September 6, 1995 I flew to Austin, Texas to watch a baseball game on TV with The Lad who was then an undergrad at the University of Texas. The occasion was Cal Ripken's 2,131st consecutive Major League baseball game, breaking Lou Gehrig's record.
Baseball has been a bond between us.
When the Lad played Little League I rarely missed a game. In McLean, Virginia it was not at all noteworthy to see national leaders - Administration and Congressional, Democrat and Republican - working in the snack bar or helping prepare one of the fields.
It was not unusual to be watching a game, leaning on the centerfield fence with the head of the President's Domestic Policy Council on one side and a US Senator on the other, discussing the most important issue of the day: Shouldn't the shortstop (who was about 11-years-old) be playing a couple of steps toward second base with a left-handed batter up?
Over the years the Lad and I had gone to many baseball games in Baltimore; Washington, DC having been shut out of Major League Baseball since before he had been born. One night we saw Ripken make not one error, but two errors. The Lad was - literally - concerned that we were witnessing early evidence of the end of the world.
We had wanted to be together the night that Ripken broke Gehrig's record. We had dinner in Austin, went to my hotel room, ordered every dessert on the menu from room service, and sobbed in concert as, at the end of the fifth inning - making it a regulation game - Cal took a lap around the stadium in acknowledgment of the fact that the fans would not let the game re-start until he had done so.
In 2005, after 34 years, baseball came home to Washington. Two different clubs which had been called the Senators had deserted the city, so the current team is called the Nationals which is a double entendre in that they are a National League team, and they represent the Nation's Capital.
According to the Washington Post, in the years since the departure of Major League baseball to last night the population of the region doubled from less than three million to around six million; ticket prices went from top price of $6 to a top of $300 and gasoline has gone from 36¢ per gallon to well over three dollars.
At 6:52 AM, the morning of the Nationals' first game - exactly 12 hours before President Bush was scheduled to throw out the first pitch - The Lad came through the arrival doors at Dulles airport, returning the favor of my flight to Austin for a baseball game a decade earlier.
At 7:05 PM the first pitch from a Major Leaguer was thrown to a Major Leaguer in a real game.
Fathers and sons - parents and kids - have been going to baseball games for over a hundred years. This father and this son have been blessed to have shared unique opportunities over the course of our 30+ years together. That Opening Day was one of them.
That year, we sat along the first base line and watched a ballgame together. Ate hotdogs. Worried over defensive alignments. Ducked foul balls. And went home happy.
This year The Lad is in California so I sat in the press box. The game ended on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning by Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman who is the face of this franchise.
While I was in the interview room waiting for the post-game press conference with manager Manny Acta The Lad sent me an instant message which read: "Walk off! Go Zim!"
Zimmerman, who in a little over two years in the majors has had four walk-off homers, came to the interview room after his manager had finished. He was asked if this was the most thrilling walk-off home run.
"No," he said. "The first one was. It was on Father's Day and my dad was in the stands."
See what I mean?
Fathers and sons and baseball. Life might get better than that, but it doesn't have to get much better.