“The Old Man and the Seats”

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Million Mile Secrets team member Scott traveled to the Dominican Republic at a discount thanks to miles.  And he has a Father’s Day story to tell…

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

The old man had taught the boy about baseball and the boy loved him.

The Old Man And The Seats

Feel Her Tropical Sun, Sink Your Toes in Her White Sand Beaches, Explore Her Fascinating Colonial Zone. And Consider Meeting an Old Man at a Game That’s Lived Over 100 Years in the Dominican Republic

I was that boy in America.  And the old man was my dad who was once a younger man.  And while traveling to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I met another old man who let me stay in his seats.

This Is a Love Story.  And Love Isn’t a Perfect Game

My beautiful and sweet travel partner and I walked through the rough-looking streets of the island nation’s capital.  She knew I must satisfy my curiosity.  I had to experience what I knew but in the way it was done down here.

As we walked I flashed back to my hometown neighborhood: that mix of urban decay and creativity and hope and nervous energy that anything could happen at any time and it wasn’t always good.

My guard was up.

The Old Man And The Seats

A Side Street in Santo Domingo Can Feel Simultaneously Quiet & Chaotic

I had wanted to buy these baseball tickets online to earn points.  But I couldn’t get the site to work.  And so we walked up ready to purchase tickets at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal.

Humble but persistent ticket scalpers offered discounts as deep as their desperation and followed us blocks away from the field, walking with us and negotiating in Spanish.  But I was fearful these were counterfeit tickets or that we’d be scammed.

Even at the very entrance of the field, a scalper that had trotted alongside us was telling us to buy from him.

What’s the Cost of Opening Up?

But an old man looked over at me.  The old man spoke in gentle tones and broken English.  He offered that we sit next to him and his wife.  My New York sensibilities furrowed my brow, “What’s his angle? How much?”

Nada.

I had no idea where in the open air stadium we’d sit, but the price was right and what’s more…he and his wife looked compassionate and welcoming.  I’d like to make friends.

We walked in and I prepared to hike up a few flights of stairs.  I was excited and open to this cultural experience.

But instead we walked straight ahead to the best seats in the building, right behind home plate.

The ushers greeted the grand gray-haired couple by name and we all sat down.

That Awakening Feeling You Get When You Make a Personal Connection

“¡Gracias, gracias, gracias!” I wanted to repay their generosity by getting them cerveza.  But they wouldn’t allow it.

The old man handed me a cold, green bottle of gold-colored Presidente beer to cool the senses in the heat and humidty that settled over us.

The Old Man And The Seats

A Blissful Evening at the Park, Full of Music, Action, and Beats of Rest to Invite Conversation

Despite the language barrier, the old man and I did our best to chat during a baseball game’s natural pauses.  Taking in a regular season game is much like laying in a hammock while watching a bird hover over the ocean looking for food.  You’re relaxing and then drawn to the intermittent excitement and drama of the hungry, splashing dive into the saltwater full of frantic fish.

So you’ve got plenty of time to speak or not speak and take in the green grass and blue skies.

The manicured lawn with 9 men reaching for their dreams contrasted with the concrete and asphalt and yes, the gasping despair of some in the city, just as our fairly swanky Airbnb condo seemed out of place next to the struggling bodega next door where a few unshaven men sat with seemingly not much to do.

The Old Man held his wife’s hand.  Her touch was as familiar and comforting to him as the game in front of us.

My Dad Hit Me Baseballs for Hours Each Warm Weekend

My father instilled a love of baseball in me.  And while Dad and I too often seem to not have much in common or anything substantial to discuss — we always have baseball.  We talk about the game.  We talk about the season.  We talk.  We’d talk a lot less without it.

My mom watches games with my dad, usually while playing solitaire, or reading a crime mystery novel.  But she’s there with him, supporting the team.

The Old Man And The Seats

In Santo Domingo, Dancers Use the Dugout as a Stage to Rally Enthusiasm for the Home Team

Baseball pumps through the blood of many Dominicans.  Their players have had an incredible impact on the American game.

Their History Is Intertwined With Ours

The old man told me of the old days when great African-American players in the Negro Leagues who were denied entrance to the segregated US Major Leagues went south to his Caribbean island for bigger salaries.

This included legendary talents like “Cool Papa” Bell, the fastest man in baseball.  And Satchel Paige, who was finally given a chance to break into the Major Leagues at 42 years of age, when most rookies are in their early 20s.  He was so popular, he was lured out of retirement to pitch at age 59, as a publicity stunt.  But he was as dominant as ever, hurling 3 scoreless innings.

As my wonderful travel partner was off chatting with the old man’s wife, roaming the stadium taking photos as is her hobby, and considering souvenirs.  I asked the old man his thoughts about Dominican-born players that I had cheered, like Pedro Martinez.

The Skin Around His Eyes Cracked and a Smile Slid Across His Face

Perhaps his joy was because Pedro Martinez was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame and his speech was triumphant:

I would like you actually to see me as a sign of hope for a third-world country and Latin America…someone you can really look up to…I want to make sure my people…see me as a sign of hope for a future generation.  I feel proud to represent the Dominican Republic.  I just dedicated this day to the all fathers in the Dominican.  Because today is Father’s Day.

He concluded his speech by holding up his nation’s flag with fellow countryman and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal — the man after which the stadium I was sitting in was named.


 

I sat with the old man for hours — sometimes talking, sometimes sitting in peaceful silence, sometimes jumping up to cheer.  And at the same time I sat with my grandpa, who had passed on 8 seasons ago.

One Last Game With Grandpa

As a kid, my family would trek upstate most summers to live in the most modest of bungalow communities with other folks trying to trade the grimy dirt of the city for the soft, natural earthworm dirt of the country.

Grandpa would sit out on the porch listening to the game.  I’d sit too.  Sometimes he’d bark in frustration, sometimes he’d sigh, sometimes he’d laugh, it didn’t matter.  I had him and I had baseball.

Grandma had him too.  And she’d watch or listen to the game with him for 62 years.

And after he died, she’d watch the game with him looking on with her from the grandstands of heaven.  I’d like to think that.  I noticed that after Grandpa was gone, she paid closer attention to the games than before — like she was trying to reach back for those moments with her husband.

She did that for 7 years.  She no longer had him.  This is what was left.  Until she passed too.

It was comforting and familiar and it marked the time.

Baseball brought me closer to my grandpa, and my grandma closer to my grandpa, and me closer to my dad, and my mom closer to my dad.

And on that muggy evening, in the capital of the Dominican Republic, it brought me closer to the people of a different country, thanks to the Old Man and the Seats.

 

I use miles and points to discover new places.  And to rediscover old feelings with new faces.  And I want you to have the same opportunity.

Examples of Miles & Points You Can Use to Experience Santo Domingo:

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2 responses to ““The Old Man and the Seats”

  1. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  2. Bassett Arlene

    A beautiful and touching story. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. The video was so filled with sensitivity and feelings. Amazing story of the old man and the seats! And so stunningly written by you!
    Would like to take this opportunity to applaud Darius and Emily as they make all of these interchanges possible . Arlene Bassett