A baseball game in July in Tennessee. An all black team versus an all white team playing for the World Series Championship. Two black umpires. LaVergne versus Brentwood. One loud crowd and one quiet. One with chants and cheers and one with jeers and golf claps. I hate it. I hate the bad calls. I hate the tension. I hate the division.
We are almost at the end of the first game, and we are losing badly. Another bad call, and the parents are complaining loudly. “Bad call! That was horrible!” And then I heard someone make it personal, “We know which side you are on.” The umpire warns our coach that if he can’t control the parents, he will get thrown out of the game. I hate it. The tension is too much. We should win this game because if we don’t, we have to play this team again with the same umpires. I don’t think I can do this again.
Faith brings me out of the tension by announcing that she has added a new friend to her club. Her name is Cora, and in a few minutes she is sitting in the shade of our tent. She’s an adorable black girl with pigtails, and these little girls have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the world around them. They only see friends to play with. I smile and welcome her under our tent and ask her if her mom knows where she is. I’m reminded there is a bigger game to play than the one on the field.
We lose the first game and take a break before the next game. Some parents go to inquire about whether we can get new umpires for the second game, but there’s no resolution. The parents pace and stretch, and Connor sits under our tent trying to re-set for the next game. “Are you going to be able to put that game behind you?” asks one of the parents. “Yes, sir,” Connor replies.
Second game begins, and we come out swinging. For the other team, this is their third game in a row. Everyone is tired. Then they hit a homerun, and we slowly lose our lead. The chant comes from the other side, “Uh, oh…Stealers, Stealers. Uh, oh….Stealers, Stealers.” We clap a little harder and yell a little louder. We come back and tie, but in the next inning, they pull ahead. Connor throws fourteen pitches to end an inning, but the next one, he is tired. The coach pulls him after he hits his third batter with the ball. Another good hit, and they are ahead 12-8 going into the bottom of the fifth inning.
The moms can’t take it. We leave the stands and go for a walk. Two of the moms have walked down to the end of the fence and are smoking. Another mom is looking for a strong drink. One of the dads says he forgot his valium. We are all discouraged; some even turn on the coaches and on each other. Two of the moms can’t handle the tension and leave in a hurry before they start to say things they will regret. It’s ugly. I hate it. I find another conversation to distract me from the game for a few minutes.
Our boys held them in the top of the sixth. As they come to the dugout, we cheer for them and encourage them to stay in it and not give up. Even though in our hearts, we have mostly given up. But the boys have not given up. They hit the ball, the other team makes costly errors, and we are tied. Connor goes in as a sub runner on second. He makes it to third and watches for a chance to steal home. His chance comes when the catcher misses a wild pitch. Connor slides into home for the winning run. In minutes, the team piles on top of him.
Both teams stand on the base lines for the award presentations. I linger for awhile and then head to the stands to start packing up. I didn’t know my proudest moment was yet to come. They called Connor’s name, and I stand to watch him. He heads toward the other team to congratulate them like his teammates before him. But before he gets to the coach and the team, he stops at the mommas standing on the field. I see my talk, lanky white son giving big bear hugs to each of those beautiful black women who have cheered their team on all day. Then he hugs the coaches and goes down the line congratulating the team. “Uh, oh…Patton, Patton. Uh, oh… Patton, Patton,” the women cheer.
Then I hear, “Where’s Connie’s momma? Which one is Connor’s mom?” These women have come looking for me, and I go out to the field to meet them. They embrace me with the same embrace they gave to Connor and tell me how they love my son and how sweet he is. We laugh and congratulate each other on a battle well-fought. It’s good for the boys to see. It’s good to leave it all on the field. They even try to teach me the cheer, so we can use it at Cooperstown. “Uh, oh…Sting, Sting. Uh, oh….Sting, Sting.” My husband assures them that I don’t have the rhythm for it, and I try to prove him wrong.
I walk off the field smiling. I’m so glad my kids don’t see color, that they understand so little of what the world used to be like. When we watched the movie “42,” it showed a world that seems so strange to them, so unfathomable the way that black people were treated. I’m so glad it’s 2013, and thankful for all the hard-fought battles that came before. Battles that allow black and white girls to be in the same clubs and teams to play on the same fields. So thankful for open hearts and open arms that take us in. My heart is full.