When I was a kid, my family would often go on an outing for the 4th of July. One of the best trips around was a 2 hour ride west to “The Big D” to take in a ball game. This is one of my favorite memories because in those days, everything seemed perfect. My sisters and I had plenty of friends, the pressures of life in America were relatively low for kids in a middle class family, and we were too young to realize that the family car wasn’t cool (It would be a couple more years before that hit me).
Arlington Stadium seemed huge to a 12 year old. It could seat 3/4 of the population of my home town and every Independence day, it did. All those people cheering for the home team…it was a big deal. We were each allowed to invite one friend and the 1978 beige Chevy Impala station wagon (later to be dubbed, “The Vanilla Bomb”) was just big enough to fit one mom, one dad, two sisters, myself and three friends. So one summer in middle school, we all loaded up and headed towards Dallas. The station wagon had a seat in the rear that faced backwards. Only a few short years earlier, when we were all in elementary school, there was a rule: Whoever manned the rear seat was responsible for doing the hand sign that signaled 18 wheelers to blow the big-rig horn. But, we were too old for that and since there were no iPhones or game boys to be had, we mostly just horsed around the whole way there.
Upon arrival, we’d thread our way through the masses to our seats and then beg our parents for hot dogs and popcorn and whatever else we cold finagle. I can’t for the life of me recall what we talked about as teenagers for hours on end, but with the relatively new experience of teenage society and the optimistic attitude that existed in American society back then, I’m sure we could have filled hundreds of innings with superfluous (yet entertaining) jibber jabber. It’s been a while since I’ve had the luxury of sitting in the stands (I work a lot of ball games professionally but I spend my time inside a TV truck watching dozens of monitors and paying more attention to the video than the game) but, if I remember right, that’s pretty much what ball games are for; eating junk food and talking to your people in between the plays (which is the bulk of the 3 hours). Of course, when the ball is hit (particularly a fly ball into the outfield) the crowd snaps to, ready to boo or cheer or yell expletives to that one outfielder that the working class kind of hates because he’s too much of a celebrity and spends too much time dating pop stars rather than dodging the paparazzi.
After the fourth inning, I switched from junk food to candy. My buddy Steve was sitting next to me and we were shooting the s#!% in between innings and plays, like you do at the ball park. I was having a good time in not paying close attention to the game and decided to show off in front of all of my fans I used to be a little bit of a showoff, even around the house with just one or two family members present, but today the stadium was jam packed and I had an audience of 41,241 to impress. I was stuffing my face with piece after piece of bubble gum (I think it was hubba bubba…you know the cylindricalish pink gum in the blue twisty wrapper with the cartoons on ’em. The stuff that’s so hard that it takes you half an inning to break it in). When the 5th inning started, the Rangers were down 2-0 and Ruben Sierra was up at bat. By now, I had several pieces of hubba bubba going and I started to blow. Sierra took the first pitch…Ball. Little by little, I got more and more brave as the bubbles got bigger and bigger. My buddy Steve was watching my antics, laughing and threatening to burst my bubble. Back at the mound…the wind up…the pitch….Ball 2. Back up in the stands, I was feeling preeeeeeettty cocky. I started to realize…”this hubba bubba stuff is hard core…Son!”, we’re talkin’ industrial grade chewing equipment! Steve and i found out how indestructible it was when he was twice unsuccessful at ruining my bid for the record: “Biggest bubble ever blown at a baseball game on the fourth of July with the home team staring down a two run deficit with Ruben Sierra up at the plate”. Epic fail Steve…back to the farm league for you! This bubble I was on was getting so big, I had to take a breath and then keep going. Science can’t explain what happened next, but it was no coincidence…you could feel the electricity in the air. Those who don’t believe in the supernatural would say that it was just the youthful anticipation of the big fireworks show to follow the game or just my immature ego inflating along with the wad of semi-edible rubber. As Sierra settled into the batters box, Dave Johnson was ready to let loose on his third pitch and I was on my third breath. As I got halfway through the exhale, Johnson opened fire. As the ball sailed across the plate, Sierra took a hard swing. Up in the stands my eyes were wide and focused…not because I had some premonition of the ensuing contact at the plate but because I was in awe of the thing in front of my face that was nearly the size of my head. I couldn’t see any part of the field but I could see the fans around me and hear Steve laughing and making the comment “holy crap” as he witnessed the final lap of the race for my place in bubble gum history books. Down on the field….CRACK!!! Up in the stands POP!!! The crowd, on their feet, roars! I knew what had happened… well, at least half of it. I could feel the fans around me rise in sync and hear them cheer like mad citizens in the ancient Roman Coliseum. Sierra got all of that ball and it’s headed out to center field. The problem is that I can’t see anything!..except the pink latex mask that had plastered itself to my entire face! Because of the uproar, I knew I was missing out on the biggest event of the game which, is a problem because home runs are the whole reason that 40,000 people are willing to sit through the rest of the “action” and wait a whole hour just to get out of the parking lot on a work night. It’s kind of like the crashes at Nascar. So, I’m frantically trying to participate in the home run but it all happened so fast that I don’t really know what’s going on. I’m kind of sit-standing and groping around for my bearings while my sense of sight is trying to put two and two together. Meanwhile, Steve is having the time of his life because, not only does he get to participate with the other 41,240 Texas fans in this 4th of July miracle (one that would surely be the start of a rally that would give us the W on this best holiday for a ball game in the gamut of American holidays) but he also gets to bear witness to my crash and burn on the hubba bubba, 4th of July bubble gum record attempt. By the time I get the gum off my face and could see again, the moment was over. The crowd had settled back in for more junk food, superfluous jibber jabber, and playful cussing. But, on a semi-good note, Steve is still laughing. Dang! I can’t believe you missed that!” he barely squeaks out in between frantic attempts to breath. I recall clearly that I couldn’t believe it either! I was so dejected. But, in hindsight it was one of the coolest, freak accidents that one could have happen. I mean, the bubble burst right there, almost as if on cue from the family vacation gods who’s job it is to make sure something memorable happens that you’ll recount many decades later and, unfortunately for the youths of the group, this often means some sort of minor humiliation.Lucky for me, there was another home run that same inning which pulled the Rangers back into the game with a tie score to end the 5th. I got to witness that one so, everything was cool. In the end we lost the game but that’s ok. Most of us were there just to hang with friends and family and watch one of the most bad ass fireworks shows that you’ll ever lay eyes on. It’s like the show goes on forever. And I’ll never forget it because at that age, the experience is truly, indescribable. For me, it actually had the effect of elevating my mood so much so, that the feeling didn’t stop until the vanilla bomb pulled back into Tyler, Texas well after midnight.
Happy Fourth Everybody!