This September, with the Pirates on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in twenty years, I came home and announced to Bovey I bought tickets for a game.
What she heard: …tickets… blah blah blah blah.
“The Reds and the Pirates. Division championship and playoff birth on the line.”
What she heard: Blah blah blah blah blah.
I knew Bovey might respond this way, so I carefully selected this game.
“There’s going to be fireworks….”
No Chinese woman would reject fireworks, right?
Her ears perked up but she remained focused on her iPad. So I used all my ammo.
“…. and a concert.”
“Ooooh,” she said, her eyes lighting up.
When game day rolled around, we headed for the door and Bovey stopped, wondered out loud if she should bring a book.
What I heard: I loathe baseball and will turn to stone during the game if I don’t have something to do.
When she saw my wounded expression, she quickly gave up the idea of reading during the game, but I could tell she feared what seemed to her, a looming, endless stretch of time between the game and the fireworks and the music.
I grew up with baseball, played it, watched Pete Rose (yes, I’m a Reds fan at heart) beat out infield hits, bought baseball cards with the gum, thin as a wood shavings, tucked in the packets.
Bovey grew up in Hong Kong. Unlike some parts of Asia, the game is not played there. The only diamonds near Victoria Harbor are in shops under glass display cases, waiting to be dangled from the necks of wives and lovers.
At the field, we settled into our seats and it wasn’t long before Bovey wondered why so many Americans love baseball.
“It doesn’t seem very American. Not like football with all it’s action and violence. Why do Americans like baseball so much?”
When I didn’t offer an immediate explanation, she pushed me for one.
Bovey’s forever asking me these kinds of questions, plumbing the mysteries of America, hoping that I, by virtue of birth, can explain them to her.
“You must know.”
She believes so wholeheartedly that I must know, it makes me doubt myself. So I root through the corners of my mind trying to find an explanation, like lifting up sofa cushions trying to find my car keys. I almost feel like I need to prove I’m American.
“Every kid plays baseball. It’s a simple game. You grow up tossing baseball with your father, you play it in the backyard with your friends. It’s accessible,” I say, unsure of my answer but my confidence growing.
“It’s not like football where you need a lot of equipment. And you don’t have to be the biggest, strongest guy to be good.”
I hold my breath.
“You want to get some ice-cream?” she asks.
I notice while I’m explaining the mystery of baseball to her, she’s eyeing a kid in front of us, devouring his cone on this muggy evening, rivulets of white cream streaming down and across his fingers.
At first Bovey makes an attempt to watch the game, but every two seconds she asks me what happened. Have you ever tried to watch a baseball game, eat a hot dog, and drink a beer while explaining the concept of balls and strikes, the elusive strike zone, to someone who’s never watched baseball?
I’m starting to think we should have gone for sushi and ditched the game.
It rained all day before this evening, but soon large swaths of red and orange splash the horizon, all the seats fill, there’s an energy in the air, completely separate from the game; the threat of rain lifts and everyone relaxes, settles in, and Bovey loses interest in the action on the field.
The magic of baseball, of seeing a game in person with all the sights and sounds and aromas, gradually lures Bovey in and I can see her attitude changing.
A Reds fan standing on the stairs three flights above our heads yelps, “Who let the dogs out?” and his buddies sitting behind us crack up laughing and Bovey cracks up, too.
Watching the people and the scoreboard and the pierogi race, listening to the music and the banter, entertains Bovey. Then she gets positively giddy when we participate in the wave.
It starts in our section and floats around the stadium a few times before dying out. We share a high five, get back to watching the game.
Of course, we haven’t missed much. After all, there’s only about eighteen minutes of actual action in the average three-hour baseball game.
Soon the Pirates take the lead and Bovey gets excited, even scolds me for cheering for the Reds.
When I see Bovey enjoying herself, I’m set free from all the inertia that once blocked us from this moment.
The bribery it took to get her here, the endless questions, her lack of enthusiasm, it all ebbs away like a boat floating down the Allegheny River, flowing silently on the current, illuminated by the park’s lights, rolling out beyond The Point, into the darkness.