Friday, July 8, 2011

Baseball Bonding

In September of the 2009 baseball season my family was at a Rangers game, sitting about 20 rows up from the visiting team's dugout.  Chris Davis stepped to the plate and lined a foul ball over the netting into the row behind us, where a man about my age picked up the ball, walked down to us and handed the ball to my 2 year old son, Eli.  Everyone cheered and when I had the chance I walked down, shook the man's hand and gave a heartfelt thanks to him for what he did.  Eli didn't understand the significance, and today he still doesn't.  But one day he will know that he has something that some people have been trying 60 or more years to find: a foul ball from a Major League Baseball game. 

I don't truly understand what it is about foul balls that turn people loony.  When I was 16 I couldn't believe my good fortune when Will Clark hit one to me.  My brother probably still wants to fight me because I was sitting in the seat that he had occupied for the first 6 innings before getting up to go for a walk.  My other brother was once booed by an entire section of fans because he got two in a row.  My only guess as to why foul balls create this hysteria is that there is still an emotional attachment people have with going to a baseball game.  A foul ball is a way to hold onto this emotion.

There is just something special about going to a ballgame.  My wife isn't particularly interested in sports at all.  When we first got married and did everything together, she would go to the bookstore when I watched football.  She'll share the room with me when I watch baseball, but she doesn't pay attention.  However, she does enjoy going to games.  Maybe not as much as I do, but she still likes to go.  Eli loves to go as well.  I enjoy going anytime, but the couple of times that Eli and I have gone together have been the most special.

The two of us do lots of things together.  But there's just something about going to a baseball game that creates a different kind of bond.  Eli doesn't follow the game real well, and it's not particularly fun to carry a 35 pound 3 year old in a Texas summer.  But what is fun is seeing his excitement when he sees Elvis Andrus.  And listening to a shaggy, blond headed gringo kid scream Yor-Veeeeeet Torrrrreallllbaaaa over and over again makes me laugh anytime I think about it.  One of my most special childhood memories is from June 17, 1991 when I went with my grandfather and saw a great Rangers comeback.  Witnessing the only Rangers World Series victory in franchise history with my dad is something I'll always treasure.  Growing up we didn't have a lot of money, but anytime my mom and stepdad could splurge and take us to a game was an event. 

That's what has had my stomach in knots ever since last night when I found out that a fan died after falling over a railing in front of his young son while trying to catch a foul ball tossed to him by Josh Hamilton.  I've been in both of their shoes.  I've been the starstruck kid who can't believe his luck that the American League MVP is standing 30 feet away.  I've been the kid who loves to be taken to baseball games to watch the team I love.  And most importantly, in the last 2 years I have grown to love taking my young son to games and looking for ways to make the time even more fun for him. 

The thing that made me (someone who doesn't cry often) break down last night was the realization that Shannon Stone could just have easily been me.  If Josh Hamilton, the most talented baseball player I've ever seen play, turned to me and Eli last night and tossed us a ball, I would have leaned over the railing and done my best to catch it.  I would have done nothing different than Mr. Stone.  Thinking about the ramifications of that kept me up last night.

I just turned 32.  I'm still young enough that I don't think about my own mortality very often.  But having a kid does make you rethink things.  It's why I had a physical last week.  It's why I keep meaning to go finish that Will.  It's why I've pitched baseballs to Eli until I've had to drag him in for bathtime.  It's why I can't wait until we go to our next game together.  And it's why I really wished he was home last night so I could give him a hug. 

He would have happily given me a hug and an "I love you too, Daddy," but that's just because he likes doing those things.  One day, though, he'll understand what it means from my side.  And one day he'll enjoy sweating through a Texas summer at the ballpark with his own child, keeping an eye out for foul balls.  Baseball does those sorts of things.  Who knows, maybe they'll let Gramps tag along.  I bet that vantage point is fun too.


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