Parent endures major-league case of All-Star guilt


When a big deal, like baseball's All-Star Game hits town, a tidal wave of guilt can wash over parents. You feel you "owe it to the kids" to be part of this "historic" event.

On game night you could see some of the effects of that guilt wave. Fathers positioned themselves and their kids outside the ballpark and held up signs pleading, in the name of parenthood, for tickets. I thought about getting my own sign: "Cheap dad needs three," but my pride wouldn't let me.

And so on game day I found myself standing in line with my kids in FanFest, a baseball theme park that for the past few years has shown up in the city that plays host to the All-Star Game. In Baltimore, it was across the street from the ballpark, in the Convention Center and Festival Hall.

I hate standing in line. And I tell my kids I get an allergic reaction -- anger-- when I step inside a theme park. But there I was, standing in line threatening my kids, 12 and 8, as they punched each other. We had been in line about an hour to get our piece of history -- baseball cards with our pictures on them.

Earlier we had waited in another line to partake of the video batting cage experience. There, against the simulated pitches of Baltimore's Mike Mussina, New York's Bret Saberhagen and Kansas City's David Cone, we had one hit in three at bats. At least that is the story we agreed on. Then we had waited in line for 20 minutes to take turns pitching baseballs that electronic umpires ruled either balls or strikes. As a family we hurled two strikeouts and one walk, or so we say.

At the batting cages, the wait in line was punctuated with visits from a flashy-looking character dressed in a purple sports jacket. He looked like Hollywood's version of a used car salesmen. He told the kids he was "a talent scout" and he waved around "contracts" which he said he might offer to likely looking prospects. We didn't get any offers.

I had figured these endeavors would thrill the kids. But parents are often poor predictors of how their kids will behave. The 12-year-old seemed to be tolerating, if not enjoying the experience, and the 8-year-old was sulking. He was unhappy with his batting and pitching performances. Rather than being thrilled that he got his picture on a baseball card, he was upset that according to the randomly generated statistics on the back of the baseball cards, his big brother was said to be a better hitter.

Our moods improved when we wandered through a room where free samples were being passed out. The kids picked a few baseball cards, and several bars of soap. Soap is not ordinarily high on our list of life's pleasures, but this soap had an Oriole on the wrapper.

We saw how baseball gloves were made and tried on a $200 model that the fellow from Wilson, the glove maker, said was exactly like the one San Francisco All-Star Barry Bonds was using. "He gets paid to wear that, right?" the 12-year-old asked. Probably so, I told him, and marveled that when I was his age I never would have thought to ask that question. I grew up thinking of baseball as a sport; now it's a business.

We avoided the souvenir stands. They were mobbed. This was not baseball, this was shopping. Moreover, all the current buying and selling of baseball "collectibles" leaves me cold. Baseball cards, I told the kids, should be collected out of a sense of loyalty to a team or a player, not because the cards might be worth something someday.

They listened to me, or pretended to. Like most parents, I am never sure what sinks in and what doesn't.

After we got home, for instance, the 12-year-old wrote a poem about Jackie Robinson, the Dodger who broke the color barrier in major-league baseball. I thought the poem might have been a result of something he saw or read at a FanFest exhibit. But the kid said no. The poem's opening line, something like "Jackie Robinson stepping to plate, hearing cries of racial hate," had just come to him. It had nothing do with my taking him to FanFest. So much for parental impact.

That night we watched the All-Star Game on TV, at least for a few innings. I was the only family member who stayed with the game until the final out. Everybody else in the family fell asleep. Which told me something about the source of that tidal of wave of guilt that washed over me and other parents who felt compelled to take their kids to the All-Star events.

It didn't come from the kids. It came from the adults. It welled from deep in our inner child.

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