In Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, the main character, Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, uses a rock hammer and two decades of time to dig a tunnel from prison to freedom.
After six long, winter months without Mets baseball, my Dad and I traveled five hours and ten minutes through a snowstorm, traffic, lost parking, and a final sprint to the ballpark, to find our own freedom. Mets baseball and 54 degree sunshine! Andy Dufresne famously crawled through a river of sh*t and came out clean on the other side. After our ordeal to get to the ballpark, we felt the same exact way.
Opening Day is a tradition between many fathers (and don’t forget mothers) and sons (and don’t forget daughters). My Dad and I are no different. We have been going to Opening Day every year since I was five years old and the Mets played at what my Dad always liked to call, The Big Shea. I remember one year, when I was in fifth grade, my Mom was hesitant to let me skip school to go to the game. I left the house, wearing my blue Mets windbreaker, and started walking as if I was going to school. My Dad had the car waiting just around the corner where it was out of sight from the house. We snuck to the game (later feeling guilty so telling my Mom).
Things have changed a bit since I was that little kid in a blue windbreaker with the orange interlocking NY on the chest. I am a father, myself, now. My daughter just turned one year old. So for Opening Day 2014, the routine felt a little different. I put my daughter in a David Wright onesie, and dropped her off at daycare for the day, before driving to my Dad’s house, making sure to be on time, so we could leave at 8:00am sharp.
We live about 110 miles away from Citi Field, making it a two hour drive to the stadium. By leaving at 8:00am, we knew we would have plenty of time to get to the park, relax, and enjoy all of the pre-game festivities.
Or so we thought…
8:00, 110 miles from Citi, 5 hours 10 minutes until first pitch.
As we began our journey, it began to snow. We brushed it off at first, both with our windshield wipers and minds, since it didn’t appear to be anything significant. But as we kept driving, the snow got more heavy. Suddenly, it was literally blizzard conditions. It wasn’t ever going to accumulate to a foot of snow, we were still confident of that, but the visibility and pace of the snowfall had reached blizzard-like intensity.
The thing about going to the game with my Dad is that he likes to have control. He is a year away from retirement, and despite his advanced age, he still likes to be the driver. The problem with that is despite the fact that I am clearly able to take the stress of driving away from him, I can’t. And that means, just like I would as a kid, as the snow got heavier, I got more worried about how he would react to it. Every time he asked me what I thought about the weather or our chances of making it through the snow, I made sure to give the most positive answer that I could. Nothing was stopping us from getting to that game.
10:00, 80 miles from Citi, 3 hours 10 minutes until first pitch.
After driving for two hours, we had made it 30 miles. Now, we were looking at 11:30 as the earliest we would get to the ballpark. Our extra relax time was lost. My Dad began to worry about the traffic once we got to the Citi Field exit. I kept reassuring him that everything would be okay.
11:45, 1 mile from Citi, 1 hour 25 minutes until first pitch.
We made it to the famous “Citi Field Marina” exit. It is a one lane exit off a major highway, so never fun to navigate into the stadium. But we had done it 1000 times before. I figured we would have the car parked by 12:15, the latest, and then we would have just enough time to get to our seats before the pre-game ceremonies began.
12:15, 1 mile from Citi, 55 minutes until first pitch.
At this point, the clock on the car’s dashboard was starting to become our enemy.
We had made absolutely no ground trying to get off the main exit, so we decided to try an alternate entrance. At that point, looking over the highway, we could see that just like last year on Opening Day, Cirque du Soleil had a gigantic tent taking up a huge swath of parking spots. When we got off the alternate exit, we were met by police pointing us in the opposite direction of the main lot we were trying to enter. We were forced to follow orange cones and a long line of cars to a lot somewhere on the perimeter of the stadium.
12:35, 1 mile from Citi, 35 minutes until first pitch.
Twenty minutes had passed and we still hadn’t reached the alternate lot that the Mets parking attendants promised to be sending us. There was an endless line of cars, filled with fans undoubtedly asking the same question. Why was there so much confusion about the parking?
12:45, 1.5 miles from Citi, 25 minutes until first pitch.
Now I am about to lose it. We have somehow driven to the wrong side of the 7 line subway tracks, bordering the World’s Fair grounds, and it is sinking in that we are going to miss first pitch. Even if we abandoned our car in the street, and walked from there, we would have trouble getting to our seat by 1:10.
12:50, 1.7 miles from Citi, 20 minutes until first pitch.
After four hours and fifty minutes, driving through snow, traffic, and endless confusion around Citi Field in search of parking, we needed to act quickly and desperately. We needed to park the car anywhere that wasn’t in the middle of the street, in order to have a chance of making it inside the stadium in time for first pitch. It is Opening Day! We can’t miss first pitch!
We pulled onto a side road away from the line of cars circling the stadium, and found an isolated area of parking spots underneath a bridge. There were a few other cars sparsely parked, or enough to make us feel at least somewhat comfortable we could leave our car there, so we parked and began a mad dash to the stadium.
A few minutes after 1:10, behind home plate, first pitch!
Once we cut through Flushing Meadows Park, we got a better idea of where we had parked our car. After years of coming to Shea, and now Citi, we had never found a reason to venture for parking this far from the stadium.
It took five hours, ten minutes, and every last second of the few minutes the game was delayed due to Ike Davis arriving late to the field, to see first pitch. We had dug our own tunnel from winter in Connecticut to sunshine at Citi Field. Opening Day!
Finally settled into our seats, sitting next to my Dad, and taking in the atmosphere of the ballpark, I realized something.
After our crazy journey to the ballpark, all of the hassle and frustration, it didn’t matter. We were there. The day wasn’t about a terrible commute to the stadium. It wasn’t about the parking fiasco. It wasn’t even about Bobby Parnell blowing another game to the Nationals. It was about me, my Dad, and Opening Day. Here we were again. Another adventure. Another memory together. Another day that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world
It is easy to build a routine around attending baseball games, even Opening Day. We go every year. We are fortunate enough to attend several games per year. What I thought about as we drove, this time, three hours through traffic to get home after the game, was how lucky I am. I got to see Opening Day with my Dad. How many more times will I get to say that in life? Whatever the number, not enough. And for that, a long day of traveling through snow, traffic, frustration, and a Mets loss, somehow felt clean on the other side.