What Really Matters

I’ve been a baseball fan since I could remember. It was a sport I excelled in as a child, and I loved to spend the summer afternoons playing catch with my dad. We started in t-ball, playing for the Astros. I don’t remember much, but I do remember him being there to cheer me on, win or lose.

After t-ball came coaches pitch. That move was a drastic one. Now the ball was actually coming towards you, like actual baseball. I accepted the challenge, and wanted to get better. I would often ask my dad to help me before and after practice, and he always obliged. Later I would find out the man worked 50 hour work weeks, and could have used some time to relax. But he was there, throwing batting practice, taking me to the cages, and just being a great father.

I remember one practice where I was really struggling to get a hit, and some of the players started to make fun of me. No big deal at first. Then the coaches got in on it. I’d never seen my dad so angry in his life. This calm, kind man asked to talk to the coach after practice (to make sure the other kids wouldn’t hear it) and proceeded to lay into this assistant who thought it was funny I wasn’t playing well. Some may think he was hovering, but I was six years old at the time. Adults making fun of someone like that can really mess with a kid, especially when he’s truly trying.

My dad’s passion for watching me play continued through kids pitch. That meant practices twice a week, two games (one on Saturday and Sunday), and the chauffeuring duties that came along with it. Let’s not forget the financial commitment. My parents probably spent a couple thousand dollars on equipment, league fees, uniforms, and any other expenses in the years I played baseball.

Not once did he complain. And win or lose, great game or poor showing, he’d always be there. One moment I think I’ll always remember was at our 10 year old league playoff tournament. A few days before the game, my dad told me he had to go on a business trip. I got angry at him. He said he was sorry, and there was nothing he could do, but I didn’t care. I ran up my stairs and began to cry. Later, my mom would tell me he did the same, because he felt he had let me down. 

I didn’t know any better, but it still pains me to know my father, felt like he had not done enough, when it couldn’t be further from the truth.

By the time middle school rolled around, we had become a select baseball team, which meant a 25 game schedule, practices almost every day, and games on weeknights. I had been with this team, the Braves, for five years, when we were just in the Plano Sports Authority league. After getting hit in the neck and helmet one game on a pitch that seemed like it was 65 mph, I became nervous in the batters box. I pulled away when I would swing, afraid of being hit once again. I tried to fix the problem, but the worry of getting hit became too great. 

The coach I thought cared about me cut me via email after my struggles at the plate. My dad was the one who had to tell me. I can still see the pain in his eyes when he had to tell me himself that my dream, my favorite hobby, was most likely over. That was one of the toughest moments in my life. I don’t remember doing this, perhaps because I was so upset and enraged, but I called my former coach and told him he was a jerk and he should have had the guts to tell me himself. I also said he was a terrible father (he was, would hit his kid in the parking lot).

After the coach called my dad back, I thought for sure I’d be in huge trouble. He told me not to do that again, but told me what I said was 100% correct. He knew what I was going through, because he’d been along through my baseball journey.

Sure, I played another half season back in the non-select league, and did okay even. But I knew I wasn’t good enough to play high school ball. It was before the start of seventh grade when I officially quit the sport.

The relationship I had with my father was one that was incredibly important to me. It was one that Shannon Stone probably wanted to have with his son as well. Stone was a firefighter from Brownwood who was taking his four-year-old son to his first ever big league game. In the second inning against the Oakland A’s, Connor Jackson hit a foul ball that careened off the left field wall, and right towards Josh Hamilton. Stone, most likely eager to give his son a souvenir that he’d remember for the rest of his life, yelled at Hamilton to toss him the ball.

Stone leaned over after the red railing after Hamilton lobbed it underhand, and was able to snag the ball. Stone however lost his balance, and flipped over the left field railing, falling around 20 feet to the ground. Stone landed head-first on the concrete floor, and was apparently bleeding from the head. Paramedics were quick to put Stone on a stretcher, all the while his son watched as the man who he looked up to most lay in a helpless position.

Brad Ziegler, a reliever for the athletics, recalled the situation to reporters.

“They had him on a stretcher. He said, ‘Please check on my son. My son was up there by himself.’ The people who carried him out reassured him. ‘Sir, we’ll get your son, we’ll make sure he’s OK,’” Ziegler said. “He had his arms swinging. He talked and was conscious. 

I watched the game, remembering that it was a year and one day earlier that a fan fell from the upper deck during a Rangers game against the Indians. Hearing then play-by-play man Josh Lewin’s call coupled with the reactions of horrors from the players who witnessed the man fall 30 feet onto empty seats, I thought for sure the man had died.

This time, we didn’t know what to think. It should have been a clue to myself that the Rangers broadcast was saying absolutely nothing about the incident, while the media was keeping everyone updated on a frequent basis.

The team released a statement saying the man would be fine, but near the end of the game, a tweet from a weekend Ticket employee informed the public he had heard some grumblings from Rangers personnel that the man had died. He quickly backed away from the assertions, but we began to wonder.

It was after the game had ended, where we got to see Derek Holland have a great recovery from his worst performance of the season, when he heard the news. Shannon Stone was dead.

I had a flashback to all the memories I experienced with my father and how much he meant to me. And to know this boy will never get to have these moments with his old man makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t know what kind of man I am today without my father. My mom was damn good at her job, but there’s a special bond between father and son that is different, one that’s deeper.

Not only that, but to watch your own father die in front of you, at such a young age? I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

It’s moments like these that sometimes make sports and the act of following a team feels so trivial. It was just a few hours earlier I was cursing out Derek Holland for a four pitch walk.

But that means nothing. What does matter is that there’s a young kid sleeping right now, and will wake up without a father in his life. I hope the Rangers do the right thing and donate a large sum of money to this family. But that can’t replace Shannon Stone. I only hope someone good in the kid’s life can act as a father figure to him. Someone who will take him to games and cheer him on as he runs the base paths. Someone who will give him a pat on the back after a bad game.

Someone who will just be there.

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