In the long, dark hours of June 14, the news conference brought a light that had nothing to do with camera flashes or spotlight, and everything to do with the aura of not just civility—but real love and respect. Two men—the Republican Representative to Congress, Joe Barton, of Texas and the Democratic Representative, Mike Doyle, of Pennsylvania- had changed their baseball practice uniforms for the tailored ‘uniforms’ of Capitol Hill to stand together before a shocked and grieving nation and talk about—a baseball game.
There was a lot of information and a lot of emotion packed into the session—about the vitriolic partisanship which has slowly but surely taken over not only the Senate and the House, but also the country. But the theme that kept emerging, again and again, was hope, embodied in two men of differing parties and ideologies, standing together before their shocked country with tears in their voices and determination in their hearts.
The game will go on.
Joe and I have talked and we’re not going to let incidents like this change our way of life.
In my mind’s eye, I am back in Cleveland Municipal Stadium the Sunday following the death of President John F. Kennedy, and that of his killer. We were a much more innocent country in those pre-internet days, but we had to learn quickly over a long weekend that the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ came with its own share of dangers, of craziness that could kill. For me, the middle daughter of the Coach of the Cleveland Browns who would play the Dallas Cowboys that Sunday, in Cleveland, it was all symbolized by one sentence in The Cleveland Plain Dealer: “The Browns coaches would be wearing bullet-proof vests when the team takes he field,,,,,” The phone call that came to the Browns offices threatened, “If the team takes the field on Sunday, the coaches will be shot.” Fifty plus years after that day, players from both teams have vivid memories of the armed guards, the unusual quiet in a stadium stripped of its accoutrements and in its barest possible form, the instructions to the players to keep their helmets on at all times, and to the announcers not to utter the word ‘Dallas.’
The game went on. The grieving touch-football loving family simply said, ‘Jack would have not wanted it cancelled.” If we give in, they win.
The courage, the determination, the perseverance are good on an everyday basis. Yesterday, and today and tomorrow, they are even greater. But even more important were those lines that hit my heart even if they didn’t hit the replay in any Thursday morning media. Mike Doyle, eyes fixed fondly and directly on Joe Barton. “I’ll love you before the game, and I’ll love you after the game, and during the game we will be fierce competitors.”
Surely the heart of democracy as well as the heart of sport.
I love those moments at the close of a hard-fought ballgame, of any sport, at any level, after the final whistle blows, and suddenly, instead of a sharply divided field of orange on one side and blue on the other, the colors are all mixed up, as players are hugging their friends, standing in deep conversation in the midst of a swirling crowd, helmets under their arms and the last fierce tackles or strike outs set aside.
As I listened to the two managers of the Congressional baseball teams talk, I listened in the context of preparations for the upcoming 15th Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and presentation of the annual Blanton Collier Awards for Integrity On and Off the Field. There’ll be gridiron heroes of all ages and eras on the stage of the Lexington Opera House, and heroes-in-the-making in the audience, and a number of heroes whose dreams were cut short by the heartbreak of injury, and played out their games carrying the lessons of the field into other successes in life. The thing that drives the weekend, and the work of the two groups has to do with giving back, of course. It was more than good to see that like the local groups, one of the beneficiaries of the annual Congressional charity game is the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. But its the stuff symbolized by those two men standing together. But the words of Mike Doyle when he said the Democratic team had invited the Republican team to have dinner at the Democratic Club that night are a driver from sports that we need today, and all of our tomorrows:
“We just want to come together and be with each other, reflect upon this day and share some food and pray and get to know each other a little better.”
Somewhere , out there, cynics and idealists and those in-between may scoff, and point to other times and other hopes and how nothing seems to change. But I’m thinking about words I wrote when my grandson proudly wore the green and white of the T-Ball Sand Gnats, after a game with the Lug Nuts, who dressed out in red and white. (Both teams had a touch of pink here and there, of helmet, shoelaces, and an occasional bat-very modern, these teams.) Their too-big-caps often slid over their faces, and too-long pants met their shoes,
Here’s what I’ve- learned as a t-ball grandmother raised as the daughter of a football coach:
At the end of the day, the most important thing is the team and the game they love. All of the tired, dirty players sit down together with the coaches, talk a little about the game, grab hands to remember what being a team is all about, and then have snacks and juice. Together.
Like t-ball, yesterday’s news conference was a reminder of a little book—Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It was suggested that if people really lived by those rules —from holding hands while crossing the street to the nap part—that families, and governments, businesses and churches, everybody, really, would come a lot closer to the kind of world we want to live in—the kind where there is peace in our hearts, our homes and our world.
If occurs to me that if anybody missed the kindergarten part, it’s not too late for the theology of t-ball; for moving from a field of dreams to a field of hope.
I, for one, am ready for all of the tired, dirty players to sit down together, talk a little about the games we all love, grab hands to remember what being a team is all about—and then, have snacks and juice.
Here’s to playing ball —tonight —and beyond.