Reflections on "the game" as Spring Training 2010 begins. . .(Part 1)
What follows, in four parts, is an essay I wrote several years ago while coaching in the Texas Rangers' Rookie League, a co-ed baseball program for 11 and 12-year-old boys and girls. As Major League Baseball gears up for the 2010 season, I'm thinking of the game's value.
I am a baseball coach. Well, not really. My career, my job is in a totally unrelated field. But few things in my life are more important than my work as a coach in the Texas Rangers Rookie League.
For two summers now I have coached eleven and twelve-year-old boys and girls who have never played organized baseball prior to being on my team. The experience has been fun, educational, exciting, hilarious and sobering all at once. All of my players live in a fairly tough Dallas inner-city neighborhood. The Texas Rangers deserve a community commendation for sponsoring the summer league that actually serves as a baseball day camp of sorts for hundreds of children from all across the Metroplex.
For several of my players the baseball league offers a welcome escape from terrible living conditions.
Let me introduce you to "John."
He lives with his grandmother and a number of other adults--some related, some not--in a well known, neighborhood crack house near his school. John is a great young man. He spends his days by his own choice going from place to place in the neighborhood looking for trustworthy people and positive things to do. The Friendship Center at Fair Park Bible Fellowship, the Jubilee Center sponsored by St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church and the Rangers Rookie League baseball are all regular stops on his daily walk around the neighborhood this summer.
He seemed thrilled when he learned that he had been selected by his principal to play on our team. He attended every practice, worked hard, learned new skills and turned out to be our most productive hitter. John is a winsome kid with a big smile and a temper that can explode in a fury, invariably followed by quick apologies.
After one pre-season practice he asked me for a ride home. When we arrived at his house, I got out with him to unload some of his belongings from my truck. As we walked to the back of my car, a small pick-up truck pulled alongside us and a young man came out of John's house and stepped up to the truck's window. After a brief exchange of words, money and "merchandize," the truck's driver turned his vehicle around and left, all the while keeping his eyes on John and me.
"Coach, this goes on all the time here," he tried to explain what we had just witnessed. I tried to reassure him and told him to go inside and be careful, a truly impossible directive given his environment. Later that same day I talked to John about our experience.
"We walked into the middle of a drug deal, didn't we?" I asked to confirm what I thought I had seen.
"Yes sir. My grandmother can't control the house anymore. People come and go and sue and sell drugs," replied.
During the pre-game warm-up before our third game of the season, John took a ball right in the mouth. The blow split his lip open. A little ice and some special attention patched him up so that he could play in both games of our doubleheader that day. On the van ride home I told John that he would need to see a doctor and might require a stitch or two in his lip.
After a thoughtful pause, John said, "Coach, I'll go to the doctor, but I won't."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I'm willing to go, but no one will take me. No one has a car and they just lay around not doing anything."
I assured him that I would see that he got to a doctor. When we arrived at his house, I managed to get permission from an aunt to arrange for treatment. Dr. Jim Walton, our long time medical partner and leader of community health equity for the Baylor Health Care System, met us at our clinic. John took his three stitches better than any 40-year-old man. Four or five days later, between game days, Dr. Walton went back to John' house to remove the stitches.
We both observed a number of adults coming and going in all directions. Two little girls, possibly aged five and three, played with a cat on the front porch. They stopped their play long enough to grin and wave at us. We felt as if we were standing in the middle of a busy, though dilapidated, dingy, and dark marketplace. The commodity being traded was crack cocaine. The surroundings spoke of abject poverty.
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