun fact, he posed semi-nude for Playgirl too, for the curious.) We got to know the rest of the team while we waited. The teams looked pretty well balanced, but if I had one criticism of the camp, it would come down to team size. With 18 and 19 players per team, it meant we’d be seeing less playing time over the few days.
After pictures it was time to hit the field! Like other camps I’d been to, the team had us rotate through infield and outfield stations, as well as gave us a chance to throw from the mound in the bullpen. It felt good to get some practice in. I don’t play outside of camps, as much as I would love to, so I need the time to see some balls. It’s hard coming in cold and tracking fly balls, so I was happy to see a little action. Since camp started, Megan almost seemed like a celebrity. There were a few young men there, but of the four women, Megan was the youngest by a lot. I had a few awkward interactions from people that wondered if she was my wife or girlfriend, which I’d laugh and respond, “No dude, she’s my kid.” Megan heard that too, laughed, and said “Gross! Why do they think that?” The only response I could come up with was to shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, it’s LA, kid.”
I smiled a lot those few days, but if there’s one moment that really got me it was when I heard someone say “Holy shit!” behind me at first base. We’d rotated from the outfield to the infield. I have an arm like a wet noodle so asserted myself right to first base. Since we were just doing infield drills, Megan wasn’t catching, so Steve Yeager told Megan to go to third base. The ball pushed through the infield and from base to base. Most balls in from short or third would hop once, or sometimes twice, before finding the first baseman. It was Megan’s turn to field at third, a ground ball up the line to her glove. Stepping up, she fired it from third to my glove at first on a line. “Holy shit! Your kid has a cannon.” Ear to ear smile.
I can’t tell you how long I’d dreamed of sharing the field with Megan. I’d always imagined she’d join me at Fenway Park, and had visions of us playing there in May until the Red Sox rescheduled our reunion game for September. But here and now, at Dodger Stadium? Like I said before, it was fate. The way everything lined up, it was just meant to be. I took an extra long look down the first baseline at Megan catching the few warm-up pitches, pounding my glove between infield warm-up throws, and scuffing my shoe along the top of first base. Let’s play ball.
The majority of the games are a blur. I don’t remember the individual plays or hits, outside of a few anyway, but I do remember the joy. As I walked out to first base during the last game, I heard the organ play the first few notes, then I heard Megan give a startled “Oh” and her eyes immediately welled up with tears. “Take me out to the ballgame…” She came up to me at first and I put my arm around her as we swayed from left to right with the song. Reality was starting to come back into full view, but we still had an inning and a half to go. She moved back to catch, pulling the facemask down in front of her tears. Yes, there is crying in baseball.
Our team was 0-3 going into the last game and looking for our first win. We were ahead going into the bottom of the 9th. Megan went out to catch the last inning and I walked out to first. Someone asked me if Franko should be at first and if maybe I should go out to the outfield. I’m a team player, but for me this half inning was about one thing, enjoying the last inning of my daughter’s last game, together on the same field. One out. Two to go. A soft fly ball to first base and I moved in to receive it. I’m not a religious person, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say a prayer moving in on the easy pop-up. I caught it in front of the bag, out number two. A few men on, then out number three. We’d won our first, and last game. A wide grin painted Megan’s face as we cheered on the win and lined up to greet the other team. We took a long look at the field one last time, before heading in to change. The camp ended with a championship game that we watched from the stands, like countless Dodger games we’d watched together before, and certainly will again.
The camp had a team recognition on the field to end the day and unsurprisingly, Megan won MVP for our team, and she’d earned it. Steve Yeager told her she’d had a great camp, but it probably didn’t hurt that she was a catcher and wore #7. She’d played hard, catching in the July heat, batted well, and most of all had been a good teammate. Every inning we weren’t on the field she was cheering the team on, encouraging every guy at bat, and loving every minute of it. I loved every minute of it too.
This year is going to be a hard adjustment. Knowing she’ll be so far away. Knowing she won’t be playing ball in school. There’s a saying in sports, it’s ‘Leave it on the field’. I felt like we left it all on the field that day, but I know one thing, I’m really hoping we can go back and pick up where we left off.
Enjoy the journey, kid. I’ll be here with my glove when you come home. Love, Dad.