This past June we set out to my husband’s home state of Ohio. A year and a half prior, he swore we’d never return to the Buckeye state if we could help it. We had lost too much there… especially him. So much of his life’s story now has tainted memories because an extremely close family member, as it turns out, was caught in a double life after running fast and hiding furiously for the majority of a 60+ year lifetime. When a home doesn’t exist as you once knew it, it’s hard to find something for to which to return. But God leaned in and whispered to my husband, “You can go home for a visit. It won’t be the same as it once was, but I will be with you and I will show you how I can redeem those hole filled memories with holy new ones.” So we loaded up our wiggly one year old and our black haired dog in my Grandma’s old volvo to head for his Grandma’s white carpeted condo. My husband’s favorite musician, Paul Simon, helped lure him onto this trip with a concert just across the river. Other than that, we didn’t know what to expect. We just went.
On the way up, I snagged us a couple Stubhub tickets to go see the Cincinnati Reds the next day. The Reds were part of the background music to much of my husband’s story. He grew up going to the games with his family and friends. The Great American Ballpark was the setting for the last home run family memory before it all fell apart. After things went sour, he didn’t even want to wear his Reds’ hat anymore.
In these days of searching for redemption, we simply wanted to take our son to a Reds’ game and make new memories. Yet, God wanted to lavish His perfect Heavenly Father love over my husband in this place. He wanted to whisper how He knew my husband more intimately than the one who wounded him the most or anyone who loved him the most on earth ever could. He wanted to tell my sweet David that He ‘gets’ him…every bit of him…because He made him and wired him uniquely and intricately. He wanted me to come along side of my husband to watch in real time with a gaping mouth and brimming heart to see how He could use something as trivial as baseball and bobbleheads to bring redemption and resurrection to our story.
The trip from Virginia to Ohio took way more than the calculated 8 hours to drive. The deeper we get into parenthood, the more we understand that we should expect at least time and a half for any road trip’s predictions. We were tired. We had already been sprinting for the past month and a half to close on a new house, move out of an old house while leaving it in pleasing conditions for the rental company, move into the new house while dealing with all the issues required to get it livable, and on top of it all, to throw an enormous 1 year old birthday party for our miracle son. The only reason we chose to take this trip when we did was because of that Paul Simon concert. It was a week away from my husband’s birthday and we thought that would be an eventful way to mark it back in his home town. The Reds’ game was just going to be a laissez faire pit stop on this redemption tour of Cincinnati. Or so we thought.
We got to the Great American Ballpark an hour and a half after the game had started due to obscene amounts of traffic and equally obscene amounts of unavailable parking spaces. To make matters more complicated, I read the fine print and realized my tickets had to be printed. I had to sweet talk the park ticket office to get them to print them for me. By the time we got our Skyline Cheese Coneys and Cokes and made our way to our seats, it was the bottom of the 5th inning. I was covered in fancy shredded cheddar and our baby was freaking us out with his wiggles in our nose bleed seats, which happened to be precisely underneath the burning ball of gas in the sky most refer to as the sun. We were having fun, but decided to go cool down by exploring the ballpark. By the time we got to the elevators, crowds started surrounding us; the game was over. It must have been one of the fastest baseball games in history. Still, we decided to make the most of our time at the park and stroll around.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a table with bobbleheads for sale. They were vintage looking, too. I took David by the hand and said, “I know you want one of those. Come on, I’m going to go get one for you as an early birthday present.” As I was paying $20 to the gentleman selling them, he said, “Oh, be sure to check the inside of your box before you leave because we are giving away something like a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket called The Ultimate Reds Experience.” I dug my fingers in the cardboard box and pulled out a red piece of paper. “Is this what you’re talking about?” I asked. Dumbfounded, he said, “You’re KIDDING ME! We’ve had thousands of these for sale since April and YOU just found the last ticket.”
The man (who turned out to be the head of the Reds’ Hall of Fame!!!) did his best to explain to us what we had just won but I don’t think it all clicked right then. We knew it was a big deal, but we were so hot and dumbfounded that we were having trouble processing it. We were to come back Saturday for a tour of the stadium where we would receive free stuff and meet some surprise guests. THEN, the next Saturday, we would be VIP guests for the Pete Rose Statue dedication and we would probably get to meet him, too.
Y’all. I know this is a long story. But stick with me. God did amazing things through this ticket.
The Saturday of the tour we were to go to the Paul Simon concert. The following Saturday that we could be VIP guests was not only David’s birthday, but also it was the day after a going away party for some friends back home in Virginia that we had committed to attend.
We were so tired, as I said, and it was so so hot. The night before the tour, I casually mentioned to David that I wondered if it was really worth it. He was tracking with me and feeling the same way. But then we asked ourselves, “Why not? Why would we waste this opportunity when we specifically asked God to redeem tainted memories in Cincinnati and to make new ones?”
