Living in an apartment on your own with a big kid job and a salary (you mean I get money every month?!) changes you. I can drink craft beers and read non-fiction books about current events and pay electric bills - just like an adult. But something about the turn of the page from winter to spring, and spring to summer makes me feel like a child again. The smell of the hot sun on pavement, the blossoming trees, the growing grass... soon school will be out, and the Rocky Mountains, Coors Field, and a job with an hourly wage will share me for a few glorious months.
Then I take a deep sigh, and remember that there's no summer break. The sun will stay out longer, the weather will get warmer, and nothing about my routine will change. This is just something that comes with the microbrews and the utility bill.
When this discouraging thought became too much, I decided to spend a few of my precious vacation days to make my first pilgrimage to baseball Mecca. Spring Training. For company, my parents and one of my brothers (on spring break, of course - youth is wasted on the young!) tagged along.
The tick-tock of the turn signal, my parents talking quietly in the front seat, my brother, asleep with his head against the window - I sit in the backseat, feeling like a kid on a summer road trip. Some kids can't fall asleep on Christmas Eve, I can't fall asleep on the way to see a bunch of meaningless baseball games.
After spending the whole day in the car, we quickly settled into our digs (the winter home of a family friend), and headed to Salt River fields for the 7:10 first pitch. As we relaxed on the grass, we were treated to a rare Spring Training one-hitter. Thanks Esmil Rogers/Pablo Sandoval. Exhaustion, aided by beer (Here I see the difference between real adults and new ones - my parents enjoyed Sierra Nevada, while I saved a whole buck fifty on my Coors Light AKA "alcohol water"), took over, and we decided to leave exploring the facilities until the next day.
We arrived at Salt River Fields rested and ready to begin the day. As my dad, brother, mother and I unpacked blankets, sunflower seeds and scorebooks, a man in a golf cart rolled up and stopped behind our SUV. I looked at him out of the side of my eye - we had paid to park, this is where the attendant told us to do so, and we were maybe 150 feet from the fields - what shenanigans was this guy up to?
"Hop in!" He motioned to the seats in the back of the cart.
"Nah, we can walk. Thank you though."
"Seriously. Get in."
We looked shiftily at each other - we're Coloradans. We don't accept help anywhere when we can simply walk there. We scoff at the escalators in the airport, and we certainly don't need this guy's assistance to get across the parking lot.
What the hell, we're on vacation. We ate our pride and squashed ourselves into the golf cart. The driver turned away from the ramp to the park, and nodded at the security guard who moved the rope for us - we were going behind the scenes. Smiles broke on all of our faces.
We've arrived at the part of the story where you'll need a little background. Some of you may be familiar with my mother's unhealthy obsession with Todd Helton (or as she refers to him, "My Todd"). Some of you may even know the story of Rockies FanFest 2012...
Rewind to January 21st. Thanks to my mom's shameless pestering of the Coors Field staff, we found out the top secret location of the Todd Helton autograph signing. We had an opportunity to meet Mr. Rockie himself - along with his daughter, Tierney. While shaking his hand, I told him what an honor it was to meet him, and how especially excited my mother was.
"You're My Todd!" were the only words she was able to utter as he signed a ball for her.
"No," Tierney retorted. "He's my Todd."
"This is where the big boys practice," our driver told us as we rounded the corner towards yet another baseball diamond.
Then we heard a squeal like a dying animal, and for a second, I honestly thought the cart driver had run over a screeching lizard/armadillo/desert coyote.
"MY TODD!" My crazed mother had spotted Her Todd in the dugout of the practice field. I looked over to see my mom's arms fully extended, shaking like jazz hands with one leg kicked straight out in front her body. My fangirl mother had lost control of her limbs. Her Todd stopped dead in his tracks, wondering what the hell was happening.
"COME OUT HERE!" She shouted, in the voice she normally reserved for Her Todd hitting opposite field home run or a digging a ball out of the dirt at first.
Without hesitating for a second, he hollered back - "Come in here!" - one part serious, one part genuinely concerned for his well-being.
Before I could blink three times, my mom was through the chain-link gate and into the dugout. We frantically chased after her - me, in an effort to restrain her from hurting him somehow, my brother, to document the moment with his camera for future opportunities to embarrass her, and my father, who for the first time was entertaining the idea that Todd Helton might actually pose a threat to their marriage. To our surprise, he opened his arms and embraced my mother in a bear hug. Her Todd had no idea how he was exacerbating her insanity.
"DO YOU REMEMBER ME?!" My mom doesn't speak in lowercase in the presence of Her Todd.
He replied with five of the saddest lowercase words:
"Why would I remember you?" ("You crazy woman" was laced in the tone of his voice.)
Unfazed, my mother re-told the FanFest story (still in all capitals). Her Todd chuckled.
"Oh, yeah. Tierney thought that was funny." My mom's face lit up. He did remember!
After shaking Her Todd's hand and getting his signature on a ball, I became immediately and immensely self aware. I was standing on a major league practice field. Tulo was taking grounders across the infield, and Cargo was doing sprints out in right. Major League ballplayers were looking at me.
Then I realized it was because I was standing next to the woman who had just done a large amount of squealing and squawking at Todd Helton. Then I remembered I was related to that woman. Then I decided it was time for us to leave before we were embarrassed further.
After our golf cart tour ended, we sprawled on the lawn to the side of one of the practice fields where the Rockies pitchers, Jamie Moyer included, took batting practice. I watched him work on squaring up bunts, then showing bunt and swinging, and finally swinging freely. And then I realized; this 49 year old man is still playing baseball.
Whenever I think about "growing up", I'm reminded of the quote from Moneyball: "We're all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children's game. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty - we're all told." But is that true?
Maybe this whole "being an adult" thing is more than it's cracked up to be. Maybe it's about coming back from Tommy John's surgery at 49. Maybe it's about speaking in all capitals as you forgo all sense and jazz-handedly hug your hero. Maybe it's about finding something (or someone) you love, and pursuing it with everything you've got.
Now, if I could just get my mom to wash her jersey...