A weekend with the Yankees

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tony Clark hugs his 6-year-old son, Whitman, while attending a New York Yankees game over the weekend.

A couple of weeks ago, I turned 40.

I don’t feel 40, although I’m not really sure I knew what 40 was going to feel like anyway. But if 40 is supposed to feel like 22-plus a mortgage and sore knees, I suppose I feel just about like I’m supposed to.

I also don’t think I look like what 40 was supposed to. I don’t mean that to sound vain; it’s just that I remember what 40-year-old people used to look like when I was, say, 17.

My hair isn’t as gray as I thought it would be, and I haven’t started wearing black dress socks and loafers with my shorts. All in all, I’d say that for 40, I look and feel better than I was afraid I would.

And I’ve always heard people talk about having this thing called a mid-life crisis around their 40th birthday. Supposedly, it’s what happens when you wake up one day and take stock of your life, freak out when you realize you’re somewhere at or near the halfway point to being dead, buy a convertible and leave your wife for your secretary.

Well, I’ve got a few things going for me that have probably helped me avoid the midlife crisis. First of all, as one of my oldest friends recently pointed out based on some of the things he witnessed when we were younger, 25 was probably my halfway point, putting me out of mathematical range for a midlife crisis.

Secondly, I have neither a secretary nor the money for the convertible I’d buy should the urge strike. And third, I’m exactly where I want to be, with a beautiful wife and two children I adore. So I’m not going anywhere.

But just to be sure I got it out of my system — whatever it is that makes guys want to go running off around their halfway point — my wife sent me on a trip for my birthday. I didn’t get sent to Vegas for a weekend with a bunch of the boys. Hollywood has probably killed off that trip for a bunch.

Instead, she sent me on an even better trip with just one of the boys, a weekend in New York to watch the Yankees play baseball with my son, Whitman.

The two of them planned it for a couple of months, and one of the neatest parts was that he didn’t spill the beans. It’s hard enough for most adults to keep a good secret, but the fact that a 6-year-old boy knew he was taking his dad to New York to see their beloved Yankees play ball — and didn’t tell — is almost unimaginable.

I knew Whitman was in on a surprise, because he told me about a week before my birthday that if he couldn’t tell soon, he was going to explode. But he held on, and for both of us it was worth the wait.

We talked for days leading up to our trip about the things we would see and the places we’d go. How much better the hot dogs are at Yankee Stadium. How tall the Empire State Building is. How high in the air the plane would fly and what Derek Jeter would look like in real life.

Toy stores with a Ferris wheel inside. How busy the streets of New York are and how he had better not ever let go of my hand.

For him, the trip was going to be all about all the things he’d get to see and do. For me, the best part would be watching Whitman experience them all for the first time. The first airplane ride. The first subway ride. The first stay in a hotel. Room-service ice cream. Our first game together at Yankee Stadium.

We did all of those things and more. We watched a polar bear swim at the Central Park Zoo. We saw dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. Took in a 3-D movie in Times Square on a rainy Sunday morning. Bought his mom and sister souvenirs from an overpriced store on Broadway.

Cheered with 50,000 fans when he saw his first major league grand slam. It was a better gift than they even knew they were giving me.

There’s something magical about experiencing your firsts in life. And as a parent, there’s something even more magical about seeing your child experience them. And that’s just what my wife gave me for my 40th birthday — a weekend of firsts with my son.

Make no mistake, by the time I got home I knew my knees were probably halfway to dead, but our weekend and the memories I’ll treasure for the other half of my life sure beat the heck out of a new sports car.