by Joshua Foer
NINETEEN NINETY-SIX, THE YEAR MY BELOVED BALTIMORE ORIOLES finally shed their hapless loserdom, coincided with my freshman year of high school, when I rushed headlong into mine. After more than a decade of dwelling near the cellar of the American League East, the team had qualified for the playoffs as a wild card and advanced to the American League Championship Series. Their opponent? The despicable New York Yankees. I wore braces and Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
In the Foer home, where a large framed Cal Ripken poster hung in the basement opposite the wall of family photos, this was a moment of considerable excitement. (Well, for the men of the family it was—my mom was "happy we were happy.") All those years of unrewarded devotion, all those Yom Kippur benedictions, had finally amounted to something. I understood that the rest of my life after that October would simply be denouement.
The problem that threatened to polarize my family? Several games of that Yankees series were day games, played during school hours. My father, who could count the number of O's games he had missed that year on three hands, was prepared to let me stay home "sick" so I wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of watching the games on tape delay. My mother, who'd used her box seat at the stadium as a reading chair until my dad had stopped inviting her to games, thought this would set some sort of bad precedent. Or something.
"No means no," I remember her telling me, though I suspect it was Dad she was really addressing.
Family rap sessions were held. Tears may have been shed. Desperate measures were considered. I called the local counterespionage store—I grew up in Washington, not Baltimore— and explained my predicament. I asked if they sold a concealable radio that would allow me to attend school and listen to the games at the same time. Maybe something with one of those Secret Service earpieces? The answer was no, at least within the budget of my allowance.
In the end, Mother was the necessity of invention. She was holding fast against any scheme that involved me missing school. So, a day before the series started, while she was out painting ceramic mugs at a Made by You store, my father and I hatched a plan. We tore apart a pair of the smallest headphones we could find and superglued the innards of one earpiece to the underside of my oversize wristwatch—which,
despite my dropped voice, still had mathematical functions. A sweater far too warm for D.C. in October concealed the cord that snaked up my arm, under my armpit, and down to the FM receiver in my pants pocket.
I sat through world history with my hands clasped behind my head and the watch radio whispering play-by-play into my ear. Before class, someone had written the score on the chalkboard: O's 2, Yanks 2. That changed in the top of the third when Rafael Palmeiro smacked another one of the towering home runs he'd been hitting all year. While my teacher lectured, I flashed the new score to a friend in the front of the room. He got up and corrected the chalkboard. My cell phone (yes, I was an early adopter) was already buzzing in my pocket. It was my dad, calling to make sure I'd heard.
Joshua Foer was raised on a diet of Mr. Wizard, Quantum Leap, and MacGyver reruns. He is now a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.
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