Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s successes or put its failures behind and start all over again. That’s the way life is with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.
– Bob Feller, Baseball Hall of Famer
I really thought it might be a scam. I read the email several times: “Congratulations! As you may remember, you registered for the opportunity to purchase 2018 All-Star Ticket Strips and we are thrilled to have randomly selected you for this exclusive opportunity.”
It wasn’t a scam. I had won the opportunity to purchase tickets to the Major League Baseball All Star events including the Homerun Derby and the All-Star game.
My boys are avid baseball fans, so this was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up. I logged into the MLB website with my secret passcode ready to purchase, but the system was down. Rats!
Several phone calls and web browser refreshes later, I was finally able to purchase the tickets. Standing Room Only. No seats, but we would be at the stadium for the game.
Finally the big day arrived, but storms were in the forecast. Would they affect the game?
A storm came through and flooded the dugout. Would the game start on time?
Fortunately my family and I were deep in the bowels of the Washington Convention Center during the storms. After they rolled on through we hopped the Metro and arrived at the field about three hours prior to official game time for our “seats”. Well, our standing room only spots. We staked out our claim along the railing – wedged in alongside the other gazillion fans who had also been randomly selected for the exclusive opportunity.
Our “seats” provided the perfect vantage point to people watch. I watched the ushers smile and offer help. I watched people of all ages from tiny infants to great great grandparents. I talked to people who flew in from Memphis, drove all night from Houston, took the train from Boston, and the red eye from LA.
All for one reason. For the love of the game.
There was no divide. No political divide. No racial divide. No infamous baseball rivalries. No rudeness or snarkiness. Only comraderie. Fans from all over the country, from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life had come together for one purpose. It was a beautiful thing to observe.
At the bottom of the first inning with the help of the MLB, Air Force Special Tactics operator Cole Condiff surprised his family with an emotional reunion played out on the jumbotron for all to see. The crowd went wild – united in our purpose of supporting a brave leader and his family.
The previous night’s Homerun Derby Winner and hometown Washington National Bryce Harper was mic’d up during the game. Instead of self-aggrandizing about his own win, he raved about the pitcher on the mound at the time, NY Mets Jacob deGrom. “He’s lights out. The guy is unbelievable.” Encouraging words for his teammate for this one game.
Every year, at the bottom of the fifth inning of the All-Star game, the MLB takes a moment to “Stand Up 2 Cancer,” In lieu of cutting to a commercial, tv cameras panned the ballpark where everyone held customized signs that read “I Stand Up For” above the name of someone who is battling or has battled cancer. My family stood for Eric, Micki, and James Grady, my beloved uncle who lost his battle 19 years ago and who was a huge influence in my life. It was a brief and intensely powerful moment. It’s been said that “there’s no crying in baseball”, but the tears flowed.
The loudest cheers of the night though were reserved for the Medal of Honor recipients who were recognized for the selflessness they exhibited in serving our country. Silently we stood as 29 extraordinary veterans were introduced. We were asked to hold our applause until all the heroes had been announced, and that was excruciatingly hard. They deserved all the applause in the world. When the last name was called, and we were finally able to let loose, the applause, cheers, and whistles were inspiring and patriotic.
Four hours later with a historic ten home runs, the game ended with the American League beating the National League 8 – 6.
Someday I might look back and tell the story of how I was at that historic game. Baseball is good for a story; it has a beginning, middle, and end. For me, the story won’t be about baseball, but about discovering commonality and purpose in a world that often feels chaotic.
It will be about the bridge that I saw built between communities of people. It will be about the life lessons I learned standing in a baseball stadium.