The first real, ticketed sports event is a big milestone for any Varsity Dad. A few Saturdays ago, the family braved a spotty NYC subway system to head out to Coney Island for a Cyclones game.
Coney Island alone is a pretty wacky place -- the stadium is almost an afterthought; compare that to going to Yankee Stadium or Shea, where everyone on the train with you is going to the game.
It was a 6 p.m. start. On its face, that would be problematic, given an 8 p.m. (at latest) bedtime for the kid. But I figured that we would only stay 3 innings anyway and get home by 8-ish.
Thought about an obligatory trip to the famous Totonno's on Neptune, but the train took us 90 minutes and we were a little late.
Considered scalping -- I have had good success at Cyclones games simply being handed free tickets outside the stadium. We got an offer for two freebies in the bleachers -- eh.
Went to the window, looking for seats behind the screen -- I am a nervous parent, generally, and I figured that would be nominally safer from being pelted with a foul ball.
Turns out that there were 2 seats available behind the screen. $16 each. ("How old is he?" "2." "Oh, he can enter free." I love minor-league baseball. Try that at a Mets game -- or Dan Zanes concert.)
Walk in the stadium at around 5:45, first stop: Cyclones store. I am obviously a complete sucker for the kid purchases -- I didn't think twice. They could have been twice the price -- what price "first baseball game paraphernalia?"
Cyclones T-shirt: $20 (yikes... for a toddler? I take it back about the price insensitivity) Cyclones hat: $12 (that's more like it...and he LOVES the hat).
The cliched "priceless" part came next: After grabbing hot dogs (me, V.M.) and Nathan's french fries (V.K.), we were on our way to our seats.
Dead-center behind home plate, the section only went 25 or 30 rows anyway (love minor-league baseball). But we kept walking down, down, down. Row A, Seats 1 and 2.
On the aisle, directly behind home plate, nothing in front of us but a flimsy screen, then about 10 yards of grass before the ump/catcher/batter combo. Oh, and no one in our row, so kid gets his own seat, between his mom and dad.
They were, without question, the finest seats I have ever had at a sporting event. Gabe will never, ever have better seats in his lifetime -- not sure if that is a good thing or bad thing, given that it was his first try. I think he now thinks this is how all sporting-event seats should be.
Couldn't really appreciate the seats as a fan: Between helping Gabe with his food, swiping his fingers out of the netting, helping him track the location of Sandy the Seagull (the Cyclones' mascot) and playing with the 2-year-old directly behind us, also at his first game -- there was little attention paid... not that I expected much.
As it happens, it was a wonderful night, hot but with an amazing breeze coming off the ocean nearby. We stayed for 3 innings. Again: Gabe was limited in his attention span, and it was a good hour of a trek home.
Before we left, I brought him over to Sandy the Seagull to say hi and maybe get a picture. Much like Randy in "A Christmas Story" when he approached Santa Claus, the mascot from a distance was much friendlier than the 6-foot-5 bird up close. Gabe sort of freaked. We left.
(But not before I took a turn at the throw-a-baseball-with-a-radar-gun set-up. I was sub-40 to start, slightly over 40 on Pitch 2 -- sensing an unnatural tweak in my shoulder, for my troubles -- then let Gabe throw Pitch 3. Or "throw," as it was. The guy gave Gabe the prize anyway, a soft Cyclones baseball -- perfect to go with our stadium giveaway for that night, a baseball with Billy Joel's face on it.)
All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better first experience. (What? You mean it shouldn't be about me?) It was so fun that we went back two weeks later -- this past Sunday -- with Gabe's grandparents, only to have the rain pour down. We didn't even bother entering the stadium; the Cyclones lost to the Staten Island Yankees anyway.)
For this first trip though, I couldn't have cared less who won or lost. It wasn't about that, at all.