March 28, 2008

How to Ready Your Kids for Opening Day: The 7 Spring Training Drills They Need to Learn

How we trained Ella to understand and successfully participate in Opening Day.

With Opening Day around the corner, I decided it was time to prepare my daughter for her first baseball game. Sure, she'd seen about 60 on television last year, but this is the first time she'd get the full, live experience: the fresh smell of grass filling the stadium, the wind blowing against her skin, the sound of the drunk behind her shouting at the opponent's right fielder because his name rhymes with "smelly."

So Ella, Brittany and I indulged in our very own Klems Spring Training. If the players need two months to get in shape, certainly it's not unreasonable for fans to dedicate one week of preparation for the season ahead. We owe it to the team. With that, we practiced the seven drills that all Reds fans should work on before attending their first game (especially if it's a Cincinnati Reds Opening Day).

Drill #1
Dress Like a Fan
The most important rule of going to a Reds game is to wear something that's red or says "Reds" on it. If you're dressed in the other team's colors you'll likely get booed, and if you're wearing a Bengals' hat you're obviously drunk.

Ella and I scoured her closet and found exactly 6.4% of her outfits are acceptable (a low percentage, by my estimates). This number skyrockets to 100% if she wears her Reds hat—which, to me, should be worn at all times anyway. We tried on each outfit and stretched them out so they will be loose and ready to go.
Check it off the list.

Drill #2
How to Properly Eat Peanuts
Eating a peanut at a baseball game is an art form. Some people crack them open with their fingers, some with their teeth. Others soak them in their beer until the shell practically falls off. My preference is to eat off the salt and then crack the shell using the left back-row of my teeth.

This was Ella's favorite drill, of course, as she practiced with everything she could find: spoon, shoe, remote, notepad, photo album, baby monitor, squeaky toy that had been missing under the couch for weeks. By the end of practice, she was a pro. I consider this her greatest asset as a fan.
Check it off the list.

Drill #3
Chant "Let's Go, Reds, Let's Go (clap, clap)"
There are numerous cheers at the Reds games ("Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet," "Walks will Haunt" and my personal favorite, "(dun dun) GO!"), but to master any cheer you must start with the basics: "Let's Go, Reds, Let's Go (clap, clap)."

Ella can say a few words like "mumuma" and "daaaaa" and "pbbbbt," but her grasp of the language is limited. We decided that squealing was an acceptable alternative. My wife worked with her on clapping, doing it in rhythm each time I did the cheer. This became increasingly difficult because my wife is the worst practicer of all-time, losing her concentration and replacing "clapping" with "tickling in the belly." Years from now, when Ella is at a Reds game with friends and they start this chant ... well, let's just say she'll learn a valuable lesson: Listen to dad, not mom.
Check it off the list.

Drill #4
Picking the Winner in the Great Reds Race
For those of you unfamiliar with this, the Reds have a video race on the scoreboard called "The Great Reds Race." It features three challengers: Mr. Red (the baseball head), Rosie Red (the girl baseball head) and Mr. Red Leg (the baseball head with a curly mustache). They race around the diamond and the winner stands high on an Olympic-looking podium to celebrate.

Choosing a Red is like choosing a tattoo: Once you pick one, you're stuck with that Red for life. I grew up in an era of young Mr. Red, so he's mine. My wife always pulls for women, so she's a Rosie supporter. Ella currently has a clean slate, so I gave her the background information on all the Reds mascots so she could form her own opinion and make her choice without bias:

"Ella, here's all you have to know:
Mr. Red Leg is old, crusty and has dirty bugs crawling out of his 'stache.
Rosie Red, well, she kicks puppies.
Mr. Red, on the other hand, is a kind, loving soul who works at homeless shelters and helps feed the poor."
We'll see whom she picks on Opening Day.
Check it off the list.

Drill #5
How to Sneak Down to a Better Seat
No matter what part of the park you're located in, there are always better seats. Always. And around the 5th inning, many of those seats become available.

In our living room, I placed an empty chair that sat closer to the TV and lower than our couch. We sat on the couch watching "Wire-to-Wire: The Story of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds Championship Season." About an hour into the game (video), I made Ella practice making a mad dash to the open chair. (How she ended up in her mother's shoes, I have no idea.) After several days, she'd race to the chair without me prompting her.
Check it off the list.

Drill #6
Do the Wave
A vital element to any baseball game is the wave. With six long off-season months, it's understandable that you may fall out of practice—your legs are stiff, arms glued to your keyboard, can't remember how long you should stand in waving position (3.1 seconds). I find that practicing at work is helpful. In fact, start doing it once every five minutes and see if everyone else slowly joins in. If so, you can add "Started Wave" to your resume.

Ella can't actually stand from a sitting position yet, but she can wave at herself in the mirror. We spent one full Saturday in front of the dining room mirror waving. It may not be perfect (and may look less like a crowd-wave and more like a hello-wave), but for an 8-month-old who still thinks it's OK to poop through an outfit, it'll do.
Check it off the list.

And Finally …
Drill #7
Falling Asleep on Dad's Shoulder As You Exit the Game
It's a dad's most important role on game day. I've spent all off-season lifting heavy toys, walking with bags of salt on my shoulder and bumping into coffee-table corners without falling over in preparation. I've even had a few test runs at family parties and the results are promising.

Ella has held up her end of the bargain, and has even practiced falling asleep on my shoulder with her Reds hat on, in order to find the most comfortable position—for her, of course, not dad.
Check it off the list.

While I know all of this sounds silly, it's important to me—less as a baseball fan and more as a dad. I know that one day she'll look back at pictures and say, "I don't remember that." And that's OK, because I will. Baseball has always been an important part of my life, falling somewhere just after family but above, well ... everything else. I grew up watching Opening Days at home with my Mom and Dad, and they were all special moments for me. Now, years later, I get to share that special moment with my family. And I'm looking forward to every inning of it.

Play ball.The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian