Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Giant amongst Giants

"I see a red one!" exclaims as my son punches me in the shoulder. We are in the midst of a marathon punch buggy game as we drive north on the NYS Thruway and scan the road for Volkswagens. We are making our annual trip up to Albany to watch the NY Giants practice during training camp. We actually only started making the trip last year but it has quickly become a summer event.  We drive off the highway after our 150 mile trip, cross the intersection and enter the private roads of the college campus. We find a shady spot for the car and fall in line with the enthusiastic fan base. As we get closer my son starts reacting to the claps and shouts of player's names as they enter the facility to tape up and change from weekend clothes to their proper work attire; shorts, pads, jerseys, helmets and cleats.

We round the building and settle in to a grassy spot along the fence, again hearing a roar as the players trot down to the field, happy to see the faces, at the same time dreading the next few weeks of hard practice. My son is mimicking a play-by-play announcer, calling out the players as they reach the fresh cut grassy field and find their warm up station. The team jerseys are color coded as White for offense, Blue for defense and the always popular Red for the quarterbacks, which is a reminder to the guys in Blue that Red Means Stop. I hear people talking around us, criticizing one player or worried about that coach, and glance over to my son, sitting in the grass, hands cupping his Giants hat and his face, fixed to a smile.
After about an hour, and feeling baked from the sun, we walk up the hillside towards the concession stands and I enjoy the most delicious cherry-lemon ices I have ever had. I ask my son how his blueberry and green apple ices taste and he gazes up at me with a satisfying look, and I am taken back at the sight of his frosty blue lips and bright green teeth.

After we finish its time to plot our autograph signing spot. My son is excited to call out to the players and entice them to come over and sign his autograph ball. He is looking for three players that have eluded him in the past, Eli Manning, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. We notice that practice is about to break so my son breaks off in a sprint to secure a spot along the barricades and gets out his ball and a blue Sharpie. Players are making their way off the field, some run by as fans plead for face time. My son has already got a few when through the gate emerges target number one, Eli Manning. My son yells at the top of his lungs "Eli, over here!, Please sign my ball!" Eli hears him above the other shouts, turns and walks over. My son's hand is shaking as he hands him the ball. Eli takes it, and has a little trouble wrestling the Sharpie out of my son's clenched hand. Finally it breaks free and Eli signs and hands back the ball. My son's voice quivers as he says "Thanks Eli and have a great season." Eli replies "I hope so son.", and moves on to another excited fan. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were generously accommodating to the fans as they sign all sorts of items for about an hour after practice, but we almost missed them. The two linemen came off the field from a different gate and if we did not innocently turned our heads, we would not have spotted them. My son dashes off to the back barricades, just in time to secure signatures from both players. I was even able to snap a photo of my son and Tuck posing together, which immediately became my son's wall paper on his Mac.

When the players are safely inside the locker rooms, the barricades open and we make our walk back to the car. My son is chatting about the practice and meeting some of the players, then says "I heard people talking about selling their balls , I would never do that, this means something to me, they are my memories and why would I sell those?" I look at him and confirm his observation, saying "I don't know why someone would either."
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