This was published in the May 8, 2018 edition of the Joplin Globe.
The kid showed up around the fifth inning.
One minute he wasn’t there and the next he was, patiently sitting in one of the open seats in the first row. He was a skinny, gangly kid. He had braces, wore black glasses, a St. Louis Cardinals ball cap and a Carlos Martinez replica jersey.
And he had a baseball glove with him. The glove was key.
It was Saturday afternoon. My wife and I were at Busch Stadium watching the St. Louis Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs. For once, I sprang for really good seats. We were sitting just down from first base, three rows from the field.
When I was a kid, I used to dream of sitting in seats like the ones my wife and I were in.
I knew what the kid was after, he was after a baseball. He either wanted to catch a foul ball or, better yet, have one of the players toss him a ball between innings after they were through warming up.
The kid was polite and a little shy. In between innings, while outfielders tossed balls back and forth, he just stood silently by the rail hoping one of the players would see him and toss him a ball.
But they didn’t. Instead, the balls got tossed to more vocal and insistent fans.
Inning after inning after the third out had been recorded the kid stood up and politely waited for someone to notice him.
When the players were through warming up and the balls were tossed to someone else the kid would sit down with a look of disappointment on his face.
After a while I started to worry about the kid — I worried that not getting a ball might just be one of a series of disappointments for him.
I know kids like that kid hoping for a baseball.
I was that kid.
I pictured myself standing there with my glove, too shy to yell to the players, standing there hoping to be noticed.
Occasionally, a woman sitting near the boy would say something to him. I got the impression she was trying to give him some encouragement.
It was getting late and it was starting to look like the kid wasn’t going to get a ball. It was just before the top of the ninth inning. Dexter Flower, the Cardinal’s right fielder, was tossing a baseball back and forth with another player.
Getting desperate, the kid finally summed up the courage, stood along the rail, held out his glove and yelled “DEXTER!”
The kid had a small voice but he yelled again.
So, I stood up.
“DEXTER,” I yelled and pointed to the kid.
Then my wife yelled “DEXTER!” So did the people in front of us. In a couple of seconds, our entire section was yelling “DEXTER!” and pointing to the kid with the glove.
Dexter turned and looked our way. Then he saw the kid, nodded his head, took one step and threw the ball to him.
Now I had something else to worry about. Dexter was far enough away that to make sure the ball made it to the kid he had to throw it hard.
I worried that the kid wouldn’t be able to catch the ball. I worried the ball would drop onto the field and be picked up by someone else.
I held my breath — actually I think everyone in our section did — as the ball zipped our way. Then the kid reached his glove over the rail and caught the ball. When he turned around while we all gave him a standing ovation.
Then he smiled.
The Cardinals won the game in the bottom of the 10th inning when Kolten Wong hit a walk-off home run, which was cool.
But not as cool as the smile on that kid’s face.