From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

The Best Game I Never Saw

Youth comes but once in a lifetime.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It was supposed to be a perfect day. I had tickets to a Cincinnati Reds game in one hand and the hand of my five-year-old daughter, Molly, in the other. She had an excited little skip in her step as we walked up to the escalator that would take us to the stadium gates. What a treat this was going be!

As we walked, I envisioned all the neat father-daughter things we could share. Why, I could teach her the finer points of baseball. We could do the “wave” together. There would be fireworks because the Reds were bound to hit a few home runs and, of course, win the game.

I could tell her all about the famed “Big Red Machine” and how I had rooted for them when I was growing up. We would eat hot dogs and popcorn and sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as we did the seventh-inning stretch. We would give each other high fives until our hands hurt as the Reds made big play after big play.

There was just one problem hovering over our heads. Rain clouds.

Oh, man, I thought. Not today. Please don’t let it rain today, God. This is such a special occasion. All my life I’ve loved Cincinnati baseball. Never in my life did I imagine I’d have the opportunity to be a father and bring my little girl to a baseball game. It can’t rain today. It just can’t.

But it did. In fact, it poured. By the time we found our seats, the game had already started—and been stopped because of rain. The first thing my daughter saw in grand old Riverfront Stadium—the place where I had rooted for World Series champions and seen many dramatic victories—was the ground crew rolling a big tarp out on the field.

I was extremely disappointed. We had driven two hours to see this? It wasn’t fair. Maybe, if we were lucky, the rain would stop at least long enough to see a couple of innings. Then I thought of Molly and how disappointed she must be.

But when I looked at her I was surprised to see her smiling. Those trademark dimples of hers were in full bloom when she nudged me and pointed to the ground crew.

“Look at that, Daddy!” she said to the men working side-by-side pushing what looked like a big roll of carpet on the field. “Cool!”

I knew Pete Rose was “Charlie Hustle.” I knew Joe Morgan could steal bases like no other and that Johnny Bench was the greatest catcher who had ever lived. But until Molly pointed it out to me, I honestly didn’t know just how “cool” the ground crew was.

We watched together in amazement and amusement as they worked to roll that big tarp out on the field. I’d really never paid much attention to what an operation that was before Molly had pointed it out to me.

As the rain continued to fall, the jumbo TV screen in center field began to show highlights of all the great Reds teams in past years. Good, I thought. I could at least point out to her who some of my favorite players were. But just as I started to focus on the highlights, Molly nudged me again and said, “I’m hungry, Dad.” I reluctantly got up and led her to the concession stand, frustrated all over again. I guess I wasn’t supposed to see any baseball—live or taped—on this day.

The rain may have stopped the game, but it didn’t stop the exuberance of little Molly. She had that explorer’s look in her eye. As most of the fans headed for home, Molly and I headed for a most memorable adventure—the ramps surrounding the stadium.

After devouring a hot dog and some popcorn, Molly and I decided to walk around the stadium. We came to the first of many ramps that wind their way up, down and around that big sardine can of a ballpark. Then Molly’s dimples popped out once again.

“Let’s run, Daddy,” she said.

My first instinct of caution gave way to the “oh, what the heck” spirit. So we ran down one ramp, Molly screaming in glee all the way.

Her spirit was contagious. As we reached the top of another one, no one else around, I decided to scream with her.

Inside the ballpark, those highlights I’d wanted to see were still rolling on the big screen. I could hear the voice of former play-by-play man Al Michaels screaming, “The Reds win the pennant! The Reds win the pennant!”

As Molly and I headed down another ramp, she screamed and I started yelling, “The Reds win the pennant! The Reds win the pennant!”

Up and down we went, ramp after ramp after ramp. Hand-in-hand we went. The rain fell. The crowd had left. The umpires and players were waiting for the official word that the game had been called. And underneath the stadium, Molly and I were having such fun.

It was a lousy day—weather-wise. There were no fireworks. The clouds covered the sky just like the tarp covered the field. But there was a great lesson in the silver linings of those clouds.

Fatherhood is grand, no matter what the weather. If you pay attention and are receptive to your children, it’s an event that never gets postponed. Just when things are bad, there is a ramp right around the corner leading to a shining moment. World Series heroes are nothing compared to the magic found within your own children. All you have to do is just look.

I’ll never forget that day with Molly. The day we went to my favorite ballpark and never sat in our seats. The day we went to see the Reds and watched the ground crew instead. The day when I didn’t see a single inning of baseball but came away from the stadium more exhilarated than ever. Not because the Reds won, but because I was a dad.

It was the best game I never saw.

Darrel Radford

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