I got to the ballpark half an hour early to watch puppies and their parents parade around the stadium. The people smiled and the dogs sniffed my camera lens and waited for scratches.
A Naturals hitter cracked a ball far above. I watched it float down, certain it would land in the stands. The Cardinals catcher reached into the Naturals’ dugout and caught the ball, falling to the ground until a coach caught him and pushed him back up.
I was in the photo well, 40 feet away. I never held my camera to the scene. I thought the ball would land foul. Dazed, I realized I still had Benadryl in my system after allergies gave me hives all weekend. I told myself I’d get the next photo.
But still, it’s like losing a prized rainbow trout every time.
I saw an old pal.
But still, I see the ball rattle off these walls sometimes, and I don’t like to stay on the third base side too long.
I went upstairs to find some soda and found bratwurst and cashew chicken in the media buffet.
I heard thousands of people gasp.
As I left the elevator and stepped onto the main concourse, I saw a man carrying a young girl, skinny legs draped over his arms. He was trailed by a handful of people and led by a security officer.
I wandered along the outfield grass and asked a stranger with a dog what happened. A kid got hit by a ball, but we couldn’t figure out where she sat.
A Cardinal tripled on a ball hit to shallow center.
I went back to the photo well by the Cardinals’ dugout: the first base side.
A gaggle of 10-year-old boys begged for a baseball. A player tossed them a ball and it fell into a camera bag in the photo well next to the dugout. I dug out the ball and handed it the first boy I saw. He was wearing a Royals hat.
The Naturals are a Kansas City affiliate based in Northwest Arkansas.
A Natural cracks a foul ball down the first base line. An employee waiting by the bullpen along the fence- the ballwoman? – fielded the ball cleanly.
The next pitch was hit fair. The throw went into the dugout.
The Birds were wearing light blue jerseys with the word “Cardinals” scripted across the Birds on the Bat, like Dizzy Dean used to wear.
The Cardinals recognize a veteran each game. I saw him drawing flowers in a notebook when I walked by his seat. He was a pilot, as my grandfather was. This man shook and trembled as he slowly tipped his cap to the cheering crowd.
I saw him as a young man, strong and brave, and thought of my late grandfather. He grew older, too. Tears rolled down my cheeks for the next twenty minutes.
A player in the visiting dugout swung a bat. He is a pitcher, and his team uses the designated hitter.
The gaggle of kids asked a Cardinal for a ball.
“Say please,” I suggest.
“Pleeeeeease!” they try.
The ballplayer was juggling the baseball like a soccer ball.
“You’re really good at soccer!” one yelled. “Futbol!” another added.
“They always give it to the cute kid,” one said.
“Here I am!” another added.
“Okay, boys, I’m gonna need you to take your seats,” an usher pleaded.
I hardly noticed the score.by