17 May 2007

Out to the Ball Game

Our kids became big White Sox fans during the 2005 playoffs, and watched a great many games with me last year on television. Finally, today, we were able to attend a game at U.S. Cellular Field (aka Comisky Park) on the South Side. My wife, meanwhile, treasured the eight hours of quiet time she'd be getting at home.

We managed to arrive with plenty of time before the first pitch, but faced a tough decision at the ticket counter: great seats for $59 each, so-so seats for forty something bucks, or nosebleed seats for $25? Given that we had to buy four tickets, I opted for the $25 option, but felt guilty about not splurging for the big event. That guilty feeling lasted for exactly ten seconds, however. When I told the kids we were going to the upper deck, all three of them cheered. "Yeah! We get to be on the top level!" They got just as excited about riding the escalator. And once we got to our nosebleed seats, they actually asked if we could go all the way up and sit in the very top row. I explained that we really wouldn't be able to see anything from up there, and they seemed to accept this answer. Meanwhile, I couldn't help comparing their attitude to our experience with Christmas: no matter how expensive the gift, what they enjoy the most is playing with the box it came in. These upper deck seats were the box. And they loved being up there on top of the world.

The park was surprisingly full, for a Thursday afternoon; announced attendance was over 30,000. Schools must be letting out for the summer, because there were many children there. Anyway, it was a spectacular day to be at the ballpark: sunny, warm, light wind, blue skies. On reflection, I guess it wasn't surprising so many people were there.

The Sox played a great game, and our kids had fun interjecting all the play-by-play terminology that the team's legendary announcer, Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson uses on television: "He gone," after a strikeout; "can of corn," for an easy pop fly; "duck snort," for a flare single; and "you can put it on the board...YES!" after a home run. It's really fun how these kinds of things have become a family ritual with me and the kids.

There was a group of twenty or so people in front of us who were clearly all together. Many kids, and several parents punching away on Blackberries and Treos. Most of the kids were about the same age as our own, in the 8-12 range. As I watched those kids, I couldn't help noticing how much "older" than our children they seemed. Not sure how else to describe it. It wasn't a question of maturity. There was something in the way they dressed, and carried themselves, and interacted with each other that seemed to speak of growing up faster than our children are. Our kids seemed so much more...what's the word I'm looking for? Innocent? And I mean that in a good and healthy way. Something about the children in front of us just seemed to speak of having been marketed to their whole lives, and to immersion in youth culture. Don't get me wrong: they seemed like very nice kids. But they seemed to be living on a different planet from our own. And I like our planet better than theirs.

One little example: As much as our kids love the Sox, we've emphasized that we do not cheer against other teams or hope other teams lose. Our children have no concept of "rivalries." On the rare occasion when the Chicago Cubs win a game (sorry, had to throw that in), our kids think it's great that another Chicago team has picked up a victory. When the Sox play the Mariners, they know Daddy cheers for the Mariners...but he's not upset if the Sox win, and they're not heartbroken if Seattle wins.

Why do I bring this up? As we were walking to the ballpark today, several vendors were out in the parking lot selling t-shirts. One of these had shirts declaring "CUBS SUCK," and other (unprintable) derogatory things about the Lovable Losers on the northside. I tried to hustle the kids past these vendors, but my daughter couldn't help spotting them. "Daddy," she asked, "What does that mean: Cubs 'SOU-kay'?" Although part of me was tempted to burst out laughing, I immediately caught myself...and was overcome with gratitude that this beautiful little eight year old girl was so innocent that she didn't even know the word "suck" --- let alone understand that it could be used to denigrate a rival. Heck, she didn't even understand the concept of "rivalry." I told her it was a silly shirt, and that she shouldn't look at these things. And that was good enough for her.

A moment later, as we approached the gate of the ballpark, my oldest son excitedly commented, "This is so much fun already!" I gave them all a hug, and replied, "And it's only going to get more fun." And I marveled at how easy it was to entertain them. They haven't been saturated with contemporary media culture. They haven't been bombarded with children's television programming, or cartoons, or movies, or marketing campaigns. They've had the freedom to be kids. They're still childlike, which is exactly what children should be.

Thank God for that. And hopefully we can keep them that way for a long, long time.

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