There’s purity to the game of baseball that no other sport can match. Its history and the indelible mark it has left upon our nation’s landscape has no peer.
The legendary names, folklore, the metaphors and the history, they lure you in and take you back to a simpler place and time.
I was reminded of that on Opening Day this season.
Surrounded by many fans who heartily celebrated the beginning of a new baseball season in Baltimore, somehow in a surreal way I was able to tune out those around me for a few moments and soak in the beauty and uniqueness of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
How blessed are we to call it