My family had planned on going to Oakland anyway for the first two games of the 1989 World Series between the A's and Giants. There were to be tributes to my late father, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti, who had died suddenly in September. It was a mixed bag. Excitement? Sure, it was the World Series. Confusion? Absolutely.
For starters, the still fresh, inexplicably tragic event that had led us to the West Coast in the first place made absolutely no logical sense. How could it -- any of it -- without him? Adding more confusion to the mix, the '89 Series was dubbed the BART Series, after the commuter rail line that ran between Oakland and San Francisco. It was also my father's name. And to go even further into the realm of otherness, I'd been asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1. In my father's honor.
I can still remember the phone call the day before we left: would I like to toss out, from the mound, the first pitch of the World Series? The collision of mind-bending exhilaration and bewildering sorrow brought me to a knee. After the blood had arrived back to my brain, I thanked him and hung up the phone. With a sudden revived sense of purpose, and pure, boyish excitement, I grabbed the phone again and dialed my father's number. I couldn't wait to tell him. For baseball fans like us who cherished the game's essence, an essence that was our connective glue, like so many a father and son, this was monumental. But, of course, he was not there.
As I hung up the phone, I realized that the one person I needed to share this news with the most, the one person who would understand the swirl of baseball emotions, could not be there. But I needed to rise to the occasion. For him. For me.
To honor our love of the game and this amazing World Series moment, I needed to seize this unique opportunity. An opportunity I deduced, in that stadium, on baseball's biggest stage, to be together with him. In my heart. I needed to let go of the bitter and embrace the sweet. He would have wanted it that way.
A stage manager and camera crew arrived at our box unannounced, ushering me onto the field. It was go time.
I kissed my mom on the cheek and hopped the wall onto the playing field. I wanted to drink it all in. The enormous crowd. The infield grass, soft and cool under my boots.
The stage manager whispered directions to me as I approached the mound and they handed me a ball. As I stood there, desperately trying to stay present, I heard my name garbled over the PA system followed by some polite applause, when I caught a glimpse of my father seated in the stands beyond home plate -- in his shirt and tie. Smiling. A cameraman behind me counted, "Four, three, two, one," tapped me on the shoulder, and I let it go.
In a blink, I was back with my mother. And before I had time to gauge the whirlwind of emotions that spun me around, the game had started. I wanted to stop everything and make the entire stadium acknowledge the meaning of what had just happened.
I put my arm around my mom and put my head on her shoulder. I looked down at the ball I'd been squeezing in my hand. The one I had just thrown out. I looked over where I'd seen my father a moment before. I had done my duty. And achieved what was important. I had made that connection. I felt a small release, and then I sat back to watch a championship baseball game. Because that's what my father would have wanted.
And suddenly I didn't feel so alone any more.