Donny Kitchens’ feet never stop moving. They shuffle back and forth, first left then right, like an antsy dance partner. He clasps his hands, then rubs them together.
He pulls back the sleeve of his camouflaged uniform and looks down at his Fossil watch.
“So close,” he says.
It is 6:45 p.m. on Friday, and Kitchens is tucked away in the comfy office of Mariners groundskeeper Bob Christofferson just before first pitch. He can’t take his eyes off the screen hanging in the corner. On it are three people who don’t have any idea he’s there: his family. Milling about on the edge of the field are his wife, Anna, his 4-year-old son, Caleb, and his 19-month daughter. Allie.
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For the last 15 months, while stationed in Turkey as a weapons maintenance mechanic with the U.S. Air Force, the only way Kitchens has seen is family is on a screen.
But today Kitchens will finally get to touch his wife again. He will finally get to hug his son, who held him so tight for two hours on the day of his deployment that Kitchens couldn’t even switch arms. And he will finally get to know his daughter, who was only three months old when he left and who only knows him in a military uniform through Skype.
First, though, he must wait. “This is torture,” he says. His hiding spot is so close to the action that when his family passes by on their way to the field, he hears his daughter laughing through the door.
The office is cozy with fridge in the corner, a big leather couch and two leather seats. Kitchens refuses to sit. “If I’m not standing,” he says, “it’s going to be worse.”
He thinks about what he’ll do when he finally gets close enough to his family to hold his kids again.
“No kissing at home plate,” Christofferson says.
Kitchens smiles. “Good luck with that.”
The door opens. It’s time to go. He heads down the tunnel. He stops a few steps behind the umpires, who he will follow while his family stands at home plate and looks the other way.
He leans against the wall, then takes a deep breath. He bends over and grabs his knees. His eyes find the concrete.
“I’m trying so hard not to cry right now,” he says.
And then, seconds later, it happens in blur. He’s waved to the edge of the tunnel, where the grass and dirt and crowd are all exposed. Then he hears it: “Go, go.” He sprints onto the field, runs behind his family and swings around to face them.
His son grabs onto him, tears stream down his wife’s face, and Donny Kitchens plants a kiss on his wife while standing right on home plate.