It was the middle of the eighth inning when the voice came over the ballpark’s sound system, announcing that due to post-game fireworks, fans seated sections 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88, sections 282, 284, and 286, and sections 382, 384, 386 would have to relocate because of fire code regulations. The same announcement popped up on the jumbotron. Fans started streaming out of their seats as the Cascos took the field, but most of them would stay in their seats until the game ended, and their usher asked them to leave.
Ray was working in section 76 that night, so the announcement didn’t really affect him, but he knew he’d have a lot of fans coming up to him and asking where they could sit. Right now, he was down at the bottom of the steps, leaning against the wall that divided the seats from the field. He surveyed his section- it was packed. They had barely pulled 20,000 people all year, but tonight Hadlock almost looked full. The Red Sox were in town, which was definitely part of it, but it was also a Friday night game that fell on the 4 th of July, and they had done a giveaway- team hats with the logo in red, white, and blue.
The gate had been busy, and Scramm had been anxious, but after the bars across from Gate C had emptied out, he visibly relaxed. For Ray, it had felt good to be busy, and to have a long line waiting in his lane. The time between the gates opening and his break was a blur, and he was shocked when he sat down in the picnic area with his dinner and saw that three hours had passed.
After his break, Scramm sent him into the bowl, and Collie Parker sent him over to section 76, to work with Pete. He had passed Art Baker on the way over, and tapped him on the shoulder as he came to stand beside him. “Hey, Ray,” Art said, grinning at him. He had the radio clipped to his belt, and it crackled low with conversation between team leaders.
“Hey, Art,” Ray greeted, grinning back. “How’s it been out here tonight?”
“Pretty good. There was almost a fight over in Barkovitch’s section- two guys, real belligerent- but Parker and Scramm went and sorted it out and ejected them. Since then, it’s been good,” he replied. His eyes drifted down, to the wall, where Pearson was beginning to climb up the steps. All around the ballpark, ushers were starting to climb back up the steps to their posts. The bottom of the sixth inning was about to begin. “Who are you working with tonight?”
“Pete,” he answered. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see on his right that Pete had reached the top of the stairs and was now drinking out of a water bottle. “Are you excited for the fireworks?”
“Oh, yeah, it’ll be a real show,” Art said. “My dad’s setting off fireworks in our backyard for my brothers and sisters. I wish they were here to see it.”
Ray had moved on after that, walking over to join Pete. “You with me tonight, Ray?” he asked, and grinned when Ray nodded.
Ray had been working with Pete a lot recently. He didn’t know why- maybe Pete had asked for him, or Parker had seen that they worked well together- but Ray wasn’t complaining. He liked Pete a lot. Pete was funny and interesting to talk to. He was candid about everything- his own life, the ballpark, their coworkers. Ray admired him immensely.
They had passed the night in easy conversation until the middle of the eighth, when the announcement had come on over the loudspeaker and Ray knew the game was winding down. The Cascos were losing, so they’d have to play the bottom of the ninth. Ray wasn’t too surprised or disappointed about this- even good teams lost about half of their games, and the Cascos weren’t a very good team.
He was down at the wall, and he could see Pete smiling down at him. It made his heart hammer in his chest. By the time Ray reached the top of the steps, Pete had his back turned to him, and he was talking to a group of fans, telling them to go sit down on the other side of the foul pole in order to get the best view of the fireworks. Ray was grateful that Pete wasn’t looking at him, and he couldn’t see the flush in his cheeks. He could have passed it off as a result of the July humidity, but he didn’t want to lie to Pete. Down on the field, the bottom of the eighth inning began, and Ray focused on it intently. After the first out, Pete came to stand behind him.
“Not a very good game, huh?” Pete asked.
Ray jumped at the sudden sound of his voice, and then laughed. “No, it’s not, but we’re not supposed to shit talk the team.”
Pete shrugged and smiled. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
Ray tried to bite back his grin and failed. “Deal.” He looked at Pete out of the corner of his eye, and could see that Pete was looking back. His stomach rolled over.
