July 08, 2011
It's been a sad day for baseball.
It's been a sad day for anyone who is a baseball-loving parent or anyone who has been lucky enough to be the child of one.
As our own Dave Brown astutely wrote in our first post, the death of 39-year-old Shannon Stone after reaching for a ball thrown by Josh Hamilton(notes) on Thursday night is "the kind of thing that isn't supposed to happen at the ballpark."
"But it did," Dave wrote, and that has left the rest of us to reconcile our thoughts on this awful tragedy.
Of course, any time a 6-year-old son has a parent taken from him, it's a tragedy. But to see it unfold live on television during a usually routine interaction — the type that almost always ends with unfettered joy — is hard to process and stomach. How many of us have been there reaching for a baseball thrown or hit by a hometown hero? How many of us have been on the receiving end of such a gift? Some of us may luckily have no experience with car crashes or cancer, but a parent trying to catch a baseball at a ballgame?
As such, we're seeing a lot of people relate their own experiences while trying to come to terms with such a senseless occurrence. Our own Jeff Passan wrote about his son Jack and his continuing pursuit to snag his son a souvenir. ESPN's Buster Olney talked about his 7-year-old son "The Big Man" and how fantasy baseball unites them every morning. Wrote Dan Shanoff: "I am toggling between grief for Stone's son and his family and the natural projection of my own feelings for my kids, particularly as my older son, just 5, is at the start of his life as a sports fan."
Here in Chicago, I am not a father yet. But you can bet that I've been thinking about the time in the early '80s, when mom and dad loaded us up in the car and took my brother and I to old, whitewashed Comiskey Park for a game between the White Sox and Seattle Mariners. During batting practice, Stormin' Gorman Thomas, the aging slugger, lifted a blast toward my family and the smattering of people who were sitting in the left field-stands. As my mother tells us, the ball was headed straight toward her pregnant belly with my sister inside.
But then dad made a play on it. The ball hit his hands and — here is where my memory of the incident starts — there was a scramble for the ball on the sticky floor of the ballpark. My dad ran it down, handed it over and then examined his hand, which was swelling to the size of my Tee-Ball mitt. He went off to get a cup of ice from the concession stand while my brother and I passed the ball back and forth and examined it. Despite my father initially thinking his hand was broken, we stayed for the entire game — or at least however long you can stay at a game with two children under the age of 6. For the rest of the decade, I'd bring that ball to several games we attended at Comiskey and Wrigley, asking ballplayers to slap their signatures on it. I still have it to this day. It's a family heirloom, the only ball that ever came our way.
I know I've told and written that story before and I almost feel like it's unfair for me to write about it today. But in seeking the comfort of that memory, it does underscore how big these moments can be and why Mr. Stone was making a play on the ball for his own son. I've seen some comments say that our section of the world is too obsessed with catching what amounts to a few bucks worth of cowhide and string, but those people should know better. The thousands of baseballs caught in ballparks every year are ways to stamp a special significance to one visit in a childhood full of them. They are a physical reminder of great family trips and that time that the game came to you and the ones you love most.
But that one father and son had such a special moment cruelly twisted by the universe is just way too tough to take. We look at Shannon Stone and his son and we see ourselves.