Bottom of the ninth, two on and one out. Roman Vasquez of the Texas Rangers was up to bat.
“Everybody, come on! Stand up!” yelled my eight-year-old cousin Salman.
The Rangers had blown a seven-run lead and now J.J. Putz of the Seattle Mariners was in to close the come back victory.
Instead, Vasquez stepped up to the plate and lined a walk-off double to the outfield, which brought almost all of the 17,618 people in attendance to their feet.
I, a Dodger fan, along with my Mom, who had played baseball once in Pakistan in elementary school and my little brother, who is almost oblivious to any sport that doesn’t have Kobe Bryant, were the few remaining seated as my three younger cousins and the rest of the Ranger faithful erupted.
It was not disinterest or lack of emotional ties to the Rangers that kept me on my seat in such an electric moment. Josh Hamilton has been one of my favorite players since the Cincinnati Reds called him up last year, and I loved A-Rod when he was on the Rangers.
I have seen many walk-off wins in my day; Steve Finley’s grand slam that sent the Dodgers into the playoffs and the Giants out was my favorite. Therefore, Vasquez’s measly double did not elicit that same jubilation that my cousins Salman and Imran, 12, felt.
However, as I watched Salman jumping up and down and screaming, I thought back to the week prior to the game and I was sent back to my childhood.
Salman reminds me of a young me. He is 4 feet 4 inches tall, 50 pounds, an almost emaciated frame and the same slighty-darker-than-milk choclate Pakistani skin. He is always jumping from one place to another and is a bubble of energy. Peyton Manning came to be his favorite athlete the same way Brett Favre came to be mine, after Super Bowl victories. As I have read the L.A. Times sports section every day from as long as I can remember, he reads NFL.com and watches Sportscenter everyday. While my expertise back then was the NBA, his is the NFL. However, both have a wide range of sports interest today.
Naturally, we became best friends. And I made it my duty to correct the flaws in his fandom.
As kids we are all natural bandwagoners. We fall in love with the teams that have success. I loved the Green Bay Packers, Houston Rockets, Manchester United and any other team that won the title the first time I followed those sports.
The only team I can remember initially following that was not a champion was the University of Southern California Trojans. I started following them in the dark ages of USC football, during the end of the Cade Mcknown UCLA era. However, that was only because my sister accepted a scholarship from USC.
I was going to correct this flaw in Salman. I was fine with his Peyton Manning obsession because he had been loyal to him despite the Colts losing in the playoffs last season. His support for the Yankees, however, was of grave concern for me.
His choice of favorite baseball player was Alex Rodriguez, the most cliché choice of today. When I learned this, I knew right then that i would have to make this kid a Texas Rangers fan, more importantly a Josh Hamilton fan. Surprisingly or not, I convinced him in three days. Though he still claims that he is a fan of the Yankees, Hamilton is his favorite player. I believe that with maturity he will come to the correct choice of favorite team.
The next step was to take him to a Rangers game. I have been to a plethora of sporting events. From the hundreds of Dodgers games, the 15 or so USC football games, the few bowl games, and the NBA games, I have been very fortunate. As a sports writer and editor, I even take the free parking and free prime seating for granted. I love my job, but seeing Salman’s reaction made me love it even more.
After I proposed going to a Rangers game, again just another game for me, Salman was elated. He would ask me every day leading up to the game what day and time the game was on. He would ask me to not forget to pick him up on that Tuesday. From where the Ballpark in Arlington was, to what to wear, to where the seats were to the tickets, Salman wanted all the details covered. He was even getting worried that his 12:00 p.m. dismissal from summer school would not leave him enough time to make the 7:05 p.m. first pitch. He told me not to worry; “My mama can jut drop me off.”
His excitement annoyed me at first, but then I realized what an experience it is for him. So I fueled his excitement: I told him everything I knew about Hamilton, the Rangers and baseball games. I also squeezed in some Yankee bashing in from time to time.
On the day of the game, I picked him up at 5:30 p.m. and he sprinted to the car with a slight, childish incardination and a genuine smile on his face. While I marveled at the free valet parking for Lexus drivers, he turned his head to soak in the behemoth of a stadium.
My mom scored us some nice seats, and as we sat down in the cool t-shirt and shorts weather in the otherwise scorching dry heat in Arlington, he turned to me and said, “This is the closest I am going to be sitting to my favorite player.” He was only going to be 23 rows and some feet away.
I began to put myself in his shoes. His yelling at every call and questioning at every opportunity did not bother me at all. I remember my first USC football game, when I was in 6th grade. I knew the sport, but the game experience was foreign. I found joy in being the one to open him to a new experience, a new world.
He observed everything: The jumbotron, the beer, the drunkards, the children, the vendors, etc. His squealing and covering of his face in reaction to the Ranger “Kiss-Cam” brought laughs to my mom and I. He seriously accused me of jinxing the Rangers before the win. Every time I left to buy some food or some peace, the Mariners seemed to cut back at the Ranger lead.
As Gerald Laird crossed home plate on Vasquez’s double, the ballpark went beserk. The Rangers dugout embraced the hero on his way to second base, and Salman was screaming and jumping at the top of his lungs. A funny sight, considering he was almost in tears for a team he did not even consider his favorite half an inning ago.
After the game, he walked and cheered in the high-fiving, high-octane Ranger crowd.
It was a very entertaining game. Although, there were a sloppy five errors on the Rangers and poor pitching on both sides, the result compensated for the poor play as a whole.
“Umar bhai [a respectful Pakistani term for older brother], do you think that game is gonna be an MLB classic?” asked Salman on the way back to the valet.
At first, I laughed and disagreed. In retrospect, the whole experience for him was a classic, even for me.
Filed Under: Sports