I spent much of what was a three-day weekend alone with Ryan. Friday, we went to buy him new skates, went out for pizza lunch, and went for a long walk together.
Saturday we took our second (annual) trip to a Yankees game. We left the house before 11 a.m. and did not return until 6 p.m. On Sunday, we watched more baseball together on TV before my early evening adult-league hockey game. So Ryan, as has become routine, accompanied me to the rink to watch the game, keep stats, call play-by-play and generally critique my play. Apparently I played “OK” but got “undressed” on the first goal. I protested that it was a two-on-one, and I overplayed the shooter, who was his team’s best player. It wasn’t my fault he made the perfect pass for a back-door tap-in. You know what? Never mind. I’m never going to convince him.
Some of our time together was spent engaged in deep conversation — about the nuances of baseball, about how my team should play on Sunday, etc. But there were also long periods of relative silence. Ryan used to struggle with any stretches of downtime. He complained of boredom on even the shortest car ride. Saturday, a pair of 90-minute train and subway trips to and from Yankee Stadium passed without so much as a hint of a problem.
The key is Ryan’s iPod. We bought him one several years ago when he first showed an interest in music, but it went unused until about a year ago when he finally agreed to try it on a car trip. Since then, he rarely agrees to go anywhere in the car without it. These days, he can pass an hour with barely a word, so long as he has his music.
Saturday’s trip into New York was spent largely in silence, interrupted by the occasional question about baseball statistics. As soon as we arrived at the stadium, the iPod went into my pocket. It wasn’t needed. Ryan was fully engaged in the ballgame, tracking every pitch, at-bat and out. He asked a million questions. His need to construct rules to understand a new activity is perfectly suited to a sport like baseball, with its myriad of statistics and where every pitch is an individual, quantifiable event. His brain soaks in such information like a sponge. Despite being a relative baseball newbie, he already understands esoteric concepts like earned vs. unearned runs.
I had to laugh at one of his questions. I was explaining errors — plays on which it is judged that the fielders should have recorded an out but failed to do so, or made some other mistake that allows a runner to advance. I told him that if a run scores as a result of an error, that run is not charged to the pitcher since he is viewed as having done his job but has been let down by his defense, thus creating “unearned” runs.
Ryan nodded, and within seconds asked the one question that I distinctly remember wondering about when I first learned the same concept around his age.
“But what if pitcher is the one who makes the error? Is it still an unearned run?” he asked.
The answer is yes, but I agree, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I told him the same thing has bothered me since I was a kid. And then I smiled. I love those moments when life offers proof that he and I aren’t so different after all.
On our train ride home, Ryan was deeply engaged in his music. I was browsing Twitter on my phone. Neither of us had spoken for several minutes, which was fine.
Ryan leaned against me, removed his headphones and said something that made me smile, and caused a catch in my throat. I’m pretty sure that at that moment, there was no phrase in the English language that could have made me happier. It served as proof that we don’t need words to bond. We simply need shared experiences and time spent together.
“Dad,” he said. “This was awesome.”