Papa has been to 23 games at Nationals Stadium so far this year, and numerous games last year. He loves going to games. We have a routine how we enter and leave the stadium and stick to it for every game. Every single game. Even if Papa suggests we walk a different way we explain why we can’t and stick with our given route. We have always told him that if he does not see us for any reason to follow the crowd to the gate and make his way to his seat and never to leave the stadium. If we are separated after a game we rendezvous at the flag pole in center field and watch Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight broadcast the post-game report until we are all together again.
On Game days Doug drives Papa into the South East section of DC and drops him off at my office on M Street where I meet him downstairs in the lobby. Together Papa and I walk over to the stadium while Doug parks the car in a garage on the Washington Navy Yard. Last year Doug and Papa parked together and came up to my suite on the 8th floor, but this year Papa does not want to walk the block from the Yard or take the extra steps across the lobby to the elevator, or perhaps he does not feel comfortable coming up the elevator by himself, but whatever the reason is we will do whatever works best for him. Papa knows the security guards in my building and they let him sit in a chair until I arrive and the two of us will then leisurely make our way over to the Ball Park following the same path we always take and wait for Doug in our seats. Typically we arrive in the stadium well before the rest of the crowd and are able to sit and relax as we watch the visiting team take batting practice. Papa likes to sit and relax.
Papa enjoys the games and our season tickets have been great because he knows where “his” seat is. Once he is in the stadium he takes a shortcut behind a clothing vendor over to section 110, flashes his Nat’s Access card to the attendant, walks down to Row S and sits in Seat 5 for the duration of the game. Other than standing up for the National Anthem, and God Bless America in the 7th inning Papa truly does sit. I believe that his logic is that he paid for that seat and he is going to use it, but Doug may have another opinion. Papa quietly roots for our team, and may never understand the excitement of the crowds as they stand and loudly cheer for our team much of the game. Why does everyone keep jumping up and down? In his mind he would not stand up if he were home sitting in his brown recliner, why should he make that effort just because he is sitting outside in a blue stadium seat surrounded by 30,000 to 40,000 Nat’s fans. Standing is a disruption that blocks his view; it is as if someone changed channels on the TV during an exciting moment not allowing him to see what is happening. Yesterday the first pitch thrown to our leadoff hitter was a home run, batter two hit a double into the deepest part of center field missing the top of the wall by inches, and our third man at the plate hit a two run homer, all against one of baseball’s best pitchers and the reigning World Champions. What happened? What is going on? Papa was already annoyed that the crowds were on their feet so we quickly moved him over one seat so he had a young child sitting on front of him. He as then happy to be able to remain sitting even if “junior” and the other 40,000 + fans were on their feet.
Some days we bring a picnic meal into the game, some days we stop at a neighborhood market, and some days we enjoy a stadium half-smoke from the infamous Ben’s Chili Bowl. Papa typically has a PowerBar as his pregame snack, enjoys his meal at the start of the game and by the 7th inning he is generally snacking on popcorn or a curly W pretzel or recently a scoop or two of chocolate gelato. It is all a routine; it is the same every game.
Exiting the stadium is identical except the crowds are much denser. We slowly head up the stairway from our seats, which are close to the field, and across to the nearest restroom as Doug jogs ahead to get the car. Papa and I walk out of the Center Field gate, make a sharp right and head down N Street for a short block to the corner of New Jersey Avenue. On hot days Papa buys a second ice cream from a local street vendor on this corner who knows us as repeat customers. We continue along Transportation Walk, the shaded area behind the two Depart of Transportation (DOT) buildings, discussing the old gas pumps, Sinclair was the first gas station I worked at, or the bicycles, I always thought it would be neat to have a three-wheeled bike, or the many other items displayed. We cut in-between the two DOT facilities across a courtyard to the corner of 3rd and M Street where we wait for the light to change and he imitates the cross walk voice wait, wait, wait, walk light is on across M Street. Papa always jokes that he wouldn’t mind that job; all they have to do it tell you when to walk. Once we have crossed the street we wait under the canopy entrance to my building which takes up the entire block until Doug arrives with the car. Our walk is less than ½ a mile, or if we were counting in steps 1035 for me and approximately 2070 for Papa.
The early morning game on the Fourth of July was no different. After a big Nat’s win Doug took off to get the car, Papa went into the men’s room where I reminded him that I would be standing in exactly the same place centered between the entrance and the exit of the bathroom, and I waited. I waited watching the crowd exit the stadium and the grounds crew working on the field. After 10 minutes I texted Doug to tell him we would be later than usual today. I continued waiting as I monitored both the entrance and the exit with periodic glances over to the flag pole. No Papa. With my mind thinking the worst, I asked a gentleman to see if Papa was still inside and quickly described him: red t-shirt, white hair, and my height. Knowing I had probably just described thousands of fans I quickly yelled into the restroom that his name is Wayne as he was walking into the facilities to look for Papa. Nothing. After waiting 15 minutes I texted Doug again, who by this time had arrived at our pickup location. The stadium had almost completely cleared and I asked a second person to check the men’s room. Nothing. I was very worried by now and turned towards the deserted flag pole and Papa was still not there. I was asking for stadium security when Doug called to say he saw Dad making his way between the DOT buildings and waiting at the corner to cross.
The guys waited as I walked to their location and I am sure Doug and Papa had a long discussion as Doug explained how worried I had been standing outside of the men’s room while the stadium completely cleared. As soon as I got in the car Papa said, I am sorry Sandy; sometimes I don’t listen too well. I didn’t see you. I went to the flag pole and then thought you started ahead of me. I don’t really know what I was thinking. He felt terrible and could not understand why he had left the stadium. We could not understand it either.
Memory loss is terrible. His short term did not remember where I was waiting for him, but his long term memory, due to making the trip so many times, was able to pull the correct route back to my office and our pickup location. Papa says he was not worried when he didn’t see me, and I hope that is true. I wish I understood what he was thinking as he walked out of the stadium. Was he looking for me as he walked up the road? Did he buy an ice cream? Did he make the same jokes to himself as he walked by the antique gas pump or did he mimic cross-walk talking? Papa doesn’t remember.
I will keep reminding Papa that we are always there for him. Always. I do not leave Papa alone in a store, I will not leave Papa sitting in a car when he doesn’t want to go on an errand with us, and I would never leave him in a stadium with over 40,000 fans wandering around. Never. Thank Heavens he was able to safely find the way, and we were able enjoy the rest of our 4th of July with a barbecue and fireworks.