Truist Park. I am seated near the Atlanta bullpen. The game is about to start. But in my mind, I am a million miles away.
Yesterday I had CT scans at Brookwood Hospital. My appointment was an early one. I was pretty nervous.
I battled to find a parking space in the garage. I wedged my truck between a haphazardly parked Cadillac and a drunk Silverado, leaving six millimeters of clearance.
I got checked into the hospital by a woman who was either suffering from clinical depression or had not consumed her daily quantum of caffeine. Then I was taken to a room where I was exposed to dangerous amounts of daytime television.
I was here because the doctor ordered Tests. Namely, because my doc didn’t like what she saw. She wanted the CT scan “just to be sure.”
That’s how she put it. “Just to be sure.”
Within the last 60 days I’ve had five friends die of cancer. And now here I was, sitting in a sterile hospital waiting to be checked for the same thing. Just to be sure.
A woman in scrubs opened the door.
“Sean?” she said.
I swallowed the lump of clay in my throat and rose from my chair.
I was herded into the inner sanctum of the diagnostic center. Past the rooms crowded with high-tech equipment. Past the imposing machines outfitted with blinking lights, digital tentacles, blue lasers, and sprawling hydraulic arms. It was like touring the bowels of the Starship Enterprise.
A nurse made me drink a funny-tasting liquid. They jabbed me with needles the size of milkshake straws. They took me into a room with a giant, thrumming machine.
The technician was a perky woman. The lady smiled and said, “Take off your pants.”
She pointed to my southerly regions. “Your pants, the zippers and buttons interfere with the scan. Take off your pants.”
I was sure she was kidding. I was thinking this was some ritual punchline used on new CT-scan victims. But it was no joke.
“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I’m not wearing…”
But I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
“Let me guess,” she said. “You’re not wearing underwear.”
I hung my head.
“Trust me,” she said, “I’ve seen every organ there is. Including that one.”
She handed me a sheet to cover myself. The sheet was so sheer you could read the newspaper through it.
After the scan, I sat in my truck, pressing my head onto my steering wheel. I stayed like that for a while. Just breathing.
I drove home. I did some work around the house. My wife and I ate dinner in relative silence. I watched a ball game. I went to bed early.
This morning, on a whim, my wife and I decided to drive to Atlanta to take in a Braves game. Our reasoning was simple: Life is brutally short, we were thinking. When did we quit making fun a priority? Isn’t that the point of life itself? Having fun?
So we piled into our Ford and drove through the 151 miles of bumper-to-bumper Dearborn steel on Interstate 20 East.
We checked into our hotel. The hotel lobby was crowded with the hapless degenerates known as baseball fans. Of which I am one.
There aren’t many things I love more than baseball. My father passed this arduous love of the sport to me before he died. It is all I have left of his soul.
Sometimes it seems as though my life can be measured in baseball games. Saint Louis won the Fall Classic against Milwaukee the year I was born. The Miami Marlins won the Series the year I was married. The year my first book was published, the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year slump and became world champions.
That evening, my wife and I walked into Truist Park. I ordered a 40-ounce Coors. I drank most of it while standing in line and waiting for my $22 hotdog.
The ballpark was packed. Forty-two thousand baseball enthusiasts were sweating through their clothing. Kids shouting. Vendors hollering. Body odor everywhere. It was hotter outside than a Porta John at a bluegrass festival.
I was doctoring my frank when my cell phone rang.
“Is this Mister Dietrich?” the official voice said.
“This is me,” I shouted over the din of the crowd. “But you’ll have to speak up, it’s loud where I am.”
“This is the doctor’s office. Is this a bad time?”
My heart stopped.
I plugged my non-phone ear. “No, go ahead.”
“Well, Mister Dietrich…”
And time slowed. The world became eerily quiet. I thought of all the people I’ve lost. My loved ones, who suffered greatly, who did not deserve the hell they endured. Many of them probably received a phone call just like this one.
The woman on the phone said, “I called to tell you that your scans came back perfect, Mister Dietrich. You’re all clear. Everything looks good.”
And that is why a grown man was crying in Truist Park this evening.