On June 7th, I took my two little boys, 3 and 8, to Space Coast Stadium for a matchup of the Brevard County Manatees and the Bradenton Marauders in Florida State League action. But as we were walking toward the stadium, people were filing out. I quickly realized that the game had been rained out. (Fifteen minutes away at a mall where we had previously been, it barely rained, so this was a surprise to see the pond-like puddles in the parking lot.)
One of the first people we passed was a nice lady who gave us some pretzels rescued from the concession stand. An older man with gray hair, who carried a ball in his rolled up cap as if for safe keeping, was walking down the ramp as we ascended it. I asked him if the gift shop was still open; he said they were closing up. When he saw my boys, he said he didn't want them to go away empty handed so he handed my three-year-old a baseball. It was marked up, stained, and looked like it could have been used in batting practice before the storm hit, but it was an official Florida State League ball none the less.
I thanked the man sincerely because that simple act of kindness meant a great deal to me, and I'll value that ball more than any autographed ball I could ever own. In fact, I plan on getting a ball holder - you know the type usually reserved to display valuable baseballs signed by superstar players - and placing the ball on our fireplace mantle. Maybe the older man was a retired Florida resident and a season ticket holder who had a collection of foul balls; maybe he was a volunteer at home games; maybe it was his first Manatee game and his first ball ever caught in years of attending other baseball games. I can only surmise, but it dioesn't really matter. His generosity is what matters and is something I won't soon forget.
When we got to the gate, I asked if the gift shop was open, and a worker said there was someone still in there so we could enter. In the gift shop, a worker, possibly an intern, was very patient with us as the boys decided on red and blue foam #1 fingers, and I chose a pennant. This worker even went to find a program, which had already been put away. We walked up the ramp behind home plate, so we could take a look at the stadium. It wasn't as pristine or amenity laden as Slugger Field, but it was a nice park that also serves as the spring training home to the Washington Nationals. The worker returned with the program and even took our picture. She led us out of the park like we were something special as opposed to the equivalent of gate crashers.
She asked where we were from, and when I told her Louisville, she perked up. Although an Ohio native, her friend is from Louisville where her father teaches at the University of Louisville's School of Music. Oh, the proverbial small world. I thanked her for her help and thoughtfulness. She escorted us down the fancy Nationals' elevator and off we went back to the car. No, we didn't see a game, and much to our three-year-old's chagrin, we didn't procure any cotton candy, either. But what happened to us was much more important than actually watching a game.
Hopefully when my boys get older and see that ball, they will remember our big 2010 road trip and, more immortally, recall that older man, a stranger whose name I don't know, and remember that kindness has a way of making others happy. And unlike the Universal Studios theme park, it doesn't cost a thing.