For my daughter’s tenth birthday, I did what any good father would do and I took her out of school early. I showed shows up to surprise her at 10am on her 10th birthday for a day of, what else, baseball.
Earlier in the month while driving around, my daughter and I were talking about how the Royals had gotten hot recently and how exciting it was to see good baseball this late into the season. During this drive my daughter reached into my center console and grabbed my Royals schedule and sighs: there was no game scheduled for August 26th, her birthday. She was excited to see that there was a game on my birthday, but quickly disappointed to learn it was an away game.
Being the consummate baseball lover that I am, I had remembered that the Royals and Rays had a game that was snowed out earlier this year. Recently, the game had been rescheduled for make up on August 26th. Even more exciting was that it was a 1:10pm start time — a good enough reason as any to take her out of school early.
So at 10am on her birthday, off to the Royals game we went. I had purchased seats just behind first base about 25 rows back. On the way to the K we stopped and picked up giant-sized bottles of water and some BBQ sunflower seeds. We arrived at about 11am and started to prep for tailgating.
A large group of Sprint employees were setting up their tailgate in the spots just next to ours. I had packed only three brats and some chips to go with our water and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, the matches I had picked up from the gas station had somehow gotten wet and gone bad. The guys from Sprint, having brought their multiple sun shades, gas grill, washers and bean bag set up were more than helpful in heating our brats. Thanks guys!
After finishing our tailgating we walked to Gate E on the right field side of Kauffman stadium. After getting through the turnstiles my daughter quickly noticed her cheerleading coach at one of the concession stands. It was a pleasant surprise for my daughter to see someone she loves so much to randomly see at a Royals game on her birthday. Many of the concessions stands at the K are set up to help not-for-profit organizations and my daughter’s cheerleading team is one of those benefactors.
Around noon, we found our way to our seats to get settled in. Almost immediately a fan photos representative came up and took our picture for the Royals website. That in itself was cool; my daughter was excited to see her picture on the Royals website when we got home.
After the picture we began to talk about what a cool day it had been and how we were lucky to be so close to the field but still in the shade on a 92-degree day. We enjoyed cracking sunflower seeds together while looking over the Royals media book and talking about what a small crowd it was due to it being a make-up game.
At about 12:30pm our day really started to get huge! A man in a suit approached us and asked if I’d like to throw out the first pitch. Thinking it was an open offer, I looked at my daughter and asked if she would like to throw out the first pitch. However, the man in the suit clarified that he was offering the pitch to me. We gladly accepted and I shook his hand and introduced myself as Brian Jones. We followed him into the Royals press room where a lady handed me a pearly white official MLB baseball and said they’d be back in ten minutes or so to take us on the field.
My daughter and I were really excited now. I began posting to Facebook and Twitter and my daughter called my wife at work to talk all about it. A couple minutes later the man in the suit stepped back into the press room and asked if my daughter wanted to throw the first pitch and have her dad catch for her. She sheepishly declined, fearing she’d be too shy to go out on the mound in front a crowd. After a few more minutes a lady began to usher down the player’s tunnel towards the Royals dugout along with the national anthem singer and a Navy color guard.
We stood at the edge of the tunnel another five minutes or so and then she explained what would happen. Jamey Carroll would be my catcher and then she handed me a blue ballpoint pen. She explained for me to go up to the mound and throw to Jamey, after which I should meet him halfway between the mound and home plate to shake his hand. He would then autograph the ball with the blue pen and then we would look towards the Royals photographer to have our picture taken. I nodded, and we were led onto the field.
My daughter was allowed on the edge of the field to record the events. We were both so excited. I was really most happy to be providing her with a lifelong memory. As the PA announcer was announcing some stuff I wasn’t really paying attention to, I sidled up next to Jamey Carroll on the infield grass half way between first base and home plate.
Jamey and I talked for a few minutes. He asked where I was from and I told him Kansas City all my life and he obligatorily proclaimed that he enjoys the city in the few days that he has been a member of the Royals. I told him about earlier in the week that I had been listening to MLB AtBat and Hawk Harrellson, announcer for the White Sox, had mentioned that he was available off the bench for the Twins that day. At around this point a fan behind the dugout yells “CARROLL!” and Jamey politely turns his hips, without shuffling his feet, to face the fan and give him a surfers-wolf pack salute extending his pinky and index fingers in crooked manner, out from a closed fist.
Jamey then asked me if I was nervous to throw out the first pitch and I shared with him that I did not want to embarrass myself. His only reply was to aim high. Likely advice considering the copious first pitch videos of people duck-diving balls into the dirt.
Years ago, to just toy with each other my brothers and I began calling each other by an amalgamation of nicknames.
AJ (R) became OJ after the now infamous OJ trial, Jason (L) became Gayson and I, Brian, became Ryan. And now here on my daughter’s tenth birthday, in front of approximately 6000 rabid, day-drinking, work-skipping Royals fans, the PA announcer, much to my brother’s delight, asked for the crowd to welcome Ryan Jones from Kansas City to throw out the first pitch. It couldn’t have been a better present for my brother.
As walked towards the mound I look to the first base camera well and I gave my daughter a wave. I wanted her know that I was thinking of her and that I wanted this be an amazing birthday that she remembers for years to come.
As I took my place at the front of the mound I made a point to not look into the stands. As long I didn’t see the crowd they didn’t exist, right? I wasted no time and heaved the ball to Jamey Carroll. (I made no attempts at humor or cuteness by feeding him a knuckleball.) My toss was “just a bit outside,” but Jamey handled it without coming out of his crouch.
Jamey and I met halfway between the mound and plate. We stopped to shake hands. Jamey remarked, “Cutter, huh? Alright.” He graciously signs my ball and we paused for a photo. The Royals rep ushered my daughter and I back up the tunnel and onto the concourse to reclaim our seats.
On the way back I handed my daughter the ball and told her what I know about Jamey Carroll, whose name she soon forgets and starts calling him Carl — she’s a Jones alright. We agree it would be awesome to take to school for show-and-tell and then she bounced the ball on the concrete concourse as I grimaced and explained why that’s not a good idea. We stopped by the concession stand where my daughter shows off the ball to her cheerleading coach, sharing the story of how her dad got to go on the field and throw the first pitch.
We found our seats again and we talked about framing the ball and scrapbooking the ticket stubs and photos of the game. We spit more seeds and cheered for the Royals, who would go on to win 11-1. Billy Butler hit a homerun in the bottom of the eighth inning which turned our ticket stubs into free medium slushies at Sonic. As the game wound down, we scavenged for two abandoned stubs so that we can keep our own stubs. With moments to go we moved towards the exits and watched the final two outs just in front of the right field bullpen. Justin Maxwell hauled in a game-ending catch, crashing into the wall just in front of us. We were the only remaining occupants of the entire section by this point.
We high-fived and cheered, and my daughter remarked how the Royals beat the Rays butts. We shuffled back to our car and made our way home, stopping by Sonic, excited to tell mom all about our day at the K.