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Kathy Bradley

Lesson learned from a baseball games

It was a spur-of-the-moment jaunt. A whim. An impulse. Katherine and I were visiting our friend Lee Lee in Atlanta one hot summer weekend and, with nothing in particular to do, the three of us decided that a Braves game might be fun. I had never been to a Braves game and, though my awakening to the truth of baseball as metaphor for practically the entire human experience was yet to come, I was eager to get to Fulton County Stadium and immerse myself in the iconic sights and sounds and smells.
    I was particularly excited at the prospect, faint though it was, of catching a foul ball. Except for the fact that I do, sadly enough, throw like a girl, I’ve always been a pretty good ballplayer and back then Katherine and I were rabidly competitive members of the rec department church league, thus I was completely prepared for the possibility of catching that ball by the presence of my glove in the trunk of my car.
    After purchasing tickets from a scalper — an act of criminal nature of which I was completely oblivious at the time — we made our way to seats along the left field line, just a few rows behind and past the opposing team dugout. The Braves were playing the Phillies that night; about mid-way through the game future Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt hit a home run over the left center field wall making it clear that the Braves didn’t really stand a chance of winning. At that point I stopped paying close attention to the action on the field.
    And so I was to take the first step toward that aforementioned awakening: As the three of us chatted, occasionally glancing toward the diamond, someone (Brave or Phillie I can’t remember) hit a ball that flew into the heavy Georgia sky in a high arc away from the players and toward the section in which we were sitting, toward the seat in that section in which I was sitting.
    My glove was under my seat. There was no time to pull it out and stuff my hand into its soft leather. There was time only to register the speed and force of the ball and recognize the fact that if I attempted to catch it bare-handed I would most likely end up at the Grady Hospital Emergency Room getting a finger splinted.
    So it bounced on the hard concrete and ricocheted into the hands of the man behind us.
    Katherine has never let me forget it.
    I thought the lesson was that being prepared isn’t always enough, that being prepared has to be accompanied by being alert if one is to catch life’s unexpected foul balls, receive life’s unexpected gifts.
    A few weeks ago, my friend Loretta invited me to a Braves game. Someone had shared with her a couple of seats directly behind the Braves’ dugout and, generous and understanding soul that she is, she wanted me to have the whole VIP experience, including in-seat service by the concession staff.
    It was a beautiful night. The Braves were playing good baseball. Turner Field was green and luminous. The stands were full. Could it get any better?
    Tim Hudson was pitching that night. He took the mound in the first inning and gave up a hit to the first Colorado Rockies batter. The second batter flew out. The third batter hit a squibbler to the shortstop Escobar who deftly tossed it to the second baseman Johnson who rifled it across the red clay to the newly-acquired first baseman Teixeira. Double-play.
    The crowd rose to its feet and cheered as the team ran to the dug-out. And, suddenly, there it was — the double-play ball — rolling gently across the roof of the dug-out toward me. Smooth white leather, tight red stitches, black Major League Baseball emblem. I felt my eyes open wide, heard the gasp that came from my mouth and reached out to cup it in my hands.
    I hadn’t even tried.
    It was probably 25 years between those two games. Sometimes it takes that long to learn something important. Sometimes it takes that long to know how to appreciate unexpected gifts.

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