I keep a baseball by my desk. I’m not sure where it came from. Beneath the Rawlings logo there’s a stamp that says it’s an “Official Ball” from the Pacific Coast league, so I must have picked up at one of the many Nashville Sounds games I go to.
I keep it by my desk and when I’m proofreading something I’ve written, I pick it up to give my fingers something to do when they’re not flapping away at the keys.
I like the way a baseball feels in my hand. I like the smooth texture of the leather surface, the tight precision of the laces, the hardness of the thing.
Mind you, I could never do much with an actual baseball. I never could judge the flight of a fly ball off the bat; I’d set myself where I thought it was gonna come down and … it always went over my head. And it scared the living daylights out of me when Donnie Cohn pitched hardball in summer camp.
They say the the hardest thing in all of sports is “swing the round bat at the round ball – and hit it squarely.” The doesn’t even take into account that the ball is coming at your head at 90 miles an hour. Before you can even think about swinging, the first thing you have to do is not duck.
Still, I just like the way a baseball feels in my hand. It’s much more organic than one of those ‘fidget spinner” gizmos.
Have I mentioned yet that I’ve got a ‘part time summer job’ at the ballpark?
I’m a ‘fan host.’ Most nights I’m on the periphery of First Horizon Park, scanning tickets and telling people where to find the funnel cake. Some nights I’m ‘inside the arena’ – actually getting paid to watch the games and chat with fans about the team and the players’ prospects to make it up to ‘the show‘.
One night during the Sounds last home stand, I was stationed in the Vandy Picnic Zone – the area in right/center field that is set a side for large gatherings. That night the team hosted a group from PPG Paints.
My job was mostly putting wrist bands on the fans as they come in so they can pass freely between the stands and the buffet (it’s tough work but somebody’s gotta do it).
Before each game, while the Fan Hosts are all sitting in the stands behind home plate getting our instructions for the evening, I watch the batting practice and see if any balls get knocked into the seats. This particular night I saw a ball go into the left field stands and ran out to retrieve it before taking my post.
Once I’ve got a ball, I keep an eye out for somebody to give it to.
At some point in the evening, I found a prospect. A couple came in with two kids, their son about ten and an adorable little girl, I’m guessing seven or eight years old. She had dark hair, was wearing an Atlanta Braves T-shirt and, most importantly, she brought her baseball glove to the game.
I always wonder why fans bring their glove to the game. It can only mean one thing: they hope to leave with a souvenir.
Later in the evening, this same adorable child came up and addressed me by my name, which she could read from the name tag hanging from a lanyard around my neck.
“Excuse me, Paul. Do you have a Sharpie?”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Avery, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a Sharpie. I’ve thought about bringing one, and now that you’ve asked me, I’m going to bring a Sharpie tomorrow and every night after that, and I’ll think of you if anybody ever asks me for a Sharpie again.”
She said “OK,” and then I spied one of the group sales people and he found a Sharpie for her.
Later in the game, I noticed that Avery’s brother had some how gotten his hands on a baseball and was showing it off to people.
An inning later, I decided it was time to make a gift of my batting practice ball, and went down to the seats on the front row of the section where Avery was sitting with her mother.
To my surprise, Avery was in tears. Her mother quickly volunteered that one of the outfielders had tossed a ball their way at the end of the inning, but her mother had reached for it bobbled it back on to the field, leaving poor Avery with nothing in her hand but that glove.
“Avery,” I said, “tell me, what’s that glove for?”
“I was hoping somebody would toss me a baseball” she said, quivering through her tears.
“Has anybody tossed you a ball yet?”
“Yes, but my mother dropped it,” she said, burying her head in her mother’s shoulder.
“OK then, get your glove ready…”
She looked at me, a little confused, and with some encouragement from her mother finally put her gloved hand out in front of me.
And I dropped the ball into her glove.
And jeezus if that adorable little face didn’t just light up like it was Christmas and I was Santa Claus. Her mother’s face lit up, too, and as I walked away there was applause and fist bumps from others seated nearby.
Is that all it takes to make somebody happy? Toss them slightly beat up batting practice baseball?
When the game was over, Avery came up and thanked me again and gave me big hug.
Yeah, the job pays peanuts, but a moment like that?