By Samir Shukla
We were sitting in the shade, but the humidity made its presence known on this late Sunday afternoon in early August. My young nephew's gaze was locked at the opening pitch of a baseball game between the Charlotte Knights and Gwinnett Braves.
The Charlotte Knights are in their 30th season. The team moved to their shiny downtown Charlotte stadium a few years back, the lovely Romare Bearden Park sits across the street. The two venues give families more reasons to go to downtown in the summer.
It's not quite summer if you haven't gone to at least one baseball game, whether it is minor league like the one Knights play in or a major league game in your hometown. It doesn't matter if you are a baseball fan. This is about a summer ritual, like a trip to the beach, lazing in the swimming pool, a stroll astride a mountain stream, corn getting scorched on the grill, catching fireflies, or in this case, hearing the crack of a bat against a baseball.
My nephew seems to enjoy going to the game, but admittedly baseball can be slow moving, especially to an easily distracted product of the digital age; a jittery 7-year-old. He looks at the scoreboard as I explain the numbers posted on there, changing with each strike, foul ball, walk, inning, and speed of pitch, among other information.
He loved it when a Knights player stole a base, getting a sly smile on his face when I explained to him what stealing a base meant. He understands stealing is wrong but in this context he got a real kick out of it and compared it to a situation in one of the video games he plays on whatever cell phone he can confiscate from a nearby adult for a while.
Of course, by the end of the third inning his mind floats to food, pizza specifically. There are lots of kids sitting around munching on various foods, so I couldn't distract him anymore and we strolled up the stairs to the food counters.
Back in the seat, a piping hot cheese slice in his hand, his attention returns to the game. The stadium is nestled and surrounded by tall buildings all around. We both wonder which building has the best view of the stadium from one of the balconies. It's a free game every time the team plays for those who live or work there, like having a giant live TV in front of you.
There is nothing like watching a baseball game on a soft summer evening. This stadium, nicely placed in downtown Charlotte, adds a special aura to the game. A slow game can test the attention of attendees. Baseball is not an edge-of-your-seat sport, although it can be at times. It's more like a long walk on a warm day, bits of discovery planted along the way. It's hard to explain its layered appeal to those who don't have an understanding or a deep affection for the subtleties of the sport.
I like sitting in the seats that are prime foul ball territory. I become like a kid anticipating a ball whacked high enough to make it to the stands and I'm there to make a perfect catch.
We were just getting up to go wash our hands after munching on greasy pizza and it happened. A ball flew high with a trajectory that looked like it was heading for us. We both looked for the ball in the air. Someone yelled “heads up" but unfortunately a guy few seats down from us was too busy sipping his bottle of water to pay attention and the ball landed squarely on his head.
It rolled off to the side and under the seats right where my nephew was standing. He picked it up, smiled and looked at me. The guy in the row behind us almost scooped it up but smiled and told him it's his ball.
The poor guy who got bonked on the head held the top of it tightly with both hands while ushers rushed to see if he was ok. It clearly must have hurt, but he managed to walk away after a few minutes.
If you are sitting in prime foul ball territory, paying attention to the game is requisite. We didn't catch the ball, but a keepsake was ours.
Baseball is the first American sport that I was exposed to upon our arrival to NYC in 1974. The New York Yankees, the Bronx Bombers, were World Series champs in 1977 and 1978. Those two seasons, particularly, colored my affection for baseball.
I have never been a sports fanatic, and I do occasionally enjoy watching football, basketball and others, but baseball draws me to go see it played live when I can.
The Charlotte Knights played in Fort Mill, SC for years until the new downtown stadium was built for them. It was a long drive, so many years passed and I didn't make it down there for many games.
The team's move to downtown Charlotte has renewed my affection and now I will go to a game or two every summer. The Knights obviously play in a much smaller stadium then my first exposure to baseball at Yankee Stadium in New York City. The smaller venue also makes it that much more intimate, as there are no bad seats in the place.
My uncle took my brother and me to Yankee stadium some 40 years earlier, which seemed like the most massive place we had been to till that point. It was an eye opener as the TV sets back then were about the size of laptops. Sitting in a stadium watching the game live brought it to life in a manner to inspire awe in a couple of youngsters.
This is the second year my nephew and I soaked in a summer eve at a baseball game in downtown Charlotte.
Who knows, a new tradition may be in the offing, a pizza run at the end of the third inning required.
Samir Shukla is Saathee's Editor.
By Samir Shukla