My father was an avid baseball fan. I grew up in New York City and was able to see the greats play at the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium. Many a Saturday was spent with my dad cheering on our favorite team. As much as I loved the game of baseball, alas, I was born female at a time when girls watched more than they played. Whenever he could, Dad took me out to the park where the neighborhood Little League played and pitched balls for me to hit. We played together for hours, and baseball became a big part of my life.
One day at the park, a woman pushing a young boy in a wheelchair stopped to watch us play. My dad was over to them in a flash to ask if the child could join our game. The woman explained that the boy was her son and that he had polio and wouldn't be able to get out of the chair. That didn't stop my dad. He placed the bat in the youngster's hand, pushed him out to home plate and assisted him holding the bat. Then he yelled out to me on the mound, "Anne, pitch one in to us."
I was nervous that I might hit the child but could see the delight in the boy's eyes, so I aimed at the bat and let the ball fly. The ball made contact with the bat with an assist from my dad and the child screamed with joy. The ball flew over my head and headed for right field. I ran to catch up with it and, as I turned, I heard my dad singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" while he pushed the wheelchair around the bases. The mother clapped and the boy begged to be allowed to continue the game.
After an hour we all left the field, very tired but very happy. The boy's mother had tears in her eyes when she thanked my father for making it such a special day for her son. Dad smiled that wonderful grin that I loved so much and told the mother to bring the boy back next Saturday and we would play another game.
Dad and I were at the field the next Saturday but the mother and son never came. I felt sad and wondered what had happened to change their mind about joining us. Dad and I played many more games of baseball but we never saw the two again.
Twenty years passed and my beloved father died at the tender age of fifty-nine. With my dad gone, things changed so much that the family decided to move to Long Island. I had very mixed emotions about leaving the neighborhood where I had grown up.
I decided to take one last walk around the park where Dad and I had spent so many happy moments. I stopped at the baseball field where we played our Saturday games. Two Little League teams were on the field just about to start a game. I sat down to watch for awhile. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes as I watched the children play the game that I loved. I missed my dad so much.
"Jeff, protect your base," one coach yelled. I cheered the runner on when the ball was hit far into the outfield. One coach turned and smiled and said, "The kids sure love a rooting section, Miss." He continued, "I never thought I'd ever be a coach playing on this field. You see, I had polio as a child and was confined to a wheelchair. One day my mother pushed me to the park and a man was playing baseball with his daughter. He stopped when he saw us watching and asked my mother if I could join them in their game. He helped me to hold the bat and his daughter pitched to me. I was able to hit the ball with the man's assistance and he ran me around the bases in my wheelchair singing the song 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game.' I went home happier that night than I had been in years. I believe that experience gave me the desire to walk again. We moved to New Jersey the next day - that's why my mother had taken me to the park, so I could say good-bye to my friends. I never forgot that man and his daughter or that day. I dreamed about running around the bases on my own two feet and the dream, with a lot of hard work, came true. I moved back here last year, and I've been coaching Little League since then. I guess I hope that some day I'll look up in the stands and see that man and his daughter again. Who knows, I might find him on one of the fields pitching to one of his grandkids - a lot of years have come and gone. I sure would like to thank him."
As the tears ran down my face I knew that my dad had just been thanked and even more I knew every time I heard "Batter up!" my dad would be right beside me, no matter where life took me and the family. That simple act of kindness that spring day had changed a life forever, and now twenty years later the memory of that day had changed my life forever. "Batter up, Dad," I said as I left the field, "I know you're still playing the game we love - baseball!"