I grew up going to baseball games with my dad. We sat in the third row, behind first base. He went to 20 games per season, and I went to many of them with him. What I remember are the magnificent sights, sounds and smells of Kauffman Stadium. The 1980s were the heyday of Royals baseball.
This was the era when people smoked cigarettes in sporting venues. Initially, my dad wasn’t smoking, so he would obnoxiously cough and wave his hands around in disgust. Because he started smoking again after he and my mother divorced, I think he did this not because he hated the smell, but rather because it tempted him to do something that he longed to do, but knew he shouldn’t.
My dad drank beer at the game. He’d buy an overpriced “ice-cold beer” and drink the low-quality beverage like it was the best thing he’d ever tasted.
I’d eat my malt, and notice the earthy taste of the wooden stick that served as a spoon.
I remember seeing the familiar faces of those who sat in our section. Season after season, we’d come together to watch game after game after game.
When it had rained, there was a woman who would dry our seats. We were in her section. Her auburn-colored hair went all the way down to her knees. I watched as my dad tipped her and chatted with her at every game.
My memories of baseball are filled with names like George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen and Steve Balboni. I can recall the roar of the crowd as we reacted in celebration or disappointment.
I vividly remember the 1985 World Series. My parents were divorced by this time. One floor up from my dad’s apartment lived some guys from St. Louis. We gloated when the Royals won the series.
I don’t think anyone went to school the next day. Everyone went to the parade to celebrate our city’s victory.
That was 29 years ago.
The last game I went to with my dad was 23 years ago, in 1991. I know this because that was the year he died.
He wasn’t a particularly happy person, and he had a lot of demons. But, in that stadium he was happy. From my young perspective, he didn’t have a care in the world.
Obviously, I was wrong.
Time moves on. Wounds heal. Teams change. World Series happen again and again and again.
I am now 38, the age my dad was in 1985. It’s strange to realize that you’re an age you can remember your parents being. I thought he was old, and I was frustrated that he hadn’t figured out his life. Time and life experiences can change one’s perspective. Now, I have more sympathy for his struggle to find his place in the world.
And now I watch the Royals’ games on my computer, which wasn’t possible in 1985. I am far from Kansas City, but watching the games makes me feel close to home and to my dad.
So much time has passed that I don’t very often think, “This would make him so happy.” But, I’m sure this 2014 season would have made him just that. Today, I can barely remember him as a physical being. And it’s such a shock when I smell soap that reminds me of him. It’s like a long lost memory being pulled up from deep within me.
Watching the Royals in this postseason has brought many of those sense memories to the surface, the senses tied to watching baseball with my dad. Memories I didn’t know I had forgotten. And for that unexpected result, this season feels like a gift that I wish could go on forever.
Emily Loeb lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two kids. She runs the Gendler Grapevine Project, which promotes the connection between Jewish tradition, social justice and the environment.