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GOCIO: Bonds of the ballpark can last a lifetime

March 22, 2011

Most of my time spent working as of late has been at the ballpark.

Let’s face it, everyone would rather be doing something else, sometimes anything else, than work. But, when your desk is the bleachers and there’s a concession stand a few feet away, it makes working a little more tolerable.

Spending time watching all these baseball and softball games has reminded me of a million little things I loved so much growing up. There hasn’t been a game where I haven’t seen or heard something that takes me back, and I chuckle a little inside.

A few things might have changed since my heyday on the diamond, which truth be told doesn’t seem that long ago and wasn’t that glorious.

I mean, when did coaches and players start wearing playbooks on their arms? The last time I remembered, sleeve meant steal and belt meant bunt, right? Now coaches scream out number and color combinations as the entire team looks down like a dazed quarterback, systematically trying to decipher some sort of cryptic message.

Honestly, it really makes me question my old coaches, or at least their faith in my team’s intelligence.

Still, most things are the same and always will be, which is what makes the game so fun. Particularly the sense of community behind the backstop.

No matter how cold it is, there’s someone’s mother wrapped in a blanket, cheering on the team. No matter how late it is, there’s someone’s brother or sister waiting to give a handful of ball players a ride home. No matter how insignificant the play, there’s someone’s father screaming at the top of his lungs, as if the umpire just singlehandedly ruined his kid’s future.

It’s hilarious, and it’s strangely comforting, because the people around me are such a poignant reminder of all the families I grew up around. After all, when you spend so much of your free time playing sports with the same kids year after year, inevitably you become honorary children to the clan of parents endlessly lugging kids from town to town in a Suburban full of clanking bats and stinky uniforms.

God bless them.

So, over the weekend when I was informed that a very prominent member of my baseball family had passed away, although I hadn’t seen my friend’s father in years, I got a little teary eyed and felt as if I’d lost a distant uncle.

He was a good man, who’d served his country overseas and raised one of the nicest and hardest-working guys I’ve ever met. He truly loved his son and was always at the game, whether in the stands or the dugout, to cheer him and all of us on.

Eventually bad health won the battle, though. He will be missed by many, including a handful of Pirates.

Life can be short and fleeting, but the bonds made between friends and families, sometimes at a ballpark, can last an eternity.

Some of my closest and oldest friends were childhood teammates. As much as I love seeing them, nothing gives me a bigger kick than seeing their parents, whose eyes light up at the sight of “how big” we’ve all gotten. (Sometimes I wonder if they thought we’d stay 12 forever.)

So now, years later as I’m surrounded by strangers who seem somehow eerily familiar, I understand the look in a parent’s eyes when he turns around to get a good look at the punk kid cheering on the visiting team by heckling a home player for being chubby.

So help me, like a lioness defending the pride, the other day I nearly saw someone’s mother turn around and toss that punk kid over the top bleacher, which would have probably resulted in cheers from the gallery.

Of course, I kid, but I’ve never seen a more blatant display of rudeness and stupidity from the youth of America — and that’s saying a lot these days. At one point, I found myself considering leaning over and saying something, or wondering what would everyone would think if he just so happened to mysteriously fall off while stuffing his face with nachos next to the newspaper guy.

You know, maybe I should start sitting in the press box.

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