Last year, my Geezer baseball team (over 60-year-olds, still playing the game) called the Ancient Mariners really needed a win in its final game in the October Las Vegas tournament. I needed to do something different to fire myself up, establish a new pre-game tradition. After much contemplation, I decided to change my morning training table meal. I conducted careful research and located the perfect place to purchase this new meal. I woke up extra early on the Saturday morning of the finals, a little before 5 a.m., and sneaked out of the condo I was sharing with two of my teammates. I drove the streets of Las Vegas, west of the strip, that were surprisingly empty in a place that seemingly never took even a short nap. A couple miles north and east of the condo, I pulled in to a small shopping center. Several cars were parked in the lot. A few people were walking about. Only one business was open at this time of day, the business my research had identified as offering a delicious training table option. A smartly lit welcoming sign above the door of the establishment read: Ronald’s DoNuts. I walked in.
The walls were covered with sports paraphernalia. There was precious little room for anything else. Photos and trading cards and equipment representing any and every sport, and all the cards and photos contained a handwritten note for Ronald. I scanned the shop. All six small tables were occupied, and it was just a few minutes after 5 a.m., on a Saturday, moments after Ronald’s DoNuts had opened its doors for the day.
I stood behind four people. While waiting my turn, I noticed two guys at a table playing a game with dice and cards and a cardboard replica of Sportsman’s Park in old St. Louis. They each had a scorecard in front of them. It was the game I had at home, called StratoMatic Baseball. Donuts and memorabilia and Strato baseball. I’m not sure it would get a lot better than this.
It was my turn to order. An elderly Asian gentleman asked me what I would like. I said, “Well, I’m picking up half a dozen donuts for me and my buddies. What do you suggest?”
“What are you doing today?” the man who I suspected was Ronald said.
“We’re playing a ball game.”
“What kind of ball?”
“Baseball,” I said.
“I’ll fix you up,” he said, and he folded up a box and started to scoop up donuts, lining them up carefully in the box. “We got a nice bear claw and two cinnamon rolls in there, and we got an apple fritter — oh, that’s a good one — and we got a chocolate frosted sour cream and a glazed raised, always have to have one of those, and maybe a nice maple bar. Oh, that’s good.”
Here was a guy who had been making donuts for who knew how long and he was handling his choices for me like they were his children.
That’s when I saw the sign on the register: Cash Only Please. I pulled out my wallet and there sat a pitiful, lonely group of three one-dollar bills. Which is when Ronald said, “That’ll be $6.25, my good sir.”
“I’ve only got three bucks,” I said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you took only cash. Take some donuts out.”
Ronald looked at me like I had slapped his face.
“I’ll do no such thing, my good sir,” he said and the indignance in his voice swept around the shop like smoke from a hundred bad cigars. He pushed the bag at me and grabbed the singles from my hand. “Here. Pay me the rest later.”
The guy standing behind me said, “Get along now. Pay Ronald later.”
I left, kind of stunned. Back in the condo, I was stunned further.
In the bag were eight donuts. Ronald charged me for 6, gave me 8, and I paid for 3.
Back at the condo, my Geezerball teammates and I devoured the donuts, which were delicious, the only comment coming from our shortstop Davey who said, “You bought eight? Who does that? You buy a half dozen or a dozen. Not eight.”
We drove to the game, warmed up, stretched a bit, and began the war with our opponents, the aptly named Fossils, a team from Denver.
I pitched. The Fossils scored a run in the first inning, and then I shut them out, going the distance on the mound. My team scored nine runs by the 4th inning. We took the tournament consolation game by a 9–1 score and I was awarded playoff MVP. I was modest in accepting the award; attributing my and my team’s success to Ronald’s DoNuts.
A tradition was born. Coffee and donuts for breakfast before a big game.
In all the post-game excitement, a certain critical chore was forgotten. I drove to the condo, showered and packed up, drove to the airport, boarded my flight, and was cruising over some chunk of mountains when it hit me.
“Crap!” I said out loud. The passenger next to me gave me a curious/concerned/insecure glance. “Oh, it’s nothing,” I said. “I just remembered something I forgot to do.”
“Hope it wasn’t terribly important,” my seat neighbor said.
“I can take care of it later,” I said. “It’ll be OK.”
And I did. I wrote a half page worth of profuse apology and wrapped a five dollar bill in the note and mailed it to the address I found online for Ronald’s DoNuts. The only thing I thought about was that maybe I should have sent Ronald ten bucks.
That was last year.
Now for this year. Back my team goes to Vegas. New hopes, new plans, a few new players on my team. I’ve forgotten all about Ronald’s DoNuts.
