Friday, March 30, 2018

How Opening Day Feels Different Now

In most ways, being in your forties sucks. Injuries take longer to heal. You find yourself searching for words. You complain about popular music. But there's an upside: at forty, you can start to see how the world has changed during your lifetime.

For me, opening day of the baseball season is one of the best opportunities to make comparisons, because so many of my early-childhood memories involve opening days. In my family, school attendance was a sacred duty, except on baseball opening day, when my father called me in sick and took me to Dodger Stadium. I was there when the Dodgers began their last World Championship season. The game began auspiciously, with Steve Sax hitting a leadoff homer. What I didn't remember, until I looked it up, is that the Dodgers lost, but whatever -- that's not the Game 1 anyone remembers from 1988.

What I remember more than the scores and highlights of those opening-day games is the feeling of being somewhere -- my favorite place in the world at that time -- when I should have been in school. I felt decadent, naughty, and usually very hot. We always sat in the top deck, the red seats, just a few inches below the sun. We were so far from the video board in left field that it presented a teachable moment for my engineer dad. Most kids learn about the difference in velocity between light and sound during a thunderstorm. I learned during the national anthem.

I have three kids of my own now, and I have never pulled any of them out of school for a baseball game. My oldest, a fourteen year old girl, is the only one with any interest in baseball. We've been to lots of games together, including a no-hitter, but her real love is school. If I asked her to play hooky for a baseball game, she'd probably bring homework. We can't have that.

Which is not to say she'd never skip school -- and this is where I get into how the world has changed. In fact my daughter did skip school recently, on March 14, for the nationwide school walkout for gun regulations. My daughter and nearly all her friends, most just as nerdy and diligent as she is, left their suburban high school campus and walked across town to a park where they'd arranged to meet students from several other schools. Together they made speeches, talked to reporters, and then, a few hours later, marched back to school in time for final period. They did more or less the same thing last Saturday, too. 

It kills me to write this. I wish it had been baseball and not the threat of being murdered that motivated my daughter and her friends to skip class. As I sat sweltering on the top deck of Dodger Stadium on April 4, 1988, I wasn't thinking about gun violence. None of the 48,483 fans in attendance that day had ever heard of children being slaughtered at school. Columbine was eleven years in the future.

Yesterday was another opening day at Dodger Stadium. Again the Dodgers squared off against their archrival Giants, and again they lost. That part hasn't changed. Someone, maybe an eleven-year-old boy, occupied the seat where I saw Steve Sax hit that homer in 1988. He might have looked like me and talked like me, but he definitely thought differently about skipping school. Maybe he walked out of class last month. Without question he knows things I never did -- terms like "lockdown" and "active shooter." 

His father, sitting next to him slathering sunscreen on his neck and arms, thinks differently too. After Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now Parkland, parents can't help but think differently about the safe space school is supposed to be but increasingly isn't. When my dad excused me from class, it never occurred to him that he might be saving me from slaughter. 

There were 53, 595 fans at Dodger Stadium yesterday, including many old enough to remember when being in a large outdoor gathering didn't make you think of Las Vegas. When tragedy led to government action. When your kids skipped school for a baseball game, not a protest.

To me, a man in his forties, skipping school seems like a harmless transgression. To my daughter, it is not. For my daughter and millions of her peers, school attendance is the most powerful statement they can make. It's how they demonstrate agency in their lives.

This opening day, the world has changed. I would be thrilled if my daughter cut class and let me take her to a game, but I understand why she won't. If she's going to skip school, it has to be for something bigger than a baseball game, something that really matters. Like her life.


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