Sports have always played an important part of my life–my childhood–my children played sports growing up–my nieces–nephews. I have spent many hours not only as a proud Mom on the bleachers but also as an ecstatic aunt. And as a young child I watched my Daddy rocket softballs from outfield to home plate like a speeding jet–or in his daughter’s eyes–that’s the way it was. And I have logged many late nights as a sports writer and photographer.
It’s the game. The score. The competition. And the absolute dream for many.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend Spring Training with my niece in Arizona and watch team greats such as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels and others.
The sights and sounds and smells of the ballpark ignites memories of the past and there is this thrill of watching young kids walking into the park with gloves and their backs adorned with their favorite jerseys–heroes’ names on the back. And never think for one moment it’s just the kids–grown men have their gloves in tow too–ready to catch the sacred foul ball and homerun. And there are the elderly women, especially and men who are dressed in full fan attire.
There’s was this one woman–she was up in age. I saw her in one of the tourist stores. She had a lapel pin with a player’s name and number stuck to her jacket–shining like new money. And we talked for a few minutes about the local pottery and other small talk. And then I ask her–is that player someone you personally know? In my mind I thought it might be a family member, a grandson perhaps. And she said, “Oh no honey–that is so and so–he plays for the Giants.”
These men–these athletes–they are sometimes larger than life to us. Heroes at times. So much so old women wear their names on their backs and lapel pins on their jackets. In full color.
There’s always a story.
It’s been a while since I attended a Major League Baseball game and the thrill of seeing players such as Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Vladimir Guerrero, and Clayton Kershaw while in Spring Training–it’s something I won’t forget.
But this time there was something different about the park–the stories I saw. Many of these stories you will never witness on ESPN or read about them in Sports Illustrated, at least not multiple times. The stories, there are many.
The story of Albert Pujol’s Family Foundation–the mission “is to live and share our commitment to faith, family, and others. To promote awareness, provide hope and meet tangible needs for children and families who live with Down syndrome. To improve the standard of living and quality of life for impoverished people in the Dominican Republic through education, medical relief, and tangible goods. To provide extraordinary experiences for children with disabilities and/or life threatening illnesses.”
And one of the reasons for Albert Pujol’s support for children with Down syndrome–his daughter.
He didn’t have to do it. This three-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher. But there he was, Clayton Kershaw, bigger than life signing autographs for the fans at spring training. I have read his earlier biography–he worked hard to get to the big leagues and never let anyone discourage his dream. But more than that–Kershaw and his wife, Ellen–his high school sweetheart, they have raised over 7.5 million dollars through Kershaw’s Challenge which benefits communities in Dallas, Los Angeles, Zambia and the Domician Republic.
The mission of Kershaw’s Challenge is this, “Kershaw’s Challenge is a faith-based, others-focused organization. We exist to encourage people to use whatever God-given passion or talent they have to make a difference and give back to people in need. We want to empower people to use their spheres of influence to impact communities positively and to expand God’s Kingdom. We believe that God can transform at-risk children and neighborhoods through the benevolence and impact of others.”
And there are others with stories within the ballpark–their jerseys are not sold in any fan club shop or any other sporting good store for that matter. And maybe they should be. Because the game–it just wouldn’t exist without their work, their dedication.
The groundskeepers, clean-up crew, maintenance, equipment managers, the team’s dieticans, nutritionists, coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, vendors–many who their days begin long before sunrise and end in the dark of the night–12 hours later and more.
And what about the single moms and those daddies who not only carry large loads of drinks, popcorn, and other concessions on their backs, selling to the crowds–but also the burden of making ends meet at home. Their job at the ballpark is not their first job but often times their second and third shift employment.
Today is opening day for Major League Baseball. There will be huge crowds at ballparks all across America. And there will be young and old alike dressed in their favorite team’s attire.
The next time I go to Spring Training or a Major League game, I believe I will design my own jerseys to wear. And on my jerseys will be names such as Smith and Jones and Garcia and Lopez. And when I am asked who is Smith, who is Jones or Garcia or Lopez–I will answer and say, ‘oh Mrs. Smith, she carries popcorn on her back at the stadium and sells to the crowd and Mr. Jones, he is one of the coaches who works sometimes 7 days straight–many 12-hour days, Garcia, he is the young boy who doesn’t even look old enough to work and pushes loads of trash twice his size, and Lopez, he is part of the grounds crew whose only responsibility is to make sure every blade of grass is shining and the fields are perfect.
And there are heroes everywhere. And most feel they are never noticed.