Kristen Critzer, 22, will be gone soon, leaving behind Charlottesville to start a new life with her new husband in Washington.
Her father, Kevin Knight, is going to miss her. But on Wednesday night, the two sat side by side in the bleachers for the Charlottesville Tom Sox’s home opener, Critzer enjoying a chocolate ice cream cone, Knight offering a half-serious wisecrack.
“I think she oughta stay here and watch baseball,” he said, chuckling.
The Tom Sox defeated the visiting Covington Lumberjacks, 9-3, on Wednesday, sending their fans home happy. A loss probably wouldn’t have dampened their moods too drastically though. For locals, Tom Sox games are less about the athletic competition on the field and more about the breezy atmosphere they provide.
Approximately 200 fans attended Wednesday’s game at Charlottesville High School, many sitting on their own folding chairs in the grassy area on the third-base side. They brought drinks and snacks, laughs and stories. A dog sat at one woman’s feet. A JAUNT truck, which provides paratransit service to people with disabilities, pulled away from the field shortly after the 7 p.m. first pitch.
Others sat in the bleachers, like Critzer and Knight. They’ve been going to Tom Sox games for the past four years, Knight said, along with Critzer’s two younger sisters. Knight’s wife was a nurse and worked nights, leaving Knight to send the girls off to school in the morning.
“He’s the definition of Mr. Mom,” Critzer said.
“You give up a lot,” he said. “But you end up getting a lot, too.”
That included passing on his love for baseball. Soon they found themselves at Tom Sox games, always sitting in the same spot — third base bleachers, third row from the top. That’s where they were Wednesday when Petie and Sue Craddock scaled the bleachers.
“Oh, look who it is!” Critzer said. “How are y’all doing?”
The Craddocks have also been coming to Tom Sox games for the past four years, they said. They usually bring Sue’s 88-year-old mother, who’s the biggest fan of the three, but she had a birthday dinner to attend.
The games provide a welcome opportunity to catch up with old friends.
“It’s nice coming out to see people who are getting ready to move to Washington state before they leave,” Petie Craddock said, prompting a grin from Critzer. Knight wiped away a couple tears.
There’s also the little kid with the glove, who always stands in the parking lot waiting for foul balls. The Craddocks don’t know his name.
“We just know he’s always here,” Petie Craddock said. “It’s a good, family, atmosphere.”
His wife chimed in: “It’s kind of a hidden secret.”
The relationships carry over the event staff. Petie Craddock plays on the same softball team as Joby Giacalone, vice president and director of promotions for the Tom Sox. Giancole, a former mascot, spent much of the game standing on the first-base side, organizing the team’s promotions and managing his staff of about 30 college interns.
“People ask me, what is our product?” Giacalone said. “It’s not baseball. It is family fun. If you look around, it’s young families. Parents of some of the players, but it’s families, just coming out.”
That includes Knight and his daughters, though Critzer will soon be on the other side of the country. They almost didn’t come out Wednesday. Forecasts predicting heavy rainfall and thunderstorms threatened the evening. Then the sun sneaked through the clouds, and father and daughter found themselves in their familiar seats.
“He’s my bud,” Critzer said, chuckling. “I’m his first born. He has to like me.”