Lucy and I took our son Lucas to his first major league baseball game when he was 8 months old. A month later, we took him to his first fancy French restaurant.
Somewhat surprisingly, he attacked the smoked salmon, seafood sausage, potato risotto and creme brulee at Citrus with the unbridled glee of a Michelin inspector gone berserk. Not at all surprisingly, he slept through most of the game at Dodger Stadium.
Lucas was 5 last month, and over the past four years, he has had many more opportunities to sample my two favorite pastimes. He still loves to eat in nice restaurants--and to do most of the more traditional things that little boys like to do--but until The Strike, baseball (and the Dodgers in particular) had become his one true passion.
He could tell you the name and uniform number of almost every player on the Dodger roster, and even though he can't read, he could also recognize their names in the sports pages.
In the final two or three months before the strike, Lucas' first words to his mother on waking up every morning were, "Read me the standings."
He was soon able to recognize the names of most of the teams in both leagues, and over breakfast every day, he would "read" aloud, telling us each team's record.
"The Expos are the best team," he said the day before the strike. "I think they'll play the Yankees in the World Series."
Recently, Lucas told me he missed baseball "really, really badly." Then he said, "The strike's probably not going to be over until I'm dead."
When I assured him that not even the major league club owners could possibly be stupid enough to let the strike go on that long, he brightened slightly.
"Maybe it'll be over when I'm 7," he said.
I hope so. Given the mercurial nature of most kids' enthusiasm these days, I worry that by the time the greedy morons who run baseball finally agree to settle, Lucas will have moved on to something else, and the unique joy of baseball will forever be lost to him. This is, after all, the era of computers, video games, MTV and VCRs. Everything is speeded up, nothing lasts very long, and there's no shortage of competition for a young boy's attention--even if his parents are baseball fans.
I've rooted for the Dodgers since their Brooklyn days, and I've been a season-ticket holder for more than a decade--although I only go to 15 or 20 games a year. Lucy, a native New Yorker, has been a Met fan since she began taking her younger brother to Shea Stadium in the mid-1960s.
We didn't force baseball on Lucas any more than we forced restaurants or anything else on him; we simply made it available. If he wasn't interested, well, there are plenty of happy, healthy kids out there who don't know a baseball from a nectarine. But I think baseball offers a child enormous opportunities for learning about the concept of the team and individual sacrifice, about the dividends of practice and hard work, about how to win--and how to lose.
Lucas didn't learn anything at the first games we took him to, of course, but he did stay for the whole game each time, almost as quiet throughout as the Dodger bats. By 1991, when he was approaching his second birthday, Lucas was old enough to sit in his own seat. Since I have only two season tickets, that meant I took him alone, without Lucy.
We went to four or five games in each of the next three seasons, and he fell in love with the hot dogs and ice cream at Dodger Stadium, their resolute mediocrity notwithstanding. To my amazement, he never wanted to leave before the final out--not even when the Dodgers trailed, 12-2, in the sixth inning once and I wanted to go.
"We haven't sung the ballgame song yet, dad," he said.
He wouldn't leave after the seventh inning stretch and two renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" either, though.
Lucas liked the singing and the spectacle and the food, but he didn't show any real interest in what was happening on the field until we saw catcher Mike Piazza hit two home runs in one late-season game last year.
That instantly turned him into a Dodger fan and a Piazza fan. He mentioned Piazza often during the off-season and he frequently asked me when it would be April.
"That's when baseball starts, right, Dad?" he said repeatedly.
We went to six or eight games in the truncated 1994 season--he also went to a Dodger-Met game with Lucy--and Piazza played well every time. After he hit a grand slam in one game, Lucas became even more devoted to the Dodgers--and to Piazza.
When I bought an old set of baseball cards that included Mike Scioscia as the Dodger catcher, Lucas said, "Hey, what's he doing? Mike Piazza is the Dodgers' catcher." When I asked him in a pizza parlor if he wanted to order a "pepperoni Piazza," he got angry with me for daring to take his favorite player's name in vain.