"A sick man just threw up on a lady!"
On a relentlessly humid August day in the classy town of Baltimore, a beer-drunk Orioles fan vomited chunks of Memorial Stadium fries and probably something with crab in it onto the feather-haired woman a row ahead.
I was fascinated.
"Is this what grownups do? Is that normal? Is that a piece of potato? How will she get clean?" For a 7-year-old, the Ken Singleton home run that followed had nothing on the aroma of chaos, on the palpable erosion of civility.
My father was not a man who enjoyed the unexpected, and my mother was not a woman who enjoyed a loud party. Their collective tension just enhanced the sweaty, heady fiasco. We planned to stay for the whole game, and so, damn it, that's what we were going to do. Schedules don't waiver, plans don't change. And something should be done about that man and that mess.
My attention was forcibly averted by one or more of my parents when the drunk started to move from bleary, shocked apology into indignation over the woman not being cooler about wearing second-hand stadium food. It did not take a turn for the better after that.
Everyone within 3 rows soon wore a hint of bile-scented sweat, and it became impossible to endure. We left, 5 innings into a losing game.
"Do you think Eddie will hit a homer for you today? Of course he will. You're here!"
Like magic, Eddie Murray hit a home run at every single Orioles game I attended throughout my youth. Any games that didn't comply with that slice of family lore were quickly swept under the rug, and it became its own truth, veracity be damned.
I always felt a charge watching Murray take the field, in even seeing the number 33 out of context. We had a connection which was verbally reinforced by my father hundreds of times each summer: "When Chrissy's at the game, Eddie's got at least one RBI in the bag."
On stadium days, a Murray home run was as sure as lemon ice, and I will always love him for that.
A life-sized poster of Cal Ripken, Jr. hastened my pubescence by at least several months.
Cal was my first intense crush (David Copperfield and Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington meant NOTHING -- they were just child's play!), and now I could stare at his flat, full-bodied likeness while rubbing against a heart-shaped satin pillow any time I wanted.
Celebrity milk endorsements have really been sapped of their dignity. But when Cal was representing, I couldn't help but drink my 3 glasses a day to feel closer to him. Just looking at the poster fortified my bones. He was super-hot sunshine.
The poster was also a growth chart, and the words "strong" or "drink" just sullied the clean lines of his uniform and the clarity of his blue, blue eyes. My GOD! Those eyes were so blue!! And the way he leaned on a bat? I bet he could really, really kiss a 9-year old like she deserved to be kissed.
My connection to Eddie was edged out by the certainty that Cal and I would be married soon. It wasn't anything that Eddie did -- he was a great guy! -- but you can’t deny the smoldering heat that burns between a 5th grader and her shortstop. Eddie stopped hitting home runs at every game I attended. I still cheered, but the sound came out all hollow.
The Astrodome represented ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING I hated about Houston and Texas and moving away from Baltimore and the horrible scale of the misguided ego of the Lone Star State's big-bellied inhabitants.
The sealed behemoth of a stadium managed to be both aggressively air-conditioned and prodigiously stifling. The food was twice as large and half as good. Drinks were served in large plastic boots -- cuz it's Texas, ya'll! Git it?
My father thought that taking in a baseball game would soften the blow of our sudden move and lessen the anxiety of entering junior high with an Ogilvie Home Perm and absolutely no friends. But people here weren't real baseball fans. Head-sized portions of BBQ brisket didn't make up for disinterest in a well-executed sac bunt. And they were playing on the same turf that Putt-Putt used. When the real big animatronic bull bellowed real smoke from its real big nostrils on the first home run, my young soul crumpled.
I kind of tried to enjoy the game for my father's sake. But I ached for home, a time and place where the home run itself was enough.