Friday, April 6, 2012

Why the Texas Rangers Exemplify 'Class'...and Have My Endless Admiration

Baseball was a sport I loved while growing up.  It was one of the very few sports where kids of all sizes could compete somewhat equally.  Unlike basketball, you don't have to be over 6' tall to play.  Unlike football, being under 5'10" and weighing less than 240 pounds doesn't hamper your ability.  No, the only thing limiting you here is your speed and agility.  Basically, it was a sport I could play so, yeah, I enjoyed it.  I grew up in a small town in PA about an hour from Baltimore, MD.  We lived and died with the Orioles, though there was more 'living' then than 'dying'.  In the late 60's through the early 80's, the Birds were great.  I can still, without googling it, recite the starting lineup for the team that won the World Series back in 1970 starting with their Manager, Earl Weaver.  No, I'm not going to name them - this was just as a matter of fact and illustration.  I remember, too, living in Philadelphia after graduating from college when the Orioles played the Phillies.  My heart was torn because I had, dare I say it, dared to love another.  Actually, it was a win-win - I got to celebrate no matter who won a game during that Series.

I realize, too, that baseball can, at times, be as exciting to watch as, well, watching the grass grow or paint dry.  The thing is, this is OUR sport.  America's pastime.  The baseball diamond is, and always will be, our collective 'Field of Dreams'.  I think it's because, especially with a father and son, it's where we've formed The Bond.  I remember so many evenings, after having dinner and just as the sun was headed toward the horizon, I would head outside with my father, carrying both gloves and a ball, begging for him to follow me.  He did.  A lot.  We'd stand in the yard beside the house, all of about 40 feet long, and throw until the sky glowed its' burnt orange color the sun dipped below the trees.  I remember, too, when they had, "Father-Son Night," at the local Elks Lodge.  A few of the Orioles would come to town and join us for an evening of dinner followed by a question-answer session.  They'd autograph a few items then head home, maybe not even aware of the lasting impact they had on those of us that considered them 'larger than life'.  The last year my father and I went, I was still playing ball as a catcher.  The local newspaper asked to take a few photographs and I got to have mine snapped with Elrod Hendricks.  Yes, you'd have to be an O's fan from way back to remember the name, but the man was huge...and a catcher.  The man had a dynamic personality and, again, made an impression.  Baseball was THE sport that made an impact on me as a kid and the 'Boys of Summer' are welcomed every year at this time.

All of this, until now, has been a preamble (or pre-ramble!) and has nothing to do with the Rangers.  It has to do with the sport and how it impacts men and their boys.  I'm sure that, if you think back to last summer, most of you (men and women alike) will remember this story.  July 7, 2011 was a night that the Texas Rangers would play the Oakland Athletics in Texas.  Shannon Stone, a 39-year old firefighter was taking his son, 6-year old Cooper Stone, to the game.  Shannon had just bought his son a new glove the previous evening and Cooper wore it that evening hoping to catch a foul ball.  His father had even gotten seats in left field so Cooper would be near his hero, Josh Hamilton.  Maybe, just maybe, Hamilton would toss a foul ball their direction.  In the second inning, Hamilton, the Most Valuable Player in the American League at the time, took a ball that had ricocheted off the stands and onto the field, and tossed it toward them.  Shannon caught the ball as he leaned over the 33"-high railing...and went over.  He fell about 20 feet between two walls and landed face-first on concrete.  Emergency crews rushed to him and, as they prepared him for the trip to the hospital, he was suddenly alert enough to say to a paramedic, "Please check on my son.  My son was up there by himself."  The paramedics assured him his son would be fine and proceeded to place Shannon in the ambulance and head for the hospital.  He died a short time later, all of this having played out in front of young Cooper.  Now, we fast-forward to the opening of the 2012 season.

In a time when professional sports stories are filled with owners at odds with players, franchises moving from one city to another, horrendous salaries and contracts, hideous and unseemly behavior by many of said athletes, and a general lack of appreciation for the fans that support these athletes and teams, one organization did not only the right thing, but a great thing.  A situation that many would simply left as an indelible 'black mark' on their history, the Texas Rangers chose to make a lasting tribute.  Today, by the Home Plate entrance to their stadium, they unveiled a beautiful statue titled,"Rangers Fans."  More than just a statue and memorial to Shannon Stone, it celebrates that baseball is, and always will be, a family sport.  It shows father and son, walking from the game hand in hand, as they talk and share what they've seen.  What an incredible tribute to a father that loved his son, the game, and others.  It was classy and the entire team was there for the unveiling.  Josh Hamilton was there and, after having pictures taken with Cooper and the Stone family, spent some time with him.  In a time when many pro athletes are taking us, their fans, for granted, it is reassuring to see an organization invoke memories of the 'good ol' days' by getting close to the fans and being appreciative.  This is why the Texas Rangers have earned my admiration.  Though it's sad to say they are admired for doing the right thing and something nice, they are.  What they have done exceeded expectations and should restore our faith, not only in the game, but in people in general.  I salute the Texas Rangers, their players, their staff, and their entire organization.  What an incredibly classy move.

Until next time...................

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