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Connections

Our first trip to Fenway

At the ballpark with my son, a foul ball was headed our way. Would I be able to catch it for him?

Gracia Lam

I stared up at the ball in disbelief. It was actually headed our way. My 10-year-old son and I sprang to our feet as nearly every eye in Fenway Park looked in our direction. This was the moment we were here for.

I delight in the time I’ve spent with my son. There are gaps in these memories, however, because I have not always been home. Choosing a career in the Navy has been challenging. I often have felt guilty when my service kept me from my family. After returning from duty in Afghanistan when my son was only 8, I had been stunned by how grown up he sounded. He spoke differently than when I had left the year before. I had missed part of watching him grow up.

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We had talked about going to Fenway Park for weeks. My son had never been to a Major League Baseball stadium and, like most boys, he hoped he’d catch a ball from our seats. I smiled and remembered having the same dream as a boy. I always brought my glove to Fenway, where every crack of the bat ignited the spark of hope that I might catch a baseball for a souvenir. As with most people who shared that dream, it never happened.

Back in the stands nearly 30 years since my last visit, that spark caught fire again as Jacoby Ellsbury’s foul ball rose high into the Boston night and then made its way toward us. I wanted to catch that baseball. I wanted to give it to my son. I wanted him to have that great souvenir from our evening together. I planted my feet in a defensive stance as I prepared to lunge for it. The other hopeful fans pressed in around us. Everyone thought he had a shot, but it was coming right at me.

Springing up and extending my arms as far as they would go, I felt a bump from behind just as the baseball cruised past my fingertips. The ensuing roar from our section as I fell forward told me someone had made the catch. Wishing it had been me, I turned to apologize to my son for coming up short.

He just stood there. With his baseball cap in his hand and an enormous smile on his face, my son was saying something I couldn’t hear over the mayhem.

“What?” I shouted back.

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“It’s in my hat,” he repeated. “I caught the ball in my hat!”

I gaped. As he stood there with his prize, I hugged him probably a little too hard. Fans around us slapped him on the back. They seemed as proud of him as I was.

I watched my son give high-fives to the strangers who only seconds earlier had been his competition for the baseball now securely in his grasp. It had turned out much better than if I had caught the ball myself and given it to him. Seeing him so happy gave me an even better souvenir to take home than the ball.

We were both exhausted when I finally tucked him in to bed. “You just caught a foul ball in the air hit by a Red Sox player at Fenway Park,” I told him. “I’m not sure it can get much better for a 10-year-old boy in this town.”

He gave me a big hug and whispered, “Thank you for taking me to the game with you, Dad.”

He didn’t mention the baseball sitting on his dresser or his amazing catch. That was my dream, not his. In the greatest moment of all that night, I realized that his dreams were about spending time with me.

J.R. Anderson is a commander in the US Navy and a national security fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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