Last updated on September 27, 2023
“Times up!, Gentlemen, time to rotate to your next date.”
“Oh thank God,” I heard Sarah say under her breath as her third speed date contestant chugged the rest of his PBR before moving to his left.
Is this really what dating in your mid-20s is like? Have we reached the pinnacle of our dating lives and have to resort to shuffling through apps on our phones or “speed dating for young professionals” in the lobby of some random hotel in downtown Atlanta?” I don’t remember Disney fairytales or lifetime rom-coms seemingly this dull.
“You from around here? My name is Lucas.”
A well-dressed blonde man said as he slid into the open chair in front of me. At least he started his introduction with a genuine question for me instead of telling me about his stock portfolio before I had time to learn his name.
“I am from Chicago, but I moved here after college…”
Before I could finish my sentence the phone Lucas was staring into instead of listening to me let out a loud “ding” an easily recognizable sound to anyone currently in the hell some call a dating scene.
“Are you swiping on Tinder right now? Did you just match with someone?” I asked, clearly annoyed.
Without even looking in my direction, Lucas mumbled what I interpreted as a “yes” while scanning the room for what I could only assume was the woman he just matched with. A little stunned in disbelief at the audacity of someone to be so blatantly rude, I jumped when a familiar hand tapped my shoulder.
“Emily, can we please get out of here? I cannot listen to one more man fumble over an excuse of why it is he still lives with his parents.” Sarah to my rescue — and clearly needing me to come to hers. I took one last look at my “date” who hadn’t even noticed Sarah walk up to our table since he was too busy searching for his Tinder match.
“Gladly!” I told her. “Let’s grab a drink at that place across the street. You have to tell me about the guy in the combat boots, surely you at least got a good story out of that one?”
The eye roll Sarah threw in my direction let me know that it was going to be a story alright, but less “How I met your mother” worthy and more of a scene from “You.”
The flashing neon light in the window of the bar across the street that read “Tailgates” was just the therapy we needed. It reminded me of the bars we would stumble into after a long day of studying at Northwestern.
“Are we back on Central Street?,” I asked Sarah as we posted up at the end of the bar.
“Oh my gosh, I was just thinking the same thing. We might as well be in Evanston from the looks of this place!” Emily said smiling.
Every TV in the bar had baseball on the screen. I have never been much of a sports fan, so I didn’t even know that it was baseball season, much less what teams were playing. It only took a few glances around to quickly realize that the Atlanta Braves were playing at home — as far as who they were playing — I likely wouldn’t even be able to name another baseball team.
Maybe if we spent more time dating in college and less time studying, we wouldn’t be subjecting ourselves to the torture of blind dates now. But who really had time for dating back then? Sarah was always in the library cramming for her next law school exam and my professors always had me chasing down a story before the next deadline — always reminding me that when I became a “real world” journalist the news wouldn’t wait on my personal life.
So here Sarah and I are, a year post-graduation, in the big new city of Atlanta, beginning our careers while facing a common struggle – drowning in a miserable dating scene dominated by apps and superficial connections.
“I cannot believe you talked me into spending my Friday night at a young professional speed dating event,” Sarah said as she sipped the freshly poured martini the bartender barely had time to sit down on the bar before she scooped it up.
“I was really just hoping for a change,” I tried to defend my decision of forcing Sarah to be my accomplice. A dating columnist I work with at the Georgia Journal swore speed dating was the answer to all my single-lady prayers. “I’ll be sure to let Maggie know that she should stick to writing columns instead of giving dating advice. But hey, at least the night brought us here!,” I said while raising my class to cheers Sarah in hopes of getting a smile from her.
Right as our glasses “clinked” together, everyone else in the bar erupted in cheers. A random guy in a backwards ball cap ran down the bar high-fiving everyone — apparently, that is a normal reaction when the baseball boys score a point?
When he got to the end of the bar he excitedly threw his hands up for us to continue his wave of high-fives.
“Homerun, baby!” He shouted.
Succumbing to peer pressure, Sarah and I both cheered back and joined in the celebration — forgetting for a minute we couldn’t be more clueless about what was going on. Although the backwards ball cap guy didn’t seem to notice our complete confusion, the bartender laughed as we made our way back to our seats.
“I’m not a betting man, but I would guess you two aren’t baseball fans are you?”