So we showed up at the gates of the stadium bright and early, all decked out in Red and White Reds’ gear. We entered through the museum and on through a gauntlet of reenactor vintage Reds’ players to a small theatre where we were given a few overall instructions and a swag bag each of stuff.
At every stop, there were surprises. The home locker rooms. The away locker rooms. The dug out. Hitting baseballs ON the field with the advice of the actual Reds’ hitting coach and a World Series Champ himself being given to us as he stood beside us. The Scout’s club. Meeting 3 more World Series Champs and getting all of their autographs on a MLB ball we were each given. Wearing the World Series Ring that one of the champs, a member of the Big Red Machine, let me try on. Getting our own replica rings. Visiting the studio of Marty Brennaman and also “The Cowboy” while trying to resist grabbing one of his Mexican Cokes or Graeter’s Ice Creams out of his mini fridges. David recording a sound bit in the on sight radio studio. Meeting the General Manager of the team. Visiting the Owner’s Office and having lunch in his box. Meeting the sculptor for the new Pete Rose statue while standing where it would be installed one week later. These are some of the highlights of that once in a lifetime experience we had as a family that day with about 14 other winners.
As if that were not enough, we decided that we should indeed stay for the next week’s part of our Ultimate Fan Package experience. Our friends’ party was cancelled due to rain so we really had nothing holding us back.
We showed up in our Reds’ gear again that day… my husband’s 32nd birthday. All the banners in the park were dated, “June 17th, 2017.” Reminders that it was his birthday were inescapable. This day wasn’t just about Pete; it was about David. We walked the Red Carpet as a few spectators, surrounded by a ton of baseball somebodies. Dave Concepcion. Joe Morgan. Dave “The Cobra” Parker. Doug Flynn. Ken Griffey, Sr. My husband’s all time favorite, Johnny Bench. And of course, the man of the hour, Pete Rose. These people walked RIGHT past our seats and onto the stage for the program. (Admittedly, I only was familiar with 3 of these guys prior to this experience. But still…you live and learn, right?) What’s more, halfway through the ceremony, an older lady who was a coworker with our private tour guide from the week before almost insisted that I cool off inside with Patrick with other mothers. Through the course of conversation, I realized that the mothers I was hanging out with were none other than Pete Rose’s children and grandchildren and Ken Griffey Senior’s wife!
After David’s birthday lunch, we hustled back to the stadium not just for the game, but to go into the Crosley room. It was in that room that a man with snake skin cowboy boots, a red sport coat barely covering his monogramed sleeves, and a white Reds’ snapback came in. He told us stories from the road of days gone by. He shared a comical story about a dining experience with the great Willie Mays. Our small group experienced something that few others in that park did that day: we met the Hit King himself. Pete Rose not only wished my favorite Cincinnati Boy Happy Birthday in the Great American Ball Park that day, he made tooting noise raspberry sounds back and forth with my son. Sterling character the Hit King has not, but that experience was a redemptive treasure God gave us that day.
All this because my David loves bobbleheads.
Years before, the same person who wounded him so badly had given him $20 to take on a church outing to a Reds Game. “Don’t spend it on something stupid,” he said.
David had read an article about bobbleheads in TIME Magazine. (What kid does THAT on the regular?) Bobbleheads were rare and made a comeback because one man couldn’t find them anywhere, so he started replicating them and selling them in the States. The Reds’ stadium was one of the places these could be found.
On that church outing, David searched the whole stadium for one of these special souvenirs and wound up holding the church bus up for twenty minutes while they waited for him. He was teased for spending that money and time on a doll. But to him, it was a treasure.
God wired David to love bobbleheads and He knew the stories his pages would read from that bobblehead to the one I got him on our fifth-inning appearance that seemed like one giant snafu. He knew that something even as seemingly insignificant and small as that could be huge in bringing redemption to my husband’s story of family, home, and how he would see God as his Father more through His generous plans for David’s heart.
We almost missed God’s gift in our story because we didn’t feel like showing up. In our weariness, we almost declined a present intricately tailored to stitch a giant gash in my husband’s heart. Somehow, though, God gave us the extra ounces of strength we needed to simply come to the right place at the right time. It was the right place at the right time because it was His plan, not ours. Oh, to think what we might have missed if we had not cashed in our prize.
Just about every office we passed through in that stadium hosted scores of bobbleheads. David was back home and his Heavenly Father was there to welcome him with lavish gifts.
Maybe there are things in your life that might be invitations from God to just come and cash in the prize He has for you. I know you get weary, my friend. I understand that more than most might. Rest as you can to gain strength, but don’t close your eyes so often that you neglect the life giving exercise of coming.
There is restoration of strength and resurrection of heart to be found in showing up, even when your stamina is waning.
You’ve got a lot of bases to cover as you run your race, but if you show up and look up, God will lead your feet right to home plate. Don’t miss it.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17