That Guy in Harrisburg

This was one of those times when things seem to go wrong, but in the end we have a really good time. This particular event took place when we were visiting old friends in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Jeb and Pat. It was on the tail end of our “Civil War and Dollywood trip in which we got rained on a whole bunch besides being rained out of one good game.” As you can tell it was the “wet” weather that was prominent on the trip, but it was not the only thing.  Early on we had spent some time at Gettysburg (where Dan found someone’s 32 year Alcoholics Anonymous chip at the “grove of trees”—the main focal point of Pickett’s Charge—then spent some 15 minutes trying to explain to the Park Ranger at the lost and found post why it would be important to the person who lost it. This is a whole other story in itself. To put it succinctly it appears that knowledge about how 12-step groups and what these sobriety tokens are is not within the purview of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s requirements for what Park Rangers are suppose to know).  In addition, we visited Dollywood where we met up with one of Ginny’s sisters and her husband (soon to be ex-husband, again a whole other story).  Besides these two events, this trip was mostly known for the weather—it seemed to rain every place we went. However, the one place it didn’t rain was at the end of the trip, but other things went wrong in Harrisburg. The visit with Jeb and Pat was great; we caught up with each of them and told stories about all the mutual friends that Jeb and Pat hadn’t seen in a few years.

The thing that went wrong really wasn’t that big of a deal in the eyes of most normal people, but it was anxiety-producing for us.  The game was between the Harrisburg Senators (at the time the AA affiliate of the Montreal Expos) and the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. One of the main rules of doing a minor road trip is that when you are on a baseball trip and visiting friends you always take them to the game with you. For us, the problem is that we never make it to the field on time, at least not the time that we baseball fanatics would like. It’s not our fault, really. To be polite, we just don’t want to be our normal obsessive selves with friends, so we tend not to get to the park early enough to walk around it to look for old foul balls, to check out all of the food vendors to find that unique delicacy that is served only at that park, to visit the souvenir shop to see what is cool, or to get those much-needed pictures of the park for future reference. In the simplest of terms, if we’re with friends, we don’t have the time to do all of the other normal things that we do when we visit a new park. Part of the reason is that we don’t want our friends to think we’re crazy because we want to get to the park an hour and a half before the game starts (well, any crazier than they think we are).

Yet, in this particular case, it didn’t help that Dan didn’t check to see that the Harrisburg Senators had the bad habit of starting games on the half-hour instead of the normal hour, plus five minutes. And here it was a half-hour in the wrong direction! Taking Pat and Jeb was fine; they understood that we liked to get there early and we were fine in getting there only a half an hour prior to game time.  Since you all know basic math, you can tell what the problem was—as we were passing the turnstile into the park, the national anthem was being belted out. This threw Dan into a state of distraction because we still don’t have our food and Ginny suffered an anxiety attack because she needed to not only get a copy of the rooster, she still had to fill out her score book and take pictures of the park. AND we are missing baseball! In the long run, it worked out, a little rushed, but we got to our seats with food in hand missing only an out or two.

However, this is where the story starts to get interesting and memorable. As we got to our seats on the first base side, Dan took the fourth seat where he would be sitting next to someone he doesn’t know. Generally, he likes to sit on the end to stretch his legs, but he doesn’t mind sitting next to new people—great conversations start this way. Just as he was about to sit down, the gentleman next to him looked him straight in the eye and with no smile said to Dan, “I’m glad you’re here. They just made an announcement that whoever was sitting in that seat has to buy each person in the whole row a beer!  I hope you heard it when they called out section 112, row 3, seat 4 and best as I can tell that is your seat.”  Dan looked him in the eye and immediately shot back, “Well, that is very interesting, because I didn’t hear the announcement, but when I gave my ticket to the usher, he told me to watch out because I would be seated next to someone who was going to try to get me to by him a beer and that I should not be taken in by him.” With that and a smile Dan sat down and started to watch the game.

