Last night, I had a perfect evening at the ballpark with two of my favorite people.
One was a young man whom I met when he was an inner-city kid who received a fellowship that took him to work for a summer with the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado. I've known this man (whom I'll call Kendall just to preserve his privacy) for eight years now. I became something of a mentor to him and have done my best to help him through more ups and downs than most people of my acquaintance admit to in a lifetime.
The other favorite person with me was Gabe who, at about 6 weeks shy of his 12th birthday, moves into a ballpark like a netted dolphin being re-released into the ocean.
The game started at 6:05, but Kendall, Gabe and I arrived early so Gabe could run around to the left field bleachers and try to shag batting-practice homeruns. He'd brought an indelible-ink marker so he could seek autographs; he came equipped with his baseball glove, a White Sox hat and sunglasses, because left field looks straight into slanting rays of the sinking afternoon sun.
Kendall and I stood a few rows behind Gabe, trying to converse, but batted balls kept screaming down at us from the upper atmosphere, rocketing off the seats and the concrete stairs. We moved to stand side by side so we could keep our eye on Gabe and on the meteoric baseballs at the same time.
Men jostled for position when a ball descended toward them from behind a scrim of bright sunlight. Once or twice, a fan with a glove would lunge in front of another fan just in time to snatch a souvenir away from him.
Then a ball was hit, and it was clear from the moment it left the bat that it was headed right for Gabe, who, standing in the first row behind the White Sox left-field bullpen, was about 350 feet from home plate. No one moved to jostle with him, and like an expert outfielder, he held up his glove, called out, "I got it!," and gloved it almost casually. Fellow souvenir-hunters applauded him. We got while the gettin' was good.
It had been a humid day, but as evening settled in, the clouds were chased away by a gentle breeze from the north. Mark Buehrle, the Sox' aging ace, pitched against Roy Halladay, the ace of the Blue Jays' staff. Both pitchers worked quickly and efficiently, and the game was over in just a little over two hours. The only runs were scored thanks to the efforts and enthusiasm of Danny Richar, the new Sox second baseman playing in his first major-league game, and Jerry Owens, a rookie center fielder, whose first big-league home run scored Richard ahead of him and the Sox won 2-0. The White Sox now only vaguely resemble their 2005 championship version. That's probably a good thing.
Kendall sat to my left, Gabe sat to my right. We were surrounded by colorful characters. During one lull in the action -- a collective moment of disbelief when the home-plate umpire missed what should have been a called third strike -- two men cried out in unison: Hey, Ump: Get off your knees! You're blowing the game! Non-parental adults laughed, while parents turned towards their children and said firmly that they weren't going to explain that particular joke. I explained it to Gabe anyway. He thought it was hysterical.
Directly in front of us sat a young man, maybe in his mid to late 20S, with his date next to him. The guy was fairly well built, but was wearing neither a belt nor underwear, so we were treated not only to a fine ballgame but a sterling show of Plumber's Butt for the entire evening. Gabe was tempted to try to throw a nacho chip so that it stuck in the young buck's butt-crack, but I told him that a true Sox fan only assaults umpires, not other fans.
The post-game fireworks show was timed and "choreographed" to snippets of well-worn classics like Blue Danube and Ravel's Bolero. From where we sat, the fireworks trailed down and seemed to drape themselves over a full moon, rising red over Lake Michigan. And as we drove home, the magisterial skyline of the Loop seemed to stand on tip-toe, looking for the first fireworks of Venetian Night.
For all the wonders of this summer, this was the best, most restorative evening of the season; the kind that makes time take a breather. The gifts of a ball dropping toward Gabe's glove, and the trailers of the fireworks dropping toward the ascending Moon, descended gently toward us without a care in the world.