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Hunter Pence is the kind of ballplayer that marches to the beat of his own drum. The wild hair, the beard, the unique practice swing, his love of video games and even the games and comics coffee shop he hopes to open, it’s all very Hunter Pence-ian, and all awesome. So it may not surprise you to find out that he wore a necklace containing the ashes of a deceased fan on the field back in September.
But would it surprise you to find out that Pence, who plays for the San Francisco Giants, wore the ashes of a Los Angeles Dodgers fan?
Initially, maybe. But once you know the whole story, it’s not surprising at all. It’s just more of Pence being Pence-ian and wonderful.
The whole thing started with filmmaker Matt Liston, who does a series of sports documentaries called “Mr. Impossible” for Uninterrupted. His most recent mission for “Mr. Impossible” is about a lifelong Dodgers fan named Melissa Janiszewski, and her journey to have the ashes of her father spread at Dodger Stadium, the place where they bonded over baseball.
Melissa had reached out to Dodger Stadium several times about spreading the ashes of her father there, but each time they said no. Between public ordinances and their own policies, they don’t allow it. A Dodgers employee suggested that a nearby public park (with a view of the stadium) would be a good place, but the view of the stadium was questionable — as was the condition of the park itself.
Liston even reached out to famous Dodgers fan Larry King, who couldn’t believe that the Dodgers wouldn’t allow that. Eventually, Liston recruited Hunter Pence, Giants right fielder, to help. They put Melissa’s father’s ashes in a necklace, which Pence wore during a Giants-Dodgers game on Sept. 22.
As he always is, Pence was eloquent and thoughtful about wearing those ashes, and what it meant to Melissa.
“It’s not necessarily the physical of the ashes. It’s being the instrument of that spirit and his presence being out there with me and hopefully giving her some closure.”
Sadly, not every fan will be able to have a guy like Hunter Pence wear their loved one’s ashes onto the baseball field. Every year, there are thousands (and probably more) people who want to spread the ashes of a friend or family member at a stadium. And it makes sense! Ballparks are places where memories are made. You’re spending time with people you love watching the team you love play the sport you love.
But that presents a problem. Liston points out that there is no organized way for people to fulfill the wishes of their loved ones and spread their ashes at a ballpark. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t done, but it’s done secretly. In episode 1, Liston put together a montage of videos featuring people clandestinely dumping ashes onto baseball fields, hoping that security wouldn’t notice them.
In light of Melissa’s story, and the stories of others, Liston has started a campaign to get teams to designate special days for fans to fulfill their loved ones’ final wishes. That kind of thing doesn’t exactly match with the happy, positive tone that teams like to set before and during games, but it would be a lovely recognition of the loyalty, dedication and lifespan of fans.
Liston’s documentary about Melissa and fan ashes is six episodes long (each about six minutes), and contains a lot of cool information about the feasibility of spreading ashes at ballparks, as well as some research into whether doing that would be any more harmful than the paint and chalk on the field. It’s definitely worth a watch whether or not you’re thinking about having your ashes spread at a ballpark.
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