Play Ball

It’s piped into stadiums across the country as get-fired-up mood music at sporting events and frequently used to introduce the starting lineups for countless playoff games. No games were played last Friday night at Pelican Park, but I got goosebumps for an entirely different reason when a repeating sound loop of the Alan Parsons Project’s instrumental “Sirius” filled the early evening air in Carencro.

A light breeze carried the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers from the concession stand. Parents and grandparents sat in folding chairs set up next to a chain link fence; black and white and young and old mingled and chatted together. Mothers rocked crying babies, while dogs of all breeds sat attentively on their leashes and panted happily at the cacophony around them. A pickup basketball game was in full swing at an adjoining court. Carencro Mayor Glenn Brasseaux and City-Parish Councilmen Purvis Morrison and Jay Castille were there, but there was nary a mention of politics. The sea of men in attendance removed their baseball caps for the National Anthem, as the sun was slowly setting behind the American flag.

In the outfield of one of Pelican Park’s baseball fields, a large number of the night’s honorees were probably wondering what all the fuss was about. Boys and girls were absentmindedly picking flowers, gently horsing around and tying errant shoelaces on new cleats. They got herded into single rows that turned into shifting amoeba-like waves of color: purple and gold Tigers, orange and blue Hurricanes, blue and white Tar Heels, red and grey Buckeyes. While they waited, you could see the bored expression on some of their faces, asking, When is this going to be over?

Then their team’s name was called.

And one by one, following their teammates, they ran as fast as they could into the center of the diamond. They sprinted like innocence personified, wobbly kindergartners and gangly teenagers alike. The season would start tomorrow, but for tonight, there were no marks in the win-loss column. No injuries, no heartbreaking strikeouts, just the prospect of exhilarating wins, the camaraderie of chatter on the field, the sound of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball.

As I stood there smelling the fresh-cut grass and the dirt from the infield, the clock turned back three decades. Whatever happened to Joe Klonis, the kid with the rifle arm who could throw the ball all the way from the basketball court to home plate? What about Che Agnello, the catcher I barreled into for a major collision after foolishly trying to turn a stand-up triple into a home run? Did Terry Thomas follow in his father’s footsteps, and is he coaching his son or daughter’s teams somewhere tonight?

I overheard one of the coaches at practice last week say, “Just play catch with your kid whenever you can. It may be basic, but it’s a chance for the two of you to be together and interact with each other.” Pretty sage advice. Watching all the coaches on Friday night shepherd their teams onto the field was indicative of the genuine selflessness so many of them show toward their players. They volunteer their time on weeknights and weekends, spend their own money for extra equipment when needed, and make constant phone calls to parents about practice times and schedule changes. Ditto for the team moms, who administer to bumps and bruises and hand out drinks at the end of games and practice.

We all have our indelible sports-related memories from childhood. My wife remembers her late father piling the whole family in the station wagon to drive to New York and watch Ron Guidry pitch at Yankee Stadium. I remember August 16, 1977 not primarily as the day that Elvis Presley died, but the day that my father took my brother and me to our first major league game, where we watched the Boston Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.

In the modern sports era where a minority of hyper-competitive parents can drain the fun and love of a game from their child, Friday night in Carencro was an unexpected and welcome reminder of all the good that can come from sports. And how eating a hot dog, sitting in a folding chair and encouraging your kid could lead to a memory you might never forget.

Play ball, Acadiana. Here’s hoping everybody has a great season