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A Youth of Summers Devoted to a Single Thwok
In life, we all have goals for what we want to do in the future. Whether the distant future or a few moments away from the currently, humankind strives constantly. Some people want great fortune, some want great fame, and some just want a great fondue now and again. That's another thing. Our desires are diverse and contribute greatly to what makes each individual in the world unique. This summer, maybe someone wanted to make enough money to get by in their next year of college. Maybe somebody wanted to create something new and exciting that they could be proud of. Maybe someone wanted to finally taste a deep fried Snickers bar. Or maybe someone wanted to get laid. To my knowledge, only one of these can give you syphilis. I've never had a deep fried Snickers bar, so the jury's still out on that.
Since 1999, my summers have always had at least two things in common with one another. The first, which I think should go without saying (too late), is that I have been alive through all of them (as proven by the fact that I'm still punching the keys like the phantom of the opera on crack). The second is that I have always gone to New York City on a day trip with my father to see a New York Mets baseball game. For 11 years, we have kept that tradition and still do. And for all that time, I have always had the ambition to catch something at the old ball game. A foul ball would probably be the thing to grant my adolescent wish, but I was open to options. Bats occasionally elude the grip of professionals and they always have that Pepsi Power t-shirt launch in the break during the halfway point of the sixth inning. Either way, I would be required to bring my distinctive cowhide hand guardian for protection and professionalism, stay alert with the focus of a Black Ops sniper, and be as highly concentrated as a mediocre pitcher of orange juice. These are essential prerequisites to attending a major league baseball game if one is to go home with something that didn't cost half a life savings at the gift shop or wasn't handed to them via random selection from the promotional gestapo.
So, as the tradition was carried on each summer, I made clear my ambition to be one of the lucky dogs to play fetch with the gents on the diamond. Often times, I brought my glove. Especially if we were in good position to catch something. But despite my annual steadfast determination, I always would ride the Bieber Bus with no ball, no bat, and no tightly balled t-shirt. Sure, I had caught a ball during batting practice that some insignificant Korean relief man lobbed into the crowd for the purpose of disposing of a quite grungy piece of equipment. That was nice, but it wasn't what I had set out for when the tradition started. It did not quell my adolescent desire.
Even after eleven years, even after I had seen every team in the National League play except for the stupid Marlins, the fire for an earned souvenir still burned rampantly in the wicker basket that is my soul. This year, we couldn't see the Marlins play due to scheduling conflicts; so we wound up seeing the St. Louis Cardinals for the second time in our decade plus one of athletic viewing. Since the new Mets stadium's seating prices are so mind-throbbingly exorbitant and almost blasphemous enough to wake up the Pope, my dad and I decided to go a bit higher up than last year when choosing our stomping grounds for the day. We wound up in an area referred to as the "Excelsior Club." Puh. Excelsior. Talk about pretentious. Back when Shea Stadium was still intact, the levels were simpler and less gawdy. There was the field level, loge level, mezzanine level, and the upper level. How could you tell the difference? The seats were different colors. "Excuse me, which one's the loge level?" "Blue seats." Case closed! You can't do that at Citi Field. All the seats look alike and everything needs a regal and/or promotional name now. Getting to our seats was like scurrying through the hedge maze from The Shining with Jack Nicholson on our heels and awkward men in bright vests asking to look at our ticket stubs.
And while I'm digressing, I'd like to get something straight here. "Excelsior", by definition, means "ever higher." And the level which graces the aforementioned high-altitude vocabulary term is very much below a large slew of other seats officially known as the "Promenade" level. If they really wanted to look like they knew what they were doing when they named the levels rather than appear to be just arbitrarily slapping on dopey fanciful words on anything, then they would have made the upper deck the excelsior level. And now I'm sweating. Let's get back on track, shall we?
Anyway, once we got to our seats and found some unsurprisingly wallet-emptying priced food, the game eventually began. I kept my eyes peeled, but I was enjoying immersing myself in art of the game and discussing strategy and such with my father. The Mets had been performing abysmally for the past few weeks, but seemed to have no trouble kicking the snot out of the visiting Cardinals. By the time the fifth inning was over, my team was up 6-1 over St. Louis. I had almost forgotten about the notion of catching items as the Mets shut down the Cards in their turn during the sixth inning, when the Pepsi Party Patrol jogged out onto the field. They were carrying large metallic cylinders and encouraging people to stand up. "Oh shit," my mind muttered. "They're launching t-shirts." My dad didn't stand up since it was overwhelmingly true that most t-shirts wind up touching down in the field level seats rather than where we were. And although I did agree with him, I stood up anyway; my determination faintly flickering amidst the nocturnal Flushing breeze.
To my surprise, these cannons were propelling t-shirts to primarily the Excelsior and Promenade levels. Each launch definitely seemed to have some velocity to it. I began to ponder the power that these marksmen wield. I'm sure that if one of the happy, smiling Pepsi Party Patrol people was having an abhorrent evening; they could replace the plushy cotton garments with shot puts and then really show the masses of eager fans a good time. These devices seem just that powerful to me. All in the name of second-rate soft drinks, I suppose. Since we were seated on the left field side and were therefore rendered unable to see what was going on down below, my attention was directed toward right-center field. It was fun to watch people catch a shirt and then celebrate. Makes me smile and fuels the fire of my desire. After a while, I craned my head leftward to check the time. But, instead of the time, my first sight was a t-shirt torpedo heading right in my general direction.
Now, had I known that this cannonfire was hurtling toward my noggin a few minutes in advance, I probably would have found time to pray, warm up my reflexes, and get in a position to grab my target and celebrate like any average fan would. Of course, life doesn't work that way. No matter how badly you want it or how rigorously you've trained for it, it will all come down to the heat of the moment. The irony of that is that, in the heat of the moment, I froze up. With a heat-seeking missile brought to me by Pepsi rushing up to greet me. I did all I could to make it mine. I threw up my arms and was met with a sizable THWOK that rattled my core and petrified my central nervous system. Ultimately, I failed to catch it, but managed to bat it down into the row behind me. When it reached solid ground, I turned around and trembled vigorously from the shock of it all as the sight of my prize evaded me. By the time I knew where it was, an older man nearby had already swooped down and snatched it away like a clueless pelican that gulped down the Atlantic Ocean's fish of the year award winner.
I didn't yell at the man, I didn't cuss at the man, and I certainly didn't show the man any indication that I was a bit blue about not catching the shirt. I restrained myself in the spirit of good sportsmanship, because that's what baseball is all about. However, that didn't stop myself from having a shitfit on the inside. Within my shaking exterior, there was a red-faced man ripping out his hair and enragedly punching my stomach wall while bellowing nothing but bad, offensive words in a raspy manner.
Amazingly enough, the man who got the shirt offered me his prize. He didn't want it and he must have known that Lewis Black's missing cousin was having an angry festival in my stomach, so he gave it to me. I accepted his generous offer and thanked him about seven times. I was still shaking, but I knew that post-traumatic stress disorder caused by America's pastime wouldn't last long. It didn't matter, my quest was complete. It might not have happened the way I envisioned back in 1999, but I still managed to meet my goal. In the end, the satisfaction of the finish line was completely worth the youth of summers devoted to a single THWOK.