Either we loved baseball that much or we were just stupid. But to brave West Texas triple digit heat to go play in a God-forsaken field of hard dirt and a weed-infested outfield, well, I guess you had to have a little of both love and stupidity.
Either way it beat staying at home during the summer, where my mother made sure that there was a chore waiting around every corner.
My four brothers and I played a lot of baseball growing up. And I’m not exaggerating about that damn baseball field we used to play on at the end of our street; it really was pretty shitty.
I wrote a long time ago that one of the many coaches we went through or some parent would drag an old piece of chain linked fence from the back of a pickup truck across the infield from time to time. But all that did was evenly distribute the rocks.
Any ball getting past the catcher, whether it was a wild pitch or a foul ball, left a dent in the rusty chicken wire backstop. And if a ball sailed into the outfield it was a pretty good bet it could get lost in the bushy weeds that looked like a field of green clown wigs.
I think about this stuff from time to time as I sit through another god-awful season of Oakland baseball, wondering why we can’t seem to get quality hitters to go with a decent pitching staff.
But those memories began to flood when I heard about the tragic death of a fan during Oakland’s game with Texas last Thursday. The fan, Shannon Stone, 39, fell from a 20-foot railing and died shortly after because he mishandled a souvenir ball tossed to him from the outfield by Texas Rangers All Star Josh Hamilton.
Stone was with his son at that baseball game, just the two of them. I’m not eulogizing Stone, here. I have no idea what kind of a person he was. But for a kid to have the privilege of going to a baseball game with his dad, well, that’s a pretty special thing.
My father took us to see our minor league team, the El Paso Diablos, at Dudley Field when we were little, and it wasn’t just because he could feed all of us on 10-cent hot dogs. It was a fun night out and he knew how much we loved the game of baseball.
Chances are pretty good that Stone knew how special the game was for his kid, too. And although any loss of life is a tragedy, my sorrow is for his son.
I know that it’s been said that baseball is just a game, but for me and millions of kids throughout the past century who played and loved the game, baseball is more than game. A kid is not supposed to be worried about life’s realities at the ballgame. Shit, there’s enough reality out there now for kids to deal with. Baseball is supposed to take you away from fighting parents, unemployment, bullies, a crap economy, oil dependency, Pakistani uncertainty, Sarah Palin and weenie congressmen.
Baseball is as timeless as it is resilient. It’s been through world wars, economic collapse, racial barriers, player strikes, steroids and, yes, death. But each and every time it has encountered adversity, we’ve still managed to hear the words, “Play ball!”
Baseball gave me a sense of protection and confidence like when those triple digit temperatures went down with the sun and my dad played catch with me. The pop of leather seemed to echo through the neighborhood and I swear every pitch I threw was a strike.
I truly hope that one day, Stone’s kid can reflect on baseball and have sweet memories of the game, that it can be an escape, a salve, for him as much as it was, is, for me. And if not baseball, than I hope he finds something good.
Because if he can’t, than we’d have two tragedies.