From the staff

Column: On a perfect night at a baseball game, troubles temporarily melt away

jhansen@newsobserver.comMarch 8, 2013 

Though I’ve lived here in ACC basketball country for the past 20 years, I was born and raised in the St. Louis area. So, baseball, especially St. Louis Cardinals baseball, is near and dear to me. This time of year, I am torn between March Madness and spring training games.

I choose baseball most of the time.

It’s a spectator sport with a relaxed pace. At a game, you can chat with those around you, have a hot dog and a beer, even get up and wander around the stadium a bit without fear of missing the action.

Compare that to a frenetic ACC hoops game, where it’s hard to have a moment’s rest.

Though my preference for a baseball game will always be Busch Stadium in St. Louis, any baseball venue – whether it’s Durham Bulls Athletic Park or Five County Stadium in Zebulon – is a good place to spend an afternoon or evening.

In September, I went home to visit family in the St. Louis area. Sept. 18 is my little brother Richard’s birthday (I’m 54 and he is 52, but he will always be my LITTLE brother), so I treated him and my older sister, Laura, to a Cards game that night.

They were playing the Houston Astros, who were in the basement of the National League Central division at that point, so I was able to score great tickets 10 rows up from the visiting team dugout.

Family time

It was a perfect night, brisk and clear with a cobalt blue sky framing the St. Louis Arch past the center field bleachers. We sat behind a mom and her three sons and, since it’s baseball, we got to chatting.

I joked with the boys, a set of red-headed freckle-faced 8-year-old twins, and their teenage brother. I told them I was at the game with MY little brother for his birthday.

One of the twins, I didn’t get his name but I like to think it was something all-American like Mike, was especially outgoing and active. Every inning, he would run down to the wall behind the dugout and ask the players for a ball.

About the third inning, he got one. He bounded back to his seat, pumping the ball in the air like it was the walk-off home run ball hit by David Freese in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series – one of the magical moments in Cardinal baseball history.

I told him he was lucky to get a ball and wished I could get one for my brother for his birthday. Without missing a beat, he said, “I’ll get him one!”

A birthday surprise

For the next five innings, “Mike” begged and cajoled, charmed and harangued the players for a second ball. In the bottom of the eighth, he scored another one.

True to his word, he ran back to his seat and offered the ball to Richard. We told him he didn’t have to give up the prize, he should give it to his own brother. I mean, what is more valuable to an 8-year-old boy than an authentic, actually-used-in-a-Cardinals-game baseball?

He looked at me with a big, toothy grin on his face and said, “No, it’s for your brother. Every boy should have a baseball on his birthday!”

He handed that ball to Richard. Richard let out a whoop, traded high fives with “Mike” and all of those around.

Richard tossed that ball around the section. He posed for pictures with the Cardinals cheerleaders. He was giddy. He was, in fact, my little brother again.

I’m sure our little friend had no idea what his small gesture meant to us. Richard has had a tough time the past few years since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He’s not able to work and lives with my parents in the home we grew up in. He struggles in conversations and tires easily. He’s able to manage with medications.

Still, the disease has taken a toll.

But all of that faded away, and we got to be kids again because of a simple act of generosity, a moment of brotherly love.

On that chilly September night at Busch Stadium, we received both a gift and a baseball moment we won’t forget.

John Hansen is photo editor at The News & Observer. or 919-829-4710

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