Fans of tradition: A daughter tips her hat to dad on Opening Day

There is a little disagreement about the number of Opening Days my dad, Ray, and I have spent in Arlington. I say "most," my dad says "all." Truth is, it's probably somewhere in between.

We didn't even acknowledge that it was becoming a tradition until several years into it. It was just a day I could spend with my dad, sitting outside, taking in the ceremony and hoping for a Rangers win. There might have been a few beers.

Dad had a few rules about Opening Day.

Rule No. 1: We had to be there when the gates opened. Sometimes that was 10 a.m. when the game started at 1:05. That's not bad when the weather cooperates. There are few things better than sitting at The Ballpark in early April, with the sun warming your winter legs.

But the years when it was cold -- and boy, was it cold -- there were several trips to the outfield souvenir shop to buy sweat shirts and coats. One year, we had to settle for a towel to wrap up in, because the outerwear was all gone.

Rule No. 2: We had to eat at The Ballpark. Arlington has some nice restaurants around the stadium, but none of them has the ballpark hotdog, pretzel and chicken fingers with barbecue sauce. Hooter's distracted him for a couple of years, but eventually we agreed to leave that for regular-season dining.

Rule No. 3: Buy a new cap, no matter how many you already have. Walking through the concourse, before we got our hot dogs, Dad would stop at a souvenir stand to "look" at the hats. Then he'd buy one. "Dad," I said, "didn't you buy a hat last year?"

"Yes, but I didn't buy this year's hat."

It didn't matter if the style changed or if the change was as subtle as adding black piping, he bought it.

Rule No. 4: Whenever possible, get seats in the lower bowl and preferably Section 40. Section 40 has several things going for it. It's a short walk from the first-base entrance and it had our favorite beer vendor, Gordie from Section 40. He even had his own business card.

Rule No. 5: Peanuts are a must, and they can't be store-bought. We tried that. Peanuts just taste better when you let the vendor get six rows below you before you holler, "Peanuts!" Then he or she whirls, spots the waving hand and lets it fly.

I always felt sorry for anyone who had to walk past us to get to their seats. The ground was a minefield of crunchy shells. One year, I remember Dad announcing: "My doctor says I can't have peanuts. It's bad for my stomach." But by the fourth inning, his outstretched hand was begging for just a few. "You can't come to a baseball game and not eat peanuts. Don't tell your mother." I never did.

Rule No. 6: Butts in seats for the pregame ceremony. This was our favorite part of Opening Day. Dad is a World War II Navy veteran. His eyes sparkle when service members unfurl that giant flag in center field, and he sings loudly and proudly when the band plays Anchors Aweigh. But it is the flyover that brings tears to his eyes.

Just before the national anthem ended, a B-1 or B-52 bomber would fly low over the ball field. Those of us in the lower bowl would only know the location and timing when we'd hear the buzz and cheers from those in the upper decks, who had a better sightline of the approaching planes. Once the planes passed, Dad would wipe his eyes and say, "That always gets me."

No Opening Day was better than another, but we did choose to live the good life a couple of years. Dad and I rented a suite to accommodate the family, which, by that time, wanted in on the tradition.

Something happens to 10 fairly normal adults when they are in an outfield suite on Opening Day. Maybe it's the excitement, maybe it's the refreshments, but we spent hours playing with the electric lift from one level to the next.

The next year, some family members looted empty suites on their way out. They scored a few of those magnetic regular-season schedules, and one of us might have slipped a bottle of wine into her purse.

We didn't get the suite the next year.

This will be the second year that I haven't gone to Opening Day with my dad. At 90, it's difficult for him to walk from the handicapped parking lot to our seats. He'll be watching at home, and I'll be watching at the office.

But I'll be thinking about him today, remembering the laughter and the tears of the best days this daughter has spent with her dad.

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