Took the kids to my childhood the other night, turning them into me and me into my dad for a heart-crushing good time.
See the home team in the third-base bunker? That’s the Visalia Rawhide, but we still call them the Oaks.
And that team in gray on the visiting side? That’s the San Jose Giants, but they’ll always be Fresno’s L’il Giants to us. We cheer for them today, Visalia the rest of the time.
This place is Recreation Park, no matter what the marketing strategy on the sign out front insists. We’re giving our Friday night to minor-league baseball, peanut shells and remembering when I was their age at the only place left that makes me feel like a snot-nosed kid again.
The two-seamed fastball still pops in the catcher’s mitt, even if it belongs to a Kansan named Tyler Baker, and not a cool cat named Chili Davis.
The maple stick still cracks, even when swung by a clubber named Rudy Flores, and not in the chubby grip of Kirby Puckett.
They still play “Y.M.C.A.,” and we still do the “Chicken Dance,” and why does John Fogerty still sing “Centerfield” when it’s clear Coach is never going to put him in?
This is where Grandpa Dan brought me when I was little, as the kids wonder when’s the last time I was ever called little. We’d sit on the splintered green wood, keep score on the 50-cent scorecards, and wonder if our Dodge Duster just gave its front windshield to that slicing foul ball headed toward Giddings Street.
This old yard turns 70 next week, yet it feels just so wonderfully the same to us, no matter how many new bricks they lay, or how many fancy stadium chairs they add.
The beer still reeks. The cowbells still clang. The ump is still one eye short of being a cyclops. The dollar raffles are still a dollar, which makes them really cheap today or really expensive back then.
No, boys, you can’t scale the concrete hill behind the grandstand. The paint that reads “Keep off” may be faded, but the rule still applies.
Sorry, Ethan, but no throwing your hat in disgust when Visalia takes the lead. Please, Elise, don’t cheer so loud for the Giants, the locals may not appreciate it. Yes, David, we’re staying until the end of the game because, if we leave after the seventh-inning stretch, we’ll have to deal with all the Dodgers fans in the parking lot.
That’s when it drills me.
My dad is gone, and has been since last September’s pennant drive. I’m Dad now, the one shelling out five bucks for an Icee, telling the boys that pitch was a slider, and telling my girl to watch how the catcher frames breaking balls into corner strikes because she’s a catcher, too.
You realize the kids are the new you, and that they look at you the way you looked at your pops when you were a third-grader. It makes you feel older than 43 should feel.
You’re relieved Recreation Park has stood the test of time, so you can do with your kids what your dad did with you, where you guys did this in the ’70s and ’80s.
It makes you wish Dad was around for one more season of paying for the cotton candy, yelling at the blue, and telling stories of going with his dad from their upstate New York home to watch the Giants at the Polo Grounds when he was your age.
It leaves you choking up memories made in places like The Rec, where everything stays the same no matter how much they change. The game, the music, the concession stand hot dogs, the green wall, the pipe organ soundtracks, the synchronized clapping.
Take me out to the ballgame, indeed, to be a kid with my kids again.
1. The Lakers fired former player Byron Scott for doing exactly what he was hired to do: keeping the pool towels washed and folded as Kobe Bryant took the whole ship of a franchise into the tectonic deep with him. They’ve hired another former player, Luke Walton, to make this boat float again. We like his chances, but only if the Golden State Warriors assistant can bring Stephen Curry with him.
2. Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil smoked herbs and pocketed cash from his coaches. Does this mean the Rebels have to forfeit their 73-21 meat-mashing of Fresno State, because we’d hate for the Bulldogs to be the only team to rue the day.
3. All Fresno State softball does is not lose Mountain West Conference games. Remember that next time the 20th-ranked Bulldogs are in town and you want something worth doing.