“Why would you think that?” Sarah asked as if she was offended at such an accusation, even though it couldn’t have been more true. Such a lawyer — always willing to argue with anyone.
“Well, in all my years of owning this bar, I have learned how to spot a baseball fan, and generally they don’t sit at the corner of the bar where they can’t see the TVs, and I don’t think any of them have ever ordered a martini, but hey, I could be wrong.”
“You caught us,” I quickly said, before Sarah could “lawyer” the poor old man for her own entertainment. “We’ve never been to this part of town but needed someplace to hide out.”
Turns out, the bartender, Bernie, came by his grandfatherly charm honestly. He listened to every word of Sarah and I spilling our guts out about our miserable speed dating night, and really just how dating in general was exhausting. Unimpressed with the fact that we were ready to throw in the towel and give up on love, Bernie had no sympathy for our plight.
“You girls are just trying too hard. You can’t study and practice and complete some classes or steps to find love. Love finds you. I met my Gail at a baseball game. I had just ordered a footlong dog at Turner Field and was trying to make it back to my seat before the end of the 7th inning stretch and I nearly plowed her over as I rounded the corner. Her beer filled my shoes and my hotdog ended up staining the front of her Chipper Jones jersey. Boy was she pissed. But not because I nearly took her out, but because now she was going to have to go back to the bar to get another beer, which meant she was going to miss the beginning of the 8th inning — and the Braves and Yankees were tied. A woman who loved the game as much as I did — I knew I was going to marry her right then and there. And the rest is history.”
The “history” part Bernie was talking about was how he and Gail came to open the bar we found ourselves in. They ended up having two kids, and after they moved away for college, he and Gail decided to open a bar dedicated to the thing that brought them together — baseball. That little tidbit made the decor on the walls make a little more sense. While they knew they wanted to open up a baseball bar, Bernie and Gail ran into a problem when deciding what baseball team they were going to pull for. Bernie was a lifelong Yankees fan and Gail had never missed a home game of the Braves. So instead of being a “Braves” bar, or a “Yankees” bar Gail came up with the genius idea of rotating “tailgates” all season long. Gail puts out a schedule at the beginning of the season and fans of whatever team lines up with the schedule flock to the bar. We just happened to find ourselves in the bar for the first Braves game of the season, and since we are in Atlanta, Bernie said Gail’s one rule was that “her” Braves always got the first tailgate on the schedule.
Just as Sarah and I were “oohing and aaahing” over Bernie’s love story, a group of men at the other end of the bar let out clearly disgruntled boos, with backwards ball cap guy throwing his hat to the floor.
“What happened?” I curiously asked Bernie.
“Looks like the ump called Freeman out at second, but he definitely beat it. We really needed that run.”
“Is everyone this passionate about baseball?” asked Sarah.
“I am sure there are people like you girls who don’t give a lick about baseball, but the people who come in here, love it. You won’t find a more passionate man than one who is a baseball fan.” Bernie seemed to puff his chest out a little bit while talking about the fans of his favorite sport — clearly sharing the passion he was crediting others for having.
“That is the kind of man I need,” Sarah said as she finished the last olive in her martini. “I need a man who loves me like he loves baseball.”
And that is when it hit me. Instead of subjecting ourselves to the ordeal of dating apps and speed dates that feel more like punishment than pleasure, what if we came back to Tailgates for different baseball games? If we picked a different team to support each week — if all baseball fans are as loyal to their teams as Bernie and Gail — we would meet different fans each week — and surely there would be some eligible men in the mix.
“I mean, really, at this point, what do we have to lose,” I pleaded to Sarah, who understandably was apprehensive about agreeing to any more of my dating ventures.
“And if nothing else, it will give me a chance to teach you girls a thing or two about baseball, because what right-minded adult doesn’t know the difference between the World Series and the Stanley Cup.” Bernie said to pitch in his support of our plan — honestly, he probably is genuinely more set on making sure we at least know what sport we are watching than whether or not we actually find love.
“Then it is settled. And if everything goes ok, we might just find that special someone in time for the Super Bowl,” I said while doing my best to avoid eye contact with Bernie who had moved down the bar to pour someone a new drink.
“World Series!” he shouted without ever missing a beat.
If nothing else, our new game plan will at least be… a change-up. 😉
Chapter 2 coming next Sunday.