A baseball game this father and son will never forget.
Baseball is a tradition in my family. Some of my best memories growing up were the days my dad took my brother and me on the 90-minute drive to San Francisco to see the San Francisco Giants play at Candlestick Park. We saw a lot of baseball history being made, like when Willie Mays and the Giants won the National League pennant in 1962.
When I had my first child, Zach, Paw—as Zach called him—had another youngster to school in all things baseball. Unfortunately, by the time Zach was old enough to go to games Paw could no longer go. He had Alzheimer's and had to move into an assisted-living facility. Zach couldn't understand that Paw would never "get better" or why we only saw him in his "new home."
"Why don't we take Paw with us to a Giants game, Dad?" Zach asked one day as we drove home from a visit. He wouldn't understand a medical explanation, I barely could. The permanence of this disease seemed completely unfair, the situation painful. But I couldn't bear to dash Zach's dream. I just couldn't. "Maybe someday we'll all see a game together," I said. Maybe someday.
Even if we couldn't attend ball games together, our bond of three generations stood strong. Paw was Zach's biggest fan until he passed away. After he died, the world seemed pretty gray for all of us, but especially for Zach. "Now we'll never see that game together," Zach said the day of Dad's funeral. I should never have raised Zach's hopes, I thought. I always knew it couldn't happen.
Several weeks after Paw died, a good friend who was related to a Giants player offered us some complimentary tickets. I hesitated. Since his death, even baseball had lost some of its flavor. On the other hand, maybe that's just what we needed. It's what Dad would want us to do, I thought.
After thinking it through, I accepted my friend's offer.
We drove to the game in high spirits. "I can't wait!" Zach said as we entered the stadium. Pleasant memories of my father swirled around my head. I went to see the Giants when I was Zach's age with you, Dad, I thought as we walked up to the will-call window.
"First and last name with some ID, please," the attendant said.
I slid my driver's license under the partition and ruffled Zach's hair. The attendant flipped through a stack of envelopes. She looked worried.
"I'm sorry," she said finally, "there aren't any tickets here for you."
"There must be some mistake," I said. She checked again and still came up empty. We backed away from the window in shock. The game was sold out and I didn't have the money for scalped tickets. Lord, I should have been straight with Zach. We weren't ever going to see a game with Dad, nor did it look like Zach and I would see this one.
Zach looked down at the ground upset, when someone walked over to us.
"Are you taking your young son to the game?" a kindly old gentleman asked.
"I was planning on it," I said, "but there was some sort of mix-up with our tickets. We didn't have any."
The man held up two. "Here," he said. "Why don't you take these?"
I blinked. Was he kidding? People didn't just give away tickets to sold-out games. "I'm sorry," I said. "I don't have the money for scalped tickets."
The man shook his head and waved the tickets at me. "Take them," he said. "I want your boy to see the game."
He put the tickets in my hand and walked off with a smile. I stared after him, still confused. "Thanks!" Zach hollered as the man disappeared into the sea of sports fans milling around the entrance. Zach tugged at my hand. "Come on, Dad. Let's go!"
Inside the stadium I led Zach toward the "nose bleeds," assuming we were seated up there. But when I looked at the box and seat numbers I stopped short and my mouth fell open. Zach bumped into me from behind.
"What's the matter, Dad?"
"These seats are right behind home plate," I said. "Only a few rows up!"
"Unbelievable," I muttered to myself all the way down to the seats. The seat next to us was empty. "The man who gave us the tickets must be coming," Zach said. "We can buy him a hot dog!"
It was one of the best game I ever saw. The Giants came back late with a grand slam to tie it up. They won in the bottom of the ninth with a slide around the tag at home plate. Zach and I were exhausted from hooting and hollering. When it was over I took a good hard look at the empty seat next to us.
"I can't believe nobody ever sat there," I said. "What a waste of a good seat."
"But, Dad," Zach said, "someone was sitting in the seat next to us."
Wow, could I really have been that caught up in the game?
"I didn't see a soul. Who was it?"
Zach grinned. "It was Paw, Dad. He was sitting right here with us the whole time. We finally did get to see that Giants game, the three of us."
I pulled Zach close. People around us must've thought we were feeling very emotional about the Giants' win. But only the two of us knew the truth: We were living a gift from above. Well, maybe three of us knew it. "Maybe that old man had it all planned all along," I said as we were leaving the stadium.
"I think that angel flew back up to heaven with Paw," said Zach. "They're probably rehashing the game." Just like Zach and I did all the way home.
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