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Ten Year Trip for Henry

07 August 2023
Henry and I attending five baseball games in six days

When I first started at ESPN there was a colleague who planned a trip for each of his seven kids when they turned ten years old. The trip would be one-on-one time with just one parent and would be tailored to the interest of the kid at that time. Ever since hearing that, I told Christi whenever we had kids we were stealing that idea.

A couple of years ago we brought this idea up with Henry and it bounced around a lot. There were talks of visiting Alcatraz on a San Francisco trip, seeing as many Memphis Grizzlies games as we could, catching NCAA tournament games, etc. Finally, Henry decided that he wanted to go see the Braves, especially Acuna, in person. After finding a narrow window due to his summer baseball commitments, we settled on three games in Atlanta against the Angels.

As luck would have it, the Braves ensuing road trip took them to Chicago to play the Cubs. It didn’t take much for Henry to talk me into extending the trip as Chicago is one of my favorite places on this planet and Henry really wanted to see one of his favorite players who was recently traded: Dansby Swanson.

We lucked out having two of our three games in Atlanta being night games. It was HOT while we were there (I’m sure it’s always hot). Seeing Ohtani and the Angels was great because the Ohtani effect is real. It was really great seeing so many Asian-American people at all three games to watch him. The Angels took the first game, but the Braves were able to win the series by taking the next two.

Luck was on our side the entire trip. It started off that the second game was a Fred McGriff HOF bobblehead giveaway night. Not just that they’d have a bobblehead of my favorite player, they also had his HOF plaque outside the field for everyone to take pictures with. I roasted in the aforementioned hot Atlanta sun while Henry made friends outside of Truist park playing whiffle ball. So, our three days in Atlanta were amazing ... but it somehow got even better as we planned to travel to Chicago.

Fred McGriff HOF bobblehead

Right after getting through security in Atlanta’s airport, we instantly see John Smoltz come out of the bathroom. Henry is BEGGING me to allow him to ask for his autograph and we have a long talk that if some day he’s a hall of famer, he’ll appreciate that he can go pee in peace and not have people swarm him at every second. Being 10, and also probably understanding he’ll never be in the hall of fame for anything, he doesn’t agree/like my logic at all. So, we continues to plead with me as we catch our train to our terminal and there is no chance of ever running into Smoltz again.

As he’s eating a donut as a consolation prize, we finally make it to our gate and low and behold … Jeff Francoeur is standing waiting to get on OUR EXACT FLIGHT. Once again the pleading begins to go get Jeff’s autograph. It’s funny at this point as Henry knows him as the Braves announcer and I remember him as having one of the best outfield arms I’ve ever seen. Our conversation starts off the same by me telling him that Jeff is a human being and we shouldn’t just rush over there. With irony, and luck, on Henry’s side, Jeff leaves the line to go to the bathroom. Henry and I are standing by a column with no one within twenty feet of us. When Jeff comes out of the bathroom, somehow he locks eyes at me and I say, “How’s it going Jeff?” He gives me a thumbs up and a smile and at that time, I lean over to Henry, give in, and say, “Go use all of your manors when you ask for an autograph!”

Henry takes a cheap ball and a smeary marker out of my bag and runs over to Jeff (you might know what’s coming next). As he’s running back to me, I mouth “Thank you” to Jeff and Henry is on cloud nine with his first baseball autograph. As we are waiting to board, you can clearly tell the ink is not drying. So I’m holding it the best I can, but need to put it in my backpack to roll my suitcase and put it in the overhead. When we sit in our seats, I take out the ball and it’s a little smudged. The good news is that Jeff’s signature is untouched. Unfortunately, this means nothing to Henry as his very first autograph is now ruined. He sits through the majority of our two-hour flight saying how he should’ve just had Jeff sign his hat.

Jeff Francoeur autographed baseball

As we are getting off the plane, he’s complaining that he missed his opportunity to get his hat signed instead. I told him, unlike Smoltz earlier, I knew exactly where Jeff would be next. Without saying anything to Henry, and even though we just had carry-on suitcases, I start walking towards baggage claim. I knew Jeff would have suits, at the very least, that’d he’d have checked and would need to pick up. As we approach Jeff. I tell him thanks again for the signature, but it smudged on the flight. Before I can even finish my sentence, he starts asking what else he could sign. He ends up signing Henry’s hat, takes a few pictures with us and starts asking Henry about summer baseball (he liked to hear that Henry played RF!). Jeff couldn’t have been a nicer human being and Henry couldn’t have been happier to have everything fixed … I just had to buy him another hat now that he didn’t want to wear his signed one moving forward.

Jeff Francoeur autographed hat for Henry

As we get to Chicago, and meeting a former MLB player, we feel like our trip is pretty much complete and can’t get any better. Henry, however, is in the hunt for more and more autographs. At our first game, they let Henry and other kids his age on the field to watch the end of Atlanta’s batting practice. Unfortunately, no one sticks around to sign anything. Atlanta ends up destroying the Cubs 8-0, so we are leaving our trip with at least a winning record.

For our final day, it’s a gloomy Chicago morning and we have light rain in the forecast throughout the day. Even though we show up early to get on the field again, they cancel early batting practice so Henry and I are just finding cover waiting for the game to start. As luck would have it, AJ Minter came out from the bullpen to sign some autographs for Braves fans on the first base side. Henry runs over and gets yet another hat signed. Pretty amazing and now we feel like this trip can’t get any better … right?

AJ Minter autographed hat for Henry

I bought our seats off a Cubs Facebook group that I had Christi join to save fees that online ticket companies charge. Luck would have it that we would sit right in the middle of a group of Cubs fans that all had their season tickets for multiple decades. We were even told that one elderly lady in our row had seats for 60+ years and this was her first game of the season since her husband passed away. Sticking out like sore thumbs in our Braves gear, the usher right below where we are sitting notices us and asks Henry if he'd like to try on a World Series ring. Just to let the guy know that I care about baseball as a whole, I instantly say, "So you were working here in 2016 to get that ring?" So once again, this would be a good trip and we could end here? Right? Well, the story goes on. After coming back to our seats from getting some food, the elderly lady enjoying her first game of the year asks Henry if he'd like a baseball from the field. I don't think I've ever heard my kid spew out so many thank you's in such a short amount of time. She said, "Oh, the players on the field think it's funny to keep giving me used baseballs from the game. I have boxes of them at home."

Game used baseball and world series ring

Outside of the amazing baseball experiences that Henry and I had at the stadiums (and in the airport!) we had an even better time just hanging out and getting to know each other better for an entire week. Between all of the escape rooms, hotel pools and just walking/talking around the city, it was an absolutely enjoyable trip that neither of us will ever forget.

Nats is now on the clock and has two years to pick where to go ... and which parent to take.