Until Friday of the tournament week. My teammates and I are lounging around the rented condo, watching a football game.
“I can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow,” Davey says.
“Me, too,” Phil the scrappy utility player says.
“Huh?” I say.
“You know,” Davey says. “Tomorrow’s breakfast. Training table before our last game, the big playoff game. Coffee and donuts!”
“Oh, yeah, right,” I say.
“You gonna get 8 donuts,” Phil says, “like last year?”
“Sure,” I say. “Seven or eight or nine. Sure.” I don’t want to go back to Ronald’s DoNuts at all. I don’t want to face Ronald.
But I will.
Traditions are traditions, after all.
5:10 a.m., Saturday at Ronald’s DoNuts, 6+ hours before our final game, another consolation playoff game (we just missed making the big time finals). The place is busy, like last year. It looks like the same two guys are playing Strato-Matic baseball at a table in the corner. I ask them about the game.
“We’re replaying the ’68 World Series,” one fellow, wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates cap, says.
“Game 4,” the other fellow, wearing a Kansas City Royals cap, says.
“St. Loo winning?” I say.
“Yeah,” the Pirates cap guy says. “And the Cards are up 6–1 today. Doesn’t look good for the Tigers.”
“They’ll come back,” I say.
“They’d better,” the KC cap guy says as he rolls the dice. “Double play! Nuts! We go to the top of the seventh…”
And then it is my turn to order. I turn back to the counter.
There’s Ronald. He sees me and his expression changes.
“It’s you!” he says. Great, I think. Ronald points to the wall to my left. I look. I take a few steps closer to the wall, just to make sure I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing. There on the wall is my note and my five dollar bill. It’s pinned between a signed Al Kaline ball card and a signed photo of Red Wings great Gordie Howe in action on the ice at old Olympia Stadium in Detroit.
I step back to the counter. Ronald hands me a box of donuts.
“Here you go,” he says.
“You remembered what I ordered last year?” I say.
“You’ll find out,” Ronald says. “That’ll be $6.25, my good sir.”
I pull out my wallet.
I reach in and grab a bill.
“Ronald,” I say, “what kind of donut is that one right behind you on the second shelf?”
Ronald turns around and says, “Are you talking about the -”
When he turns back around, I’m gone and a ten dollar bill is on the counter.
Back at the condo, I place the box on the bar in the kitchen area and pour a cup of coffee that Phil made. Davey opens the box.
“What the — “ Davey yelps. Phil goes over to inspect.
“Hey,” Phil says, looking into the box.
“You got the exact same eight donuts as last year?” Davey says.
“How did you remember?” Phil says.
“Let’s eat!” I say.
That was the first of two surprises Ronald had for me that day.
Like last year, we drove to the game, warmed up, stretched a bit, and began the war with our new opponents, the Detroit City Tigers. 15 years ago, the story goes, a geezer from Detroit brought a team to this tournament. He’s gone, no players on this year’s team hail from Detroit, or Michigan, but the name remains. Change is slow in geezerball.
I pitched, again. Like last year, the opponents scored a run in the first inning, and then I shut them out, going the distance on the mound. My team scored ten runs by the 5th inning, tacking on 3 insurance runs in the 7th. Like last year, we took the tournament consolation game, winning by a 13–1 score. Again, I was awarded playoff MVP. The tourney commish joked about it (“Give someone else a chance, willya?”) and asked about my pre-game training table (“donuts and coffee for breakfast?”), to which I shrugged and said yup. There were photos and handshakes and slaps on backs.
In the parking lot, we Ancient Mariners shook hands and vowed to come back next year and win it all. Another Vegas baseball experience concluded. We had fun, we played hard, no one was seriously injured, and we were achy all over.
As I dragged my gear to the rental car, a white van pulled up beside me. I paid it no mind, until a familiar voice came from the van.
“Hey, good sir!”
It was Ronald of Ronald’s DoNuts.
I turned to look. I smiled a little bit, upon seeing the man.
“Hey” I said. “Did you see our game?”
“Every pitch, every play,” Ronald said.
“Well, thanks for coming out,” I said. “As you saw, we don’t draw much of a crowd.”
“You guys are….old,” Ronald said. “Slow, too.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” I said.
I walked on; the van kept pace.
“Well, I gotta get back to my shop,” Ronald said. “I have something for you.” He held an envelope out the van window and shook it at me. I took it and offered my thanks. I opened it.
As I looked inside, the van picked up speed.
The envelope contained some bills and coins. I waved at the van.
“Hey!” I hollered. “What’s this?”
A hand waved at me and Ronald said, as he drove out of the lot:
“Your change, good sir! See you next year!”