A couple of weeks back I got into this phase where I kept saying, “How can you not be romantic about baseball”? The quote made famous by Brad Pitt in his portrayal of Billy Bean in the 2011 movie Money Ball. It’s a line that rings true for me whenever I’m told how boring baseball is, because to me, baseball is much bigger than the players on the field, and the game between the foul lines. Baseball is life and touches the lives of so many whether they hate it, or love it, many of us have some memory about baseball.
I was feeling very unmotivated during the last River Cats homestand against the Salt Lake Bees, and this past week while they played in Las Vegas. I wasn’t finding any inspiration in the games themselves and had a hard time capturing moments with my camera to tell a story. I then decided to turn my attention toward the fans, and that’s when the excitement came back. I remembered why I loved baseball, and I smiled.
Looking into the stands I saw children screaming for baseballs, arms outstretched, faces pressed to the netting to keep them safe from foul balls. Families sitting together with popcorn, and hot dogs, wearing their River Cats shirts, and San Francisco Giants hats, glove in one hand and a souvenir cup in the other. Grown men shoulder to shoulder with kids, baseballs and cards, and pens in hand asking, “sign mine”? There were couples on first dates, and couples of forty years; how many games had they been to? What memories do they have? Which players have they seen? Drunken frat boys, and screaming sorority sisters, laughed, and cheered creating lifelong friendship through baseball. Then there was one thing that really struck me, and humbled me, and reminded me to be grateful for the easy access that I have to baseball.
Baseball is America’s Pastime, but it is played around the world and in 2020, roughly 31% of Major League players hailed from Latin American countries. Most of us see baseball and its high salaries as a luxury, but to the Latin American players, it’s a way out of poverty for not only themselves and their families, but many times for those in their community who benefit from the charitable acts that the few players who do make it give back. While today’s stars of Latin America are known to us who follow the game, those players weren’t just born with the desire to play. They were influenced by generations of players who we never heard of, and by stories of those who were legends both here and overseas; Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays, all superstars who helped spread the game around the world. Yet even if those names did not resound themselves, there was one team that did. The New York Yankees, owners of a record 27 World Championships, you’d be hard pressed to find many families around the world who had not heard of the New York Yankees.
The crowd had just finished singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning on this Friday night, and as usual people were coming down the aisles of the stadium seats, many milling around by the photo well trying to get a peek and the attention of their favorite players, and as the inning was about to start, one gentleman remained. A Latino, probably in his mid-thirties just stood there staring toward the batter’s box while Salt Lake’s pitcher Ty Buttrey was finishing up his warmup throws to catcher Austin Romine. The man got my attention and asked me as he pointed to the box, “Is that Austin Romine”? to which I replied in the affirmative and went back to what I was doing. I knew that he would be asked to take his seat once the game began, but it wasn’t my job to do, and I remember what it’s like to be on that side of the railing.
Security came up to the gentleman and kindly asked him to take his seat, to which the man did not argue, but just before he left, he said the most authentic thing I’ve heard all season. In a heavily accented voice, and speaking of Bees catcher Austin Romine, “I jus’ wanted to see a Yankee. He played for the Yankees” as he pointed to Austin Romine behind the plate, then turned around and left. He returned to take his seat, wherever they may have been, but I was instantly moved by the power of his words. Austin Romine hasn’t played for the Yankees since 2019, and Salt Lake City is worlds apart from New York, yet this man with the look of excitement and joy on his face said in his heavily accented voice, “I jus’ wanted to see a Yankee, and he used to play for the Yankees”, that statement was all I could think about the rest of the night. This man’s wish, his dream for who knows how long, had probably been going to New York, watching a Yankees game, and fulfilling a dream, but the desire for that was so strong in him, that he was in awe of a man, who simply had put on the Yankees uniform.
Immediately after the game, without even considering that Austin had just caught nine innings of baseball, sorry about that Austin, I approached him and said I had a story to tell. Reluctantly Austin gave me a look like whatever, just say it. I could see the boredom and tiredness in his face as I gave him a quick background as to what had just happened, but when I said those words, “He just wanted to see a Yankee”, Austin’s demeanor changed, you could see he was touched, and said, “I wish I could have met him to say hi, thank you for telling me that, that’s really special”. How can you not be romantic about baseball?