This piece was published for Halcyon Days in April 2013 and was my second baseball story that appeared online. A boy makes an elder’s day by realizing the chance at a random act of kindness. Enjoy!
By Jon Moray
“Ed, are you okay in there?” asked his wife Edna, concerned that her husband’s bathroom time had been running exceedingly long.
“I‘m okay,” he called, trying to mask the piercing discomfort in his side. Ed had just celebrated his 80th birthday the week before in a hospital, fighting liver problems.
“If you want to see batting practice, we’d better get a move on.”
Ed and Edna were on there way out to see a spring training baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Houston Astros. Ed has been a Tigers fan since boyhood, growing up in the Detroit area. He has been going to Tigers spring training games in Lakeland ever since retiring to Florida in 1987. A postal worker for twenty five years, his retirement to Lakeland was a natural destination for him due to his undying love for his team. Most years, he would go to at least ten games per season. Last year, he attended two; his fading health being the reason for the decline.
“I’m coming dear,” he replied, while encroaching on the sad reality that this game might be his last chance to see his Tigers up close. He emerged from the bathroom wearing a navy tee with a Bengal tiger crawling through the distinct Old English “D” on the front of the shirt and a sweat stained Tigers cap on his head that he has worn at games for the last twenty years.
The drive to Joker Marchant Stadium was uneventful. After paying seven dollars for parking, they walked slowly toward the Mediterranean styled stadium. Ed’s hands trembled with anticipation, as if this was his very first game. They got their tickets scanned and navigated through the turnstiles. Baseballs were flying off bats and gloves popped as they made their way to the field box seats on the first base side, the side of the home team, the side of the Tigers.
“Verlander is pitching today,” Ed cheered, and nudged Edna with childlike enthusiasm, referring to arguably the games‘ best hurler. The weather was a cooperating 75 degrees and the sun was bursting in full sight with just a few hints of faint clouds off in the distance. The gentle intermittent breeze made it a perfect day for a ballgame.
As they settled in their seats, they witnessed players from both teams running outfield sprints, fielders warming up their arms, and hitters taking batting practice. Fans cheered feverishly for their favorite players, especially when the reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera interacted with them. Ed drew a deep content sigh, basking in the sights and sounds of America’s pastime; the game of baseball. What a day game at a baseball stadium was to him, was like a beach for most people; peaceful and relaxing.
“How about some popcorn?” Edna asked, enticingly.
“Let’s wait until the game starts…on second thought, popcorn will be great right now.”
Edna motioned toward the vendor and bought a large bag to share with her significant other. As they enjoyed the extra buttery snack, a father and son sat behind them, both sporting Tigers gear. Suddenly a batted ball rocketed in their direction. Ed quickly handed the popcorn to Edna and fumbled to get to his feet to make an attempt at a souvenir, but clumsily slipped back down as the boy behind him prepared to make the catch. The ball hit the palm of his glove and landed harmlessly in Ed’s lap. He massaged the ball for a moment before handing it back to the kid.
“It’s yours sir.”
“No kid, you had it first.”
“I should’ve caught it. It’s yours fair and square. I’ll have plenty more chances to get one.”
Ed pondered the boy’s reasoning, reluctantly nodded and thanked him. He continued his inspection of the ball, feeling the threaded texture of the red stitches. He brought the ball to his nose and inhaled the aromatic stains left by fresh cut grass while reminiscing of his days as a kid playing the game in youth leagues and in high school. The song “Centerfield” was heard over the public address system to the pleasure of several eager fans who offered their renditions.
The warm ups on the field continued, when suddenly one of the Tigers’ sluggers sauntered over to the first base side and towards the beckoning fans seeking autographs. Ed gripped his ball tightly and tried to get to his feet for an autograph only to slink back down in sorrowed resignation. Edna tried lovingly to console him with kind words but Ed’s face screamed of disappointment.
“Mister, can I see your baseball?” asked the boy, tapping Ed on the shoulder. Ed reached up without looking and the boy grabbed it away. The boy had a quick whispered exchange with Edna, then rushed down to field level, wiggling by fans of all ages until he was no longer visible to his dad. His dad rose and followed in pursuit. There was a sea of humanity huddled around where the slugger stood signing autographs. Moments later the kid surfaced from the crowd and greeted his dad. They both scaled the steps back to their seats and the kid reached out towards Ed.
“Here you go, mister. I got Prince Fielder to sign it for you. I told him the autograph was for the Tigers’ biggest fan and he smiled as if he knew it was you.”
Ed spied upon the autograph wide eyed and mouth agape. His pupils darted back and forth at each curve in the elliptical signature. “Thank you so much. You should really keep it. This one you earned.”
“Look on the other side of the ball. It’s personalized. Besides, I’ll have plenty more chances to get one.”
“You are raising quite a boy there,” Ed said to the dad. The dad humbly acknowledged him.
Ed rotated the ball and his eyes sparkled when he read the words. Ed, it is fans like you that always gives the Tigers a chance.
“Looks like we picked a great day to go to a game,” Edna commented. “I’m having the time of my life and the game hasn’t even begun,” Ed beamed, as he sat back and exhaled in satisfaction.