Now we don’t mind having conversations with others during a game; baseball is one of those sports where you can watch the game and talk at the same time. The only everyday etiquette that is violated when having a conversation is that there is very little eye contact with those you are conversing with. You may glance at each other, but generally you keep your eyes on the field and when a ball is hit or someone is stealing a base, the conversation comes to a halt. The conversation can resume once the normal routine of the game resumes.  During this particular game, Dan mainly spoke to our friend Jeb about what was going on in his life—motorcycles, teaching earth sciences, extended family, etc. Likewise, Dan expounded on things that have been going on in our lives, many mentioned in our Christmas letters—our yearly form of communication.  All the while, Dan was keeping an eye on the guy next to him, thinking that anyone who starts an encounter by trying to get Dan to buy him a beer can’t be all bad. One of the things Dan noticed about him was that he seemed to mainly talk to the row of people behind us. In fact, he knew them well enough to state to them that he was going to get some food and offered to pick something up for them. He even took orders. Finally, he did the “excuse me” shuffle to get past us and disappeared down the steps. Upon his return, he shuffled back past us, turned to hand stuff off to the people behind us, sat down and began drinking from a cup with a liquid obviously not a beer.

With that, Dan took the opportunity to say, “Boy, you seem to be having conversations with just about everyone here and you buy them stuff but nothing for me.” The guy smiled and replied, “Oh, that’s just my wife, daughter and her husband.” Dan asked, “So you couldn’t get tickets together?” He said, “Well, we’re here with our church group, so we have seats all around here. Dan responded, “So, if you’re here with a church group, then why is the first thing you do when I get here is to try to get me to buy you a beer? You drink alcohol?”  As this part of the conversation is going on, our friend Jeb begins to chuckle; he knows exactly what Dan is doing. He is about to have some real fun with this guy.

Somewhat sheepishly, the guy replies, “Oh, it’s okay. Our minister is even here and he drinks beer – we’re just not suppose to get drunk or anything like that, but it is okay to have some.”  Dan replied, “Well, I’ll be darned, your minister drinks beer and thinks it’s okay?”  The guy nodded yes, and Dan went on: “Your minister must be really cool, if he lets you drink beer! Wow, that is so cool, you are really lucky.” Now Dan will admit that he did over-emphasize his inflections as he was speaking, since he was being fed by Jeb’s silent convulsions of chuckling. Dan leaned over to the guy and reiterated, “Your minister must be really great!” Immediately, Dan knew he had him hooked into his little game because he smiled at Dan and said,  “Yep, he is great, he drinks beer and he even swears!” Dan came back with, “No shit, he even swears! That’s even better. He really is the best minister that I have ever heard about. Wow, that is amazing.”

With that Dan turned to Jeb, smiled and winked, then turned back to the guy: “My word, he drinks and swears, that is great, it is amazing, I’ll be damned, that is great!  He must be one hellava pastor.”  “Yep,” he replied, “he’s a great pastor.”

Again, their focus went back to the game, and at the end of the inning, Dan turned back to the guy and asked the question that set him up for the punch line: “So, tell me, what do you do for a living?” He proceeded to tell Dan that he worked for a company that repairs boxcars for railroads. After a considerable conversation about the details of what his job entailed, he asked Dan the exact same question: “So what do you do?” With that Jeb almost guffawed aloud, because he knew what was coming. Dan kept his eyes on the game, but leaned in the guy’s direction and stated, “I’m a minister.”  Just as the words came out of his mouth, Dan turned to see the expression on the guy’s face. His jaw dropped, his mouth opened wide in disbelief, then slowly his surprise was replaced with a wide grin and he knew Dan had reeled him in. The guy turned to his family behind us and pronounced, “This guy is a minister and drinks and swears, too, isn’t that neat?”  They nodded, said unenthusiastic “yeahs,” and turned back to the game, leaving Dan and the guy with the impression that “Dad” is off his rocker again talking to strangers. The guy turned back around, leaned towards Dan and, in a semi-conspiratorial tone, said, “You know, if our minister ever leaves, I think I can guarantee you a job. It’s a small church, just north east of here, but if you want it, I will make sure they give it to you.”

The moral of the story is that people go to baseball to have a good time and most of the time you meet some very nice people and, on occasion, if they start pulling your leg, it is fair game to pull theirs right back.  Heck, you never know:  you might get a job offer out of it. To this day, Dan tells people that he has a standing job offer to be a pastor for a congregation in a town about 30 miles northeast of Harrisburg.

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