Paul Jacob

Baseball is life. One minute you're up; the next you're down.

I know this. You know this. Boy, does Christopher Ratte know it.

And we all know that taking your kids to a ballgame is the quintessential American rite of passage . . . to be celebrated, cherished, protected.

Just be careful buying the kids lemonade at the game. Your loved ones' very well being may depend on it. Give 'em a soda loaded with caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup instead.

It's safer than lemonade, but only because some lemonade is hard — spiked with 5 percent alcohol. There are commercials for this stuff on TV.

I know this. (At least, now I do.) You know this. But Chris Ratte didn't know.

Ratte doesn't watch television. And yet he dared to take his son Leo, seven, to the Detroit Tigers April 5 game against the Chicago White Sox. As a Tiger fan, I can tell you nothing went right. The Tigers lost 5-3.

But here's the other thing that was problematic. On the way to Section 114, down the right field line, just as the seats jut out closer to the field in Detroit's beautiful new ballpark, Chris stopped to get refreshments. I don't know what he got himself. No one's been forcibly confined over that decision. But he bought his son some lemonade.

Mike's Hard Lemonade, to be exact.

Being a father myself, and at times an idiot, I can empathize. But even more so having been to Comerica Park with my then 6-year-old daughter, who loves lemonade. (We beat the Sox on our visit.) My then 14-year-old daughter and my brother went with us; the conversation at the concession stand went something like this:

"Lil, they have lemonade, do you want that?"

"Yes!"

"Paul, that's hard lemonade," says my brother. "It's got alcohol in it."

"How 'bout a Sprite, Lillie?"

Chris Ratte may want to start going to games with my brother.

Luckily no one thought Ratte was purposely getting his son sauced or anything like that. Somehow that's not been a strategy parents often employ for child management. Especially at the ballpark, there are many better alternatives.

Folks might be more skeptical if we weren't talking lemonade. For instance, if the 7-year old were smoking a Marlboro and the father said he thought it a candy cigarette, no one would buy that excuse. But lemonade is another matter.

The Comerica Park security guard certainly understood it was all a mistake. He saw the kid and "the bottle" in the ninth inning and asked the father about it.

The nurses and doctors at Children's Hospital, where father and son were rushed via ambulance, were not concerned about mistreatment. They drew blood and found nary a trace of alcohol in the little boy's system. The resident who examined Leo wrote on his chart, "Completely normal appearing. . . . He is cleared to go home."

A policewoman interviewed Ratte and his son at the hospital and was absolutely sympathetic as well. But her supervisor insisted the case be turned over to Michigan's Child Protective Services.

So CPS came to the hospital to take Leo from his father. And mother, too. So that this 7-year-old could top off his trip to the ballgame with three days in state custody.

Only then did a judge order the 7-year-old returned to his home, with his mother, over CPS's request to hold him until their investigation was complete. But as part of that order, Leo's father, Chris, was forced to leave the home. To stay at a hotel. It was five more days before the family could legally reunite.

It shouldn't matter, of course, but it might interest you to know that Mr. Ratte is a tenured professor of classical archeology at the University of Michigan. His wife is also a UM professor. Wonder what might have happened had he been a ditch-digger? Had he been a widower?

Leo might still be in foster care. Far from home.

Maybe life isn't baseball. Baseball makes more sense.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.