A sudden, loud crack of the bat called his attention back to the field, as one of the Cascos players hit a towering fly ball out into left field. Ray’s heart stopped in his throat for a second- he felt like it was coming right at him- but instead the Red Sox left fielder caught it easily. The eighth inning was over. Pete prepared to descend down to the wall, where he would remain until the end of the game. Ushers sat down for the final inning of the game- it made it easier to direct fans out of the ballpark.
Before he did so, however, he turned to Ray and said, “Once the fireworks start, pull out one of those ADA seats and sit down.” The ADA seats were designed for fans in wheelchairs or with walkers.
“But what if Parker-” Ray began, but Pete cut him off.
“Oh, come on. You’ve been here two months and you’re still scared of Parker? He won’t care.” With that, Pete was climbing down the stairs, and Ray was left alone.
The final inning of the game passed quickly- the Cascos ended up losing, 5-2. The same announcement from before sounded around the ballpark and appeared on the jumbotron. The last of the fans in those sections left their seats and traveled around to the third base line, to sit there. Ray stood at the top of the steps and told fans they were welcome to come fill the empty seats in section 76, and lots of them did, but many kept moving to sit on the other side of the foul pole.
Ten minutes after the final pitch, the fans were seated and the lights in the ballpark went out. An excited murmur went up through the crowd, and Ray sat down in one of the ADA seats at the top of section 76. He could feel the tangible anticipation in the air. He had always loved fireworks- just last year he had watched the Independence Day fireworks with Jan and some other friends from high school at Casco Bay. He knew when he drove home that night he’d see fireworks shooting up out of backyards, and he thought fondly of the fireworks display that Art Baker’s father was putting on.
The countdown to the fireworks began, and Ray heard a snide voice to his right. It was Gary Barkovitch. “We’re not allowed to sit down.”
Ray rolled his eyes and said, “Barkovitch, shut up and watch these fireworks with me.”
To his surprise, Barkovitch actually sat down, just as the countdown ended and the first firework shot up into the sky. A huge grin erupted over Ray’s face as he watched it erupt across the sky in glimmering red. He heard the whistle as the rockets were launched into the air, and then the popping as they exploded into red and green and gold and blue. He looked over, and Barkovitch’s face was twisted into an expression of glee as well.
He wondered what Pete thought, sitting down in the first row. He wished that it were Pete sitting next to him. He wanted to look over and see Pete’s reaction, see the fireworks reflected in his brown eyes. He wanted to feel the warmth of Pete’s arms against his, and to share this moment.
Ray was absolutely enraptured. Fireworks always brought out the little kid in him. He could watch a fireworks show every night and it would never get old. He thought about the people watching from their hotel balconies, and from the people at the bars across the street from Gate C. He thought about Cathy, Scramm’s wife, who owned one of those bars, and wondered if she was watching. He thought about Davidson out at the gate, and hoped he could see some of this too.
He had thought often about the absurdity of his job ever since he had started at Hadlock, but moments like this reminded him how special it was, too. Here were 40,000 people, sitting all together, their eyes on the sky.
The firework show went on for another ten minutes, and by the time the lights came back on a thick smoke had gathered over the outfield grass. Ray and Barkovitch got to their feet, and Barkovitch hurried over to his section. Ray looked after him. He’d have to tell Pete about what just happened, but he doubted Pete would believe it.
Ray said goodnight to fans as they left, and thanked them for coming out tonight. A lot of them had starry eyes, still wowed from the fireworks. But it was late, and they left quickly. Soon there were only a few stragglers, and Ray ambled down the steps towards Pete, to help him check the seats for lost belongings- phones and wallets and purses left behind by fans.
Pete smiled when he saw him. “What did you think?”
“They were amazing,” Ray answered.
“They put on a pretty good show,” Pete agreed.
“Barkovitch liked them, too.”
“Barkovitch?” Pete repeated, giving him an incredulous glance. “You’ve gotta be fucking with me.”
“No, I’m dead serious. He sat down and watched them with me!” he defended. “He might be a dick, but he’s mostly a normal guy.”
“Now I don’t know about all that, but I’ll take your word for it,” Pete said. “Wanna help me check these seats?”
“That’s why I came down,” Ray replied, and the two checked the rows of seats together, one by one, in companionable silence.