Pop Fly

A trip to the ballpark with my dad is no ordinary father-son outing.

In the early 1990s, my father developed a debilitating back condition, the treatment of which required him to perform a series of stretches several times a day. What made this situation particularly unfortunate was that he often chose to stretch in public. Whenever my family took a trip to a museum or attended a parade, there would come a moment when Dad would suddenly disappear from sight, only to be discovered minutes later on all fours in the midst of some maneuver that uncannily resembled Kama Sutra.

During a trip to Disney World, we found him in The Hall of Presidents executing cat-cow below the portrait of Abraham Lincoln as several horrified parents shielded their children’s eyes and a security guard spoke animatedly into a walkie-talkie. We shuffled out of the building in a hurry, with the understanding that we should never again set foot in that exhibition. But the fact that Dad was a fairly affable fellow made these transgressions forgivable. And we shared many quintessential father-son routines, during which he usually behaved in a fairly normal manner.

One such routine was attending professional basketball games. Several times each winter, we left our suburban Virginia home and headed into D.C. to watch the Washington Wizards play. We sat in the stands at the Verizon Center and chatted amongst ourselves—analyzing the game, second-guessing coaching decisions and celebrating maniacally whenever the hapless Wizards eked out a victory. If there’s a better way for two men whose own dreams of athletic glory went spectacularly unfulfilled to spend a winter’s night, I am unaware of it.

Then one season, without warning, Dad stood up after years of staying seated and conducted himself in a manner that brought new meaning to the phrase parental embarrassment. He decided to join the Wizards Dance-Cam contest, one of the participatory activities designed to keep fans entertained during breaks in the action.

The setup for the Dance-Cam is quite simple: The PA system blasts music and the announcer encourages fans to get up and dance. The Jumbotron then displays live video of the “best” dancers and audience applause determines the winner.

My father’s decision to participate seemed tragic in the moment, because he danced as if he were auditioning to become one of Britney Spears’ backups. To this day, I’m unsure if he came to that particular game with a choreographed sequence worked out in his head, but he pulled out several moves (the “sprinkler,” the “running man” and something that can’t be described without employing profanity) in uninterrupted succession.

There’s something inherently disconcerting about witnessing a 60-year-old man with slouched shoulders and a bookish demeanor thrusting his pelvis into the air to the tune of “Everybody Dance Now,” and that’s especially true when the man happens to be your father.

Equally jarring (for me, at least) was the fact that everyone else in the stands just couldn’t get enough of him. When my dad appeared on the Jumbotron for the first time, the crowd erupted. After the word WINNER flashed under his image, he took a bow, gave a few more pelvic thrusts—as if to tip his cap to the audience—and sat down like nothing unusual had transpired.

Buoyed by the win and the favorable crowd reaction, my father opted to take this new routine elsewhere. He began performing at work events and dominated the dance floor at my younger brother’s wedding. When the Nationals came to Washington in 2005, Dad found a new performance venue. He began rising between innings at Nats games and scaring innocent baseball fans of all ages.

One summer afternoon in 2007, a close friend emailed me a link to a YouTube video titled “Crazy Nats Fan.” Sure enough, there was my father, thrusting at a breakneck pace in the stands at RFK. When I sent him the video and asked for an explanation, he excitedly told me that Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton’s wife and daughter had been seated in his section and had witnessed his entire performance.

As cellphones with video-recording capabilities became prevalent, YouTube clips of my father’s antics became quite common. (Click here to get a sense of the man who brought me into this world.) His legacy will now live on forever in the annals of the Internet.

A few weeks back, I was flipping through some old photo albums when I stumbled upon a picture of my dad as a teenager. Our close physical resemblance was shocking. We could have been twins.

I began to wonder: If we’re so alike in our stature and mannerisms, will I, too, have the urge to one day bust a move in front of thousands of people?

My unborn children don’t know what they’re in for.

Kevin Craft is a writer who lives in Arlington and still goes to games with his father—against his better judgment.

Categories: People