On Irony and Heart

Today was a gorgeous, perfect day in Tampa, so I was delighted to find myself at Steinbrenner Field as the Yankees hosted the Twins.  Denard Span, first batter of the game, got a fastball in on the hands from Phil Hughes and lined it off toward the third base box seats.  A thump was audible throughout the ballpark when the cowhide bullet drilled a woman right in the sternum.  A collective gasp was inhaled as she collapsed onto the ground.  Span was there, in the stands, in the blink of an eye.  Finally, two medics sauntered down the aisle, helped the woman to her feet so she could receive a well-deserved ovation, and then escorted her down the tunnel out of sight. 

“Well, I’m sure she’ll get a couple autographed bats or something,” I said, always searching for a silver lining.  But I could see the chain reaction in my friend Steve’s head:  Span grew up and went to high school in Tampa; the woman and the girl next to her, possibly her daughter, were both wearing Span jerseys; they were sitting right next to the Twins’ dugout.  When a visibly shaken Span took a BP fastball right down the middle for strike three, that was all the evidence Steve needed.  “That was his mom,” he said, with such certainty that I mistook it for a joke.  But he was right; of the 11,000 people in the ballpark, Denard Span’s vicious foul ball had found the very woman who brought him into this world.  (She would be okay.)

As the afternoon progressed, the gods gave way to mortal minor leaguers, and the crowd dissipated.  But I remained, and discovered my new favorite player.  Chris Cates is also a Tampa native, which I guess explains the applause he got when he was announced as a pinch-hitter.  I had to clean my glasses and do a double-take when he came up because he looked like Eddie Gaedel in the batter’s box, his head almost even with that of the crouching catcher.  “Is this a kid playing?” someone in my section wondered.  Cates is officially listed at 5’3″ and in three seasons of A-ball he’s hit .246/.317/.275.  So maybe you won’t ever have the pleasure of seeing him at your local cathedral.  But Cates won me over with a heads-up play at second – he charged a soft chopper, faked toward first but saw that he had no play there, then fired to third to nail the Yankee runner rounding the bag.  Trust me, you can’t help loving a guy who makes David Eckstein look like Shaq.

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