Baseball Ink

Baseball The Way It Was Meant To Be

A Field For Dreams

by J. K. Richards

I will never catch a foul ball at a baseball game. It is one of the certainties of my life. I suppose "never" is a strong word. Let us just say the mathematical probability is consistent with the chances of my being selected to go shopping for navel adornments with Christina Aguilera.

Ladies and gentlemen, Welcome to Hunter Wright Stadium...

My most recent chance at the former happened last Saturday night when I went to my first K-Mets game with my buddy, Kris. The team was incredible. There is something invigorating and reassuring about young people striving for excellence.

Nobody prepared me for the natural beauty of Hunter Wright Stadium. It's been carved out of the hemlock next to the Holston River with a breathtaking view of the north side of Bays Mountain. The thick woods line the perimeter of the field no less dramatically than Kevin Costner's Iowa corn in "Field of Dreams." Barring the apparition of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson emerging from the conifers, I couldn't have been more impressed.

...Please pay particular attention if you are seated along the foul those foul balls! We don't want anyone hurt...

As thrilling as was the K-Mets 16-5 drubbing of that night's hapless Elizabethton Twins, the crowd stole the show for me. A light breeze blew across the treetops and in through the press box windows where Kris and I enjoyed a bird's eye view of the proceedings.

Between pitches, I watched fans. After half a century of people watching, I flatter myself that I can tell what they are up to from a discreet distance. The crow's nest atop Hunter Wright Stadium offers just such an observatory. A night at the ballpark means many things to many people.

...on the mound for your K-Mets...Rafael Lopez!...

For fifteen kids dancing along the high concourse behind the stands on each pitch, the game represented an opportunity to retrieve one of my much-coveted foul balls. To the pretty blonde three rows behind home plate, it offered the chance to catch up on local gossip with her girlfriend and flash come-hither smiles to what I assume were the "cutest" players on each team. (It also offered the opportunity to light a presumably forbidden cigarette whenever the woman I took to be her mother left for the concession stand.)

...Now batting for Elizabethton...

For the two elderly gentlemen who conversed with the ease of old friends, it meant a couple of hours in comfortable company. (Including a few playful moments when one of them snatched the ball cap off the other's head and a mock wrestling match ensued. This obviously wasn't the first time the two had "rassled.") Where but at a ball game could these venerable gentlemen return to the age of fourteen?

The young man in the left field bleachers was afforded time to sit behind his sleepy wife, arms around her shoulders as she leaned back against him and cuddled their toddler on her lap. They could have assumed the same position on a bobsled. He laughed and whispered in her ear and re-arranged the stray ringlet on her forehead. The baby giggled a lot and cooed when the crowd cheered. I envied all three of them.

...for the K-Mets...two runs on three errors, one man left on base.

Not at the ballpark Saturday night were some people who should have been. Some who had bad days and needed to breathe the sweet, clean air...some who were home setting in front of their computers or TVs, complaining there was "nothing to do."

Not only did they miss a good ball game. They missed a chance to spend time with one another. Time to talk. Time to heal. And who knows? Some of them might have even taken home a foul ball.

J. K. Richards is a syndicated columnist living in Kingsport, Tenn. As a native Californian he is a lifelong Dodger fan but doesn't admit to it while east of the Mississippi for fear of having his Yankee "Hollywood" neck stretched from a dogwood tree.