The only time I have gone to a Hooters was at the insistence of a minister.

          Phil and I had gone to grade school and high school together. We were not close friends, but we were friendly and traveled in the same circles. During the summers of college years, we were teammates on a successful slow-pitch softball team. I played various infield positions, and he was at first base. His play aggravated me. He loved to stretch as far as he could for a throw, but he would stretch before the ball was tossed not to meet the throw giving the infielder (meaning me) a smaller target than he should have. (In those days, we had little or no instruction in proper techniques in any sport we played.) I had a few throwing errors (very few I still maintain, and I doubt that the record books still exist to prove me wrong) that a proper first baseman would have easily caught.

          After that team disbanded, I don’t remember seeing Phil until I settled in New York City. I received a call from him and learned that he was working in an administrative position at a prestigious women’s college—I think it was Smith. He was coming to New York for a weekend, and we attended a college basketball game at Madison Square Garden, a venue he had always wanted to see. Over the next year, I saw him a few more times, but then we lost touch again.

          Two decades later, he called. He had become an ordained minister in the Reformed Church, known in my youth as the Dutch Reformed Church. I had not the least inkling that he was religious, and although he had a Dutch surname, I was a bit surprised by his career. His church was in New York City on the Queens-Brooklyn border, an area whose Dutch roots went back to the seventeenth century.

          We got together a few times after his arrival, including a Thanksgiving dinner as he was still settling into his new location, but soon his time became taken up by his job, and we drifted apart again. A few years later, he called me. He had just won a contest, and the prize was a trip for two to tour major league ballparks. Phil went on to say that he had two brothers, and he did not want to choose between them. He also did not want to make a choice among his parishioners. Then he embarrassedly added that the contest had been sponsored by a major brewing company, and he did not want his church to know that. Would I go with him? “After all,” he added, “you and I played a lot of sports together.” And so Phil and I went visiting baseball stadiums.

          I flew to Toronto, where Phil had proceeded me. On the trip, Phil and I shared hotel rooms, and this one overlooked Lake Ontario. (Later on, an old girlfriend, having heard about this trip, asked if I was concerned about sharing a room with Phil. She and others thought Phil, who never married, was gay. Phil and she had dated. She said that their experiences were pleasant enough, but that “nothing ever happened. He never tried. He was always a ‘gentleman.’”) I don’t remember much about what Phil and I did before going to the ballgame except that I discovered I had a previously unknown fear. We went to the top of the tower next to the stadium, which afforded lovely views, but part of the floor was made of glass. I had been to the observation deck of the World Trade Tower several times where there were seats right next to glass from which I could look out not only at New York but could almost look straight down to the street a hundred stories below. I always enjoyed it and had noticed with arrogant amusement that a fear kept many people away from the windows. But in the Toronto observatory, I found that while I could look out at the city, when I stood on the glass floor and looked straight down the forty stories or so, my heart started an unknown rhythm, my breathing became irregular, and my stomach clenched. I had to move to the more normal floor. I, of course, glanced around hoping that no one had noticed my wussy characteristics.

          I remember little of the Toronto baseball game, as I remember little of any of the games I saw on the trip. I have gone to many baseball games and seen on TV and heard on the radio many more. I appreciate the skill and strategy involved, but, like others, I find baseball intrinsically boring. I have to be a fan of a particular team playing to get immersed into a game. I didn’t care about the Toronto game and don’t even remember who the Blue Jays played. Even so, it is magical to go into a major league stadium, and I enjoyed myself. As I do at almost all baseball games I attend, I walked around the stadium to watch the game from different viewpoints to notice how the game seems to slightly change from varying vantage points, but I also always notice what food is for sale. This trip was at a time when concession choices, at least at the New York ballparks, had not expanded, but Toronto was on the forefront of the change. It had a much broader array of beers than at Yankee stadium, and to my surprise, it offered one of my favorite foods—funnel cake—which I had only had at carnivals and street fairs. I don’t go to ball games expecting to eat healthily, but I did not expect to have artisanal beer with fried, powder-sugared dough. I can’t say that I would recommend this combo, but it was memorable. And I loved it.

(continued August 2)

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