[For part 1 of this story, see Wednesday’s “Boys, Baseball, and a Venture into the Unknown.“]
Gabriel and I, having left the restroom (hands washed with both water and soap), headed to the concessions stand. I was hunting for garlic fries at the request of Bryan, the Offensive Tackle. Gabe was demanding cotton candy, which the little blond hummingbird needed like gunpowder needs a spark… and I was praying the vendors were all out of sparks!
As we stood in line (I use the term “stood” very loosely) I tried to get the 5 year old firecracker to stop jumping and twirling and flailing. We had about a half dozen “close calls” with other patrons and their recently purchased food items. You see, Gabe is the perfect height to take most people out at the knees. Combine his stature with his propensity to spin and kick and bounce, add in passing pedestrians whose sight is obstructed by the tray of hot dogs and beverages they just purchased, and… well… you can understand why my blood pressure was rising like a the cost of mobile home insurance at the start of tornado season!
Speaking of tornadoes, the blond tornado who was millimeters from disaster with every spin-kick, kept imploring me to allow him to purchase the one item he could not live without- sugary sweet joy on a paper cone- cotton candy.
I, trying to play the part of the responsible uncle and sensible adult, kept explaining to him that if he couldn’t stand still the five minutes we were waiting in line, there was no way I would let him put more sugar into his system via a purchase of cotton candy. I know some of you are laughing right now, saying “Ryan, did you seriously think you could win that little battle?” You’re right. I knew I was on a sinking ship,his mother having already given him the money which he was holding in the air as he called for the cotton candy, but I had to at least act like I was trying! I understand that telling him to “stand still” makes as much sense as telling a leopard to stop looking so “spotty” and a cheetah to “slow down,” but at least the momentary appearance of control (if even in my own mind) was helping me to feel that I had not completely surrendered the course of the evening. After all, we weren’t even to the 7th inning stretch.
Well, the “discussion” continued, with the tiny tornado continuing to wreak havoc in line and my words of “you’re not getting any cotton candy if you don’t stand still” continuing to have as much effect as sponge in the ocean. But then I heard the words that gave me hope, words that encouraged me to believe that God does indeed hear the prayers of the weak and helpless and gives grace to the humble. As Gabe waved his five dollar bill at the concession stand attendee and said “I’d like some cotton candy, PLEASE” the reply came back… “we’re all out.” I looked at the teenage girl with an expression of dumbfounded joy. I stammered “r-r-really?” “Yup. We’re all out for the night. Sorry.”
I wanted to dance right then and there. Victory was mine! The ball of energy and movement would have no more fuel for the tank and he might even end up sitting silently for the rest of the game (Stop laughing. My clearheadedness was long gone.) I asked the girl for the garlic fries, a soda, and a box of cracker-jacks. I then looked at my distraught little nephew’s eyes and said “Well, is there anything else you want?”
In the song “The Gambler,” by Kenny Rogers, there is this line “You have to know when to walk away…”. That was the moment to walk away, maybe even run. It was not the moment to ask, “Is there anything else you want?” There is always something else. I mean, it is a concession stand. They have junk food galore and lot and lots and lots of candy. So, you know what he said, right?
“Yeah, Bubba… I want some Red Rope.” The particular item in question happened to be a three foot length of red licorice. Yes, it wasn’t cotton candy, but it would more than suffice to keep Gabe’s tank full and his motor running at a high level for the rest of the evening.
Having won the battle but lost the war, I returned with Gabe to our seats to watch the rest of the game. Bryan was overjoyed to see his long desired garlic fries and I was glad to see the game, my seat, and that Bryan was still in such a cordial mood.
The game progressed slowly, even for a minor league baseball game. Gabe finished the massive three feet of licorice in all of about 15 minutes. The hummingbird then discovered sixth gear and I began to fear for his safety. However, God, who kept me at the brink but yet preserved me from going over all evening, provided once again. When we returned from the restroom and concessions stand, Gabriel discovered a cute little red-headed girl named Emily sitting right next to his seat. They’d seen each other the week before at Vacation Bible School and they connected like they were long lost friends.
For a boy, Gabe talks a lot. There were moments throughout the evening when both Bryan and I wondered how Gabe could talk as much as he did and still find time to breath. His conversation topics ranged from “Bubba, watch me do this…” to “Bubba, do you know what eyeballs taste like?” to “Bubba, what happens if the bad guys win?” (both Bryan and Gabe concluded that since the ballplayers wore uniforms, what was taking place on the field was obviously an epoch battle between good and evil, with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance… and the home team was clearly “the good guys”). I mention the extent of Gabe’s vocal barrage for the purpose of impressing you with the power of little red-headed Emily… now that girl can talk!
I watched with awe and delight as, in moments, she lapped Gabe’s pace in the 3,000 syllable dash and then left him standing slack-jawed and dumbfounded as he couldn’t even find a break in her monologue to get a word in! Both Bryan and I sat giggling at the girl who stopped the mouth. Thankfully, this rocking of Gabe’s universe kept him busy for at least a few innings. Bryan, on the other hand, was busy making short work of his garlic fries, a third bag of chips, and an ice cream that proved grandparents and children have a lot in common- both are mischievous and don’t listen!
As I shared earlier, our seats were in the midst of a section full of grandparents. Most took great joy throughout the evening at observing my attempts at control and watching them continue to fail. However, some of the wise and aged thought they should take a more hands-on approach. One of the wonderful grandmothers (a woman I actually admire and appreciate) decided that Bryan needed an ice cream sandwich even though I had just told her “He’s had a hot dog, a soda, 3 bags of chips, and garlic fries; I think he’s done for the evening.” I turned my head away for mere moments (again delighting to watch the little red-haired girl show blondie what a real verbal barrage looks like) and when I turned back, guess who was eating an ice cream! Bryan sat (ice cream in hand, in mouth, and on his chin) coyly smiling and next to him this wonderful and loving grandmother was sporting the smile’s twin! She said, “I just couldn’t help it- he really wanted the ice cream!”
By the time I thought the game was nearing the end, Bryan had acquired a second soda and the little red-haired girl had started to use her lips for more than just talking to Gabe- she had decided she needed to plant a few kisses on his cute little hummingbird cheeks. I was just praying the game would end soon, so we could watch the fireworks, gather our things, and return home.
Remember when I said that God kept me at the edge the entire evening? How does 14 innings of baseball sound? Does that sound like the edge?
After the 11th inning, as I explained to my nephews that baseball just keeps going until somebody wins, I mustered the sleepy boys and started trekking for the parking lot. Most the fans in the section understood. I had two young boys, it was quickly approaching the next day, and it was a minor league baseball game. This wasn’t like we were attending game 7 of the Series or anything! However, there were a few who gave me grief about “leaving early.” I now know that these were on the Lord’s side, because apparently He didn’t think I should leave either.
As we went out of the stadium and started for the parking lot, I was unpleasantly surprised to find the road to our car was blocked by a barricade and a couple of security officers. After a brief conversation I learned that the parking lot was closed do to the potential for fireworks “at any minute” since clearly the game would end soon. If only!
So back to our seats we trod, defeated and sleepy.
The next inning saw the opponents pull ahead by one. However, I didn’t get off the hook that easily. The home team rallied for… you guessed it… the tying run! Another two innings and the opponents put up 3 runs to pull out to a substantial lead. However, in the bottom of the inning, we scored one more and then had runners at second and third with two outs. In that moment, my baseball fan’s spirit had to take a back seat to Mr. Common-Sense-I-Just-Want-to-Go-Home. I began to silently cheer the “bad guys” on to victory. I didn’t care if evil triumphed and if the universe inverted; it was approaching 1:00 am and we still had a fireworks spectacular to endure!
I actually cheered as the home team made the third out and left the runners stranded at their respective bases, to which Bryan responded with: “can we go now?”
“Sorry, kiddo, there is still more fun to come. We get to watch the fireworks!”
I was honestly trying to sell it. You see, Bryan is around 130 pounds. I really didn’t want him to fall into a deep sleep and expect me to carry him to the car. However, not even the loud boom and crash of a 15 minute firework display could ward off his slumber. There he sat, head cocked back, mouth open, with red and green and yellow lights reflecting off of his sleepy eyelids! I couldn’t believe he was actually sleeping through the fireworks!
The little blond hummingbird? He and the red-headed girl both “ooohhh”-ed and “awwwww”-ed through the entire show. After the grand finale, Bryan awoke enough to stumble to the car. We then had to wait in line to exit the parking lot, and a short drive later we were finally home (insert loud cheers here).
We actually did PJ’s, brushed teeth, and even said our prayers. Mine were simply a continuation of the prayers throughout the evening. However, instead of pleading for my life and sanity, I praised God for the blessings of my nephews, the joy of having daughters, and the wonder of His persevering grace to bring us through this adventure safe and sound on the other side- if you can mix baseball, boys, cotton candy and fireworks and come home with all of your limbs and most of your mental faculties, clearly God’s hand was graciously in your favor!