At The Ballpark: The Realities of Trying to Cover a Game with My 3-Year-Old Autistic Daughter

Being school teachers, my wife and I have the convenience of having summers off. With that luxury comes the task of trying to entertain our two young children, age 3 and 18 months. While we relish our time with our children, as newish parents we are not used to having this extended time with them. Additionally, our daughter, the 3-year-old, is autistic. Entertaining her, educating her, and in general simply keeping her content is a full time job. After multiple early summer trips to the zoo, the park, indoor playgrounds and other kid friendly venues, I suggested we attempt to take in a minor league ball game.

I perused the schedules and saw that the Bowie Baysox were playing in Harrisburg at noon last Wednesday, June 20th. Harrisburg is a short, one hour drive from our suburban Baltimore home. This is a trip that I have taken multiple times before having kids. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to cover Orioles prospects for Prospects1500, while also deviating from the tedium of the indoor playgrounds and zoo trips. Family fun at the ballpark while getting eyes on some prospects.

I wanted to see first hand if Ryan Mountcastle could handle third base defensively. I had questions about whether a rehabbing Colby Rasmus had anything left and could be dangled as a trade chip at the deadline. I wanted to see if Anthony Santander could continue the domination of the Eastern League that he displayed when I saw him last summer. Could Brian Gonzalez make adjustments after a few poor showings since his promotion to Double-A? What player would surprise me and jump onto my radar?

As I drove up I-83, those were the questions I was writing in my mental notepad.

Divide and conquer. That is the reality that my wife and I live with when we take the kids out in public. My son, who is 18 months, is in a mama’s boy phase and hates being more than five feet away from her. My daughter who has developmental delays and is on the autism spectrum, has no awareness of her surroundings, lacks concern for her own safety, and would prefer to be in perpetual motion if possible. A free spirit who can’t be contained in one space. During our walks, which we both enjoy, she is constantly trying to break free of my hand grasp.

We bought tickets along the third baseline, so I could get a closer look at Mountcastle and his suspect glove. Before game time we walked around the stadium and explored the concourse. This was a conscious choice. An attempt to tire out our little spark plug before game time. As we passed behind the home plate concourse I took a picture of the lineup cards, which I always do when I enter a minor league stadium. I posted it on Twitter and was genuinely excited to get a look at these young players. I took a moment to reflect on how much I enjoy the low key excitement of a minor league game. While I was temporarily lost in my own romantic baseball thoughts, she broke free of my hand grasp and was running down the concourse. This happens often. She is not fast, so I sauntered after her and was quickly able to regain her hand. I am never afraid she is going to run off, or get lost in a crowd- I’ve learned to keep a close eye on her at all times. I’ve learned to never take a second off from parenting. I take comfort in holding her hand, and even if she can’t express it, and is constantly trying to break free, I know she takes the same comfort in locking hands.

As the game started, we took our seats along the third baseline. There were very few fans in our section, but we strategically placed ourselves an appropriate distance from other spectators. My wife and I were able to distract the kids with fruit snacks and yogurt pouches during the first inning. I was seated closest to the plate but my attention was to my left making sure my daughter was not climbing over the seat behind her or trying to crawl under the seat in front. The act of feeding her snacks temporarily kept her still. When I finally looked back to the game, Rasmus was standing on first base. I don’t remember hearing a crack of the bat, so I am assuming he walked. Santander came up next and roped a single to left field. Rasmus stopped at second. The top of the first ended uneventfully with the Baysox stranding the runners. My wife and I shared a knowing look and smiled. We shared a sense of triumph. We were able to manage the top half of the inning without incident.

The bottom of the first began with Gonzalez on the mound and my daughter on my lap. The fruit snacks were quickly disappearing and so was my daughter’s patience. She is non-verbal in the sense that she doesn’t communicate with words. But she is loud when she wants to be heard. The disgruntled jibber-jabber started. She can convey a lot with her non-language. She was saying, “I don’t want to be sitting here. I want to walk around. You can’t expect me to sit here any longer!” An usher, becoming aware of the noise, asked if we were alright. In all of the commotion I was unable to see if Mountcastle made any plays on the ball. I did note that Gonzalez struck out two batters and looked okay. But the game was only garnering 10% of my attention at that point.

After the first inning we admitted temporary defeat. Again we were walking around the stadium. We stopped at the family bathroom and changed diapers. Two hot dogs were sort of eaten. My daughter, again on my lap, has problems keeping food in her mouth. It’s an attention issue. About fifty percent of her food makes it into her mouth, and only half of that makes it there stays in her mouth as she chews. The rest ends up on my clothes.

After our half hearted attempt at lunch, I was again alternating between walking with and chasing my daughter around the concourse. There was a ball game going on the other side of the stands, but I was unable to see it. I heard cheers. I imagined a ball sailing over the fence and wondered who hit it.

My daughter and I continued on our course along the perimeter of the stadium. We continued the same dance that we always dance. Walk for a few steps in tandem. Her attempting to break free and run. Sometimes she manages to break free and loses my hand and takes off. She loves those few moments of freedom. Other times I can sense the slip coming and hold her hand tighter. We walked past an open part of the stadium and I see that it is the top of the third inning. Gonzalez has given up three runs in the bottom of the second. A quick glance of the field shows Colby Rasmus is again standing on first base. Maybe there is something left in the tank and he will bring the Orioles a low level prospect at the deadline.

As we continue on our path, we pass my wife and son walking in the opposite direction. When he sees me approach he excitedly says “Dada.” I smile and respond, “What’s up buddy?”

His older sister says nothing, barely acknowledging the rest of her family as we walk by. I try to steer her back toward a spot where I can watch some more of the game as we pace the stadium. This time it doesn’t work. She isn’t having it. She had reached her limit. She laid down on the cold cement concourse and smiled up at me. People are staring at us. I am used to the confused looks of strangers. I coax her to stand up. She takes two steps and attempts to do a headstand, all the while laughing at my attempts to move her along. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with my inability to watch the game, by her continued non-compliance, but mostly with my inability to reach her. However, in that moment I can’t help but feel comforted by the fact that she is happy.

She is not always happy.

We meet up with the rest of the family and decide to call it a day. We made it through three and half innings. I was able to watch one inning. Sort of. As we leave the stadium I give my daughter a lesson on how to descend stairs for about the one hundredth time. She still doesn’t quite have it down. “Hand on the railing. Step down. Move your hand to the next rail. Step down.”

The questions in my mental notepad will have to remain unanswered for now. I don’t have an answer as to whether Mountcastle can handle third. I don’t have an answer as to where Colby Rasmus is at this late stage of his career. I don’t know if Santander will be a future asset for the Orioles. I am unsure whether Gonzalez will figure out Double-A or if he will fizzle out at this level like so many vaunted Orioles prospects before him.

I came to the game with a lot of questions. I didn’t leave with many answers.

Featured image of FNB Field – via Harrisburg Senators on MiLB.com

2 Comments

  1. Tim, as a father of an autistic son I appreciated your story. He grew up outside of Wrigley Field until the age of 6 and I never thought of ever bringing him to a game. In fact, when I do attend Cubs games I only go during the day (when he’s at school) and generally have to leave early before he returns. The World Series and NLCS were my only exceptions.

    I can’t honestly tell you that “it gets better”, at least in the way that most think. As far as the looks I get from others, I’ve ignored that a long time ago.

    The advice I’d give is the same I’d give to any parent–you decide if you want to spend time with your children. Your children decide how that time will be spent. In other words, you find the things she enjoys and learn to enjoy doing that. It may not be baseball, and that’s okay.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story and advice with me. I’ve learned to lean on other families in similar situations. Thank you for your support.

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