The Gift of Time

A terrible thing happened at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Thursday night. You’ve heard the news by now about Shannon Stone, a 39-year-old firefighter who was at the game with his 6-year-old son, who died after falling trying to catch a ball flipped his way by Texas’ Josh Hamilton. Click the link if you’d like more detail.

Of all the places to be in this world to receive that news, I was where Shannon Stone had been. I was at a baseball game with my dad. I learned of the accident on Twitter, but it wasn’t until the car ride home when I read a news story on my phone that I knew the specific details of it all. It’s nauseating. Your heart aches for Josh Hamilton, as he’s surely thinking, “If I had just flipped that ball one foot further…” Your soul aches for Jenny Stone, the woman who must make sense of all this to her son. Your everything aches for the little boy. If there was ever a place for a dad to take his son, it’s a ballpark. So two Stones go off to a Rangers game, and then only one comes home? As much as we may try, there’s simply no comprehending that.

Baseball, as they say, is a fathers and sons game, but mothers mourned last night, too. The tragedy caused an outpour of thoughts and prayers around cyberspace, and it encouraged writers to put thoughts and feelings into words, perhaps in hope that the words find some grieving eyes that need them. ESPN’s Buster Olney shared a little story about his son this morning. Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan wrote a beautiful column. I know there are others who wrote about this in some way. I apologize for not linking to your story, too.

I played organized baseball from age 4 up until a couple months after my 21st birthday. Yes, there were more than a few summer days in the yard playing catch with my dad. Yes, there were more than a few winter nights in the garage honing my swing off a tee with my dad. Yes, there were more than a few travel ball games where my mom drove and my sister sat through searing sunshine with the other sisters to watch their 11-year-old brothers dive in the dirt, if only because they knew the importance of family.

There were more of those times than I can remember. But I don’t feel the want or the desire to wax poetic about those times. As nice as they were, I don’t think any of us need to hear those tales now. What we all need to hear about now is the gift of time.

Other than health, it’s the greatest gift your life can be blessed with. I think about time more and more, for many reasons. Some remain unclear. A big one, I think, is that I’m preparing to move back to the East Coast soon for work. This is nothing somber, of course. It’s quite exciting, and I’m absolutely certain my family is more excited for the opportunities ahead than I. I tell everybody that I plan on moving back home to Southern California as soon as possible, and I sincerely believe those words to be true. It’s the timing of it all that remains elusive. It’s impossible to suppress the doubting whisper in your mind that tells you, “You don’t really know.” My move-in date hasn’t officially been set, so how could I possibly project a move-out date on any part of the calendar? I can’t.

Oh, I’ll be around. I’ll be back for visits, home for holidays, away for vacations. I’ll happily welcome visitors to my home. These things work themselves out. But there will always be the reality that things are different. You aren’t always around. You aren’t always home. You aren’t away for every vacation. Work calls, life knocks, you miss things. And so I think about time.

While the Stone boys were sitting in Texas Thursday evening, my dad and I sat in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. We took in a gorgeous evening and a fun game. Sitting in our seats, I tried to take moments to look around the stadium and soak in the sights, smells and sounds that I have become accustomed to over the years. We knew that this would be the last visit to Dodger Stadium until next season, so we each put down three Dodger Dogs (don’t worry, it was over the course of like 4 hours — that’s almost healthy). I tried to remember the details of our conversations, what was happening when Dad ranted about Don Mattingly, who was on base when Dad made a joke about Chad Billingsley.

I wanted to remember the details of our night together, because otherwise the games and the nights and the conversations become exactly like those childhood baseball memories. Too many to remember. They blur together, and then you find yourself asking, “Where did it go?” Some people would call this “living in the moment,” or “living life a day at a time,” or another cliché that happens to be entirely accurate. I prefer to think of it simply as respecting and being grateful for the gift of time.

I think about this when I see friends, knowing that the college years have flown by and visits now become much too infrequent. I think about this when family comes over to eat, because … well, how many more times will that happen? The nature of this subject — a boy losing his father at a baseball game and the subsequent reflections on our own lives — is solemn, sure, but I don’t intend this to be sad. The gift of time is not sad at all. It is precious and worthy of celebration.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony when I sat down to write this. Do you know where I’m going tonight? Yes, I’m going to another baseball game with my dad (we are kind of sick… it’s true). Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, Carolina guys, are playing for the Seattle Mariners in Anaheim and we wanted to go root for them. Mike Trout, a wonderful 19-year-old prospect, was called up by the Angels and should be in centerfield tonight. This makes Dad and I giddy. We will go and watch batting practice, sip on a cold beer, grab something to eat (no, we won’t get a hotdog. Four in two days is too much even for us). We’ll watch the players we came to see, root for them to get hits. I’m sure Dad will make some jokes, ones in which I’ll laugh incredibly hard at, either for the comedy or the sake of knowing only my dad would say that.

In the wake of what happened in Texas last night, I should probably say that we will relish this game tonight more than the one last night, that we will pay particular close attention to the conversations, be even more grateful for the time spent. But I don’t know if that’s the case, and, anyway, that’s not really the point. The point is merely to be aware. Be aware of the time. Most importantly, enjoy it.

They say baseball is a timeless game. There is no clock, the rules rarely change, the records and statistics connect generations. It’s a game where fathers are allotted the time to teach their sons lessons, during the mound visits and the pitching changes and the seventh-inning stretch. You go to an afternoon ballgame, and the heat and summer breeze take you back in time.

When Shannon Stone fell Thursday night, we were reminded that this isn’t quite true. Nothing is truly timeless, not even a night at the ballpark with dad. The Stones will mourn their loss, and the rest of us mourn with them in spirit, because that’s what we do here in this country. We will focus on what was lost, because that’s a necessary evil in moving forward.

As impossible as it may be for the boy to see now, there will be a time when he remembers his father and appreciates Thursday night’s game with him, even if his mind can rely only on hazy 6-year-old memories, perhaps the most unreliable thing of all. There are others in his life who love him, and the hope is that he will soon know, at an age much younger than most, what the time with those people means.

If that’s so, then all was not lost at the ballpark Thursday. If that’s so, he will have gained the gift of time.

If that’s so, then this painfully unfortunate little boy will soon grow into an extremely lucky young man.

Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at tm4000@yahoo.com.

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