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Child's play


They say kids grow up too fast these days, and it's hardly helping that Ben Affleck's second job is brainwashing babies into becoming Red Sox fans.

So Sunday I took advantage of my 5-year-old's remaining innocence and enjoyed the simples pleasures (and headaches) of taking my son to see a ballgame between the hometown Mets and rivals Braves. It went like this:

12:56 p.m.: I congratulate myself for knowing enough to take Sam to the bathroom before the game starts. Standing in a stall, he calls out to me, "I can't pull my pants down!" Before I can respond, a small voice from the next stall over squeaks, "Pull harder!"

1:03: I figure out that writing about this experience will turn the cost of our tickets into a deductible business expense. I quickly jot down that bathroom story before I forget it.

1:29: "Daddy, can I have a snack?" It's only the bottom of the second. I was hoping to get through at least two innings before dipping into the bag of snacks. I tell him to watch the Mets bat first.

1:30: Carlos Delgado takes strike one. "Ball one," Sam announces. I tell him it was a strike, not a ball. "But he didn't swing," Sam protests. I launch into an explanation of the strike zone that distracts him for a whole minute.

1:31: "Can I have a snack?"

1:33: "Can I have a snack?"

1:36: The inning ends. As I'm taking out a snack for Sam, the scoreboard trivia question asks who was the youngest Mets player in history. Sam goes with choice (A), Ed Kranepool. The fan selected to play guesses (B), Dwight Gooden. The answer: Kranepool. "Yay, I was right!" Pause. "Can I have my snack now?"

I give him his snack. He doesn't say another word until he's done eating, eight minutes later. I start wishing I had brought more snacks.

1:44: Chipper Jones comes up. As per usual, the crowd starts derisively chanting "Lar-ry, Lar-ry." Sam asks why, so I explain Jones's odd distaste for his own name. Sam is amused. Jones strikes out. The crowd goes nuts. Sam throws his tiny fists in the air in triumph. I'm a very proud father.

1:50: The moment is short-lived. Sam is bored now. Prepared, I hand him a notebook and markers. Rule No. 2 of taking young kids to the game: bringing diversions like art supplies may seem to defeat the purpose, but it's a whole lot better than leaving in the third inning.

1:52: After a botched bunt by Tom Glavine, Jose Reyes is up with two men on. Looking for a big hit, the crowd sings the Jose song. Sam stops drawing momentarily to sing along.

Reyes is Sam's favorite player. He's every young Mets fan's favorite player. Kids his age don't care (or even know) about the stolen bases or the triples: they love Reyes for the crazy hair, the big smile, the fun little song, and the choreographed handshakes. In fact, last season Sam asked me to choreograph a cool handshake for us to do around the house whenever something good happens. There are few things cuter than a five-year-old pounding fists with someone to celebrate a hard-fought victory at Chutes and Ladders.

1:55: The Mets have runners at the corners with two outs and Paul Lo Duca batting. "I'm thirsty. Daddy, can you get me a drink?" I give him a juice box, which he finishes in about 12 seconds. LoDuca grounds out to end the threat. I grumble, but Sam is enjoying dropping the empty box on the floor too much to notice.

To a kid, throwing garbage on the stadium floor is one of the great perks of being a sports fan. I was the same way. It's the same kind of naughty pleasure that the players get from spitting -- it's OK to do it at the ballpark, but you know you'd never get away with it at home. I wonder if Sam was really thirsty or just wanted to do some littering.

2:14: Fourth inning, David Wright at the plate. Sam stops making up nonsense songs to yell "Let's go, David!" Could it be that he's suddenly into the game? Not quite. "Can I have a snack?" I give him an apple. Bad news: we're only about an hour in, and I'm already out of snacks. Clearly my parenting is not yet in midseason form. Luckily Sam nurses the apple for longer than Bleeding Gums Murphy nurses the national anthem before Springfield Isotopes games.

2:25: Bottom five, Shawn Green up. The big screen plays a video of Chris Rock urging everyone to chant, "Let's Go Mets!" Sam obeys, as does the rest of the crowd. I like Chris Rock, but I don't know if I want my preschooler taking orders from a guy who uses so much vulgarity. Before I can worry too much, Green homers to tie the score at 1.

2:33: At the end of the inning, Mr. Met comes out for the T-shirt launch. To Sam, this is hands down the most exciting part of the game so far. Kids love mascots like Joanie loves Chachi.

2:52: With the Mets now down 3-1 in the sixth, Green walks. Before Jose Valentin comes to the plate, Bobby Cox argues and gets tossed. Sam asks what's going on. I tell him that Cox got a time-out for being mean to the umpire.

2:56: Valentin is still up. The crowd starts cheering, "Let's go Mets!" I join them, but Sam sits silently. Then the Chris Rock video plays again. Sam starts cheering. Pookie from New Jack City now officially has more influence on my son than I do.

3:01: With one run in, the bases are now loaded with two outs. Reyes hits one into the right-field corner -- a bases-clearing triple! 5-3 Mets! Sam stands on his chair with his arms in the air, screaming, "Wooo!" We do our little handshake. We sing "Jose, Jose-Jose-Jose" along with the sellout crowd. Just try telling anyone in the stands right now that baseball is slow and boring. This moment -- this is why we become sports fans. This is why we become parents.

3:17: With two outs in the seventh, Edgar Renteria hits a game-tying, three-run homer. Sam's reaction: "Awwwwwww!" My reaction: unprintable.

Both of us start getting cranky. Sam asks for another drink. 14 times.

3:27: "Daddy, I'm starting to get impatient about the drink." Well, at least he's articulate.

3:43: The dreaded words are uttered: "I wanna go home." I'm wondering if I can stretch him any further when he suddenly perks up and notices that first base, third base and home plate make a triangle.

3:45: Kelly Johnson's three-run homer in the eighth puts the Braves up 9-6. Thousands of tired 5-year-olds of all ages head for the exits. We stay.

4:02: When the eighth inning ends, Hips Don't Lie plays over the speakers. "Oh, I love this song!" Sam yells. So much for that innocence. Suddenly Chris Rock doesn't seem like such a bad role model.

4:06: Sam puts his hat over his face and starts watching the game through the little circular holes in his hat. At least he's still watching.

4:31: After three-and-a-half hours, the game mercifully ends. "Which team won?," Sam asks. I tell him the Braves. "Noooooooo!" See, I told you he's articulate.

Commiserating with Sam somehow makes the long, frustrating loss a little less painful. All told it was a good day. I got to teach him about strike zones, bunting, ejections, and the value of supporting your team by staying until the last pitch no matter how unlikely a comeback may be. But I'm tired now. I'll let Chris Rock teach him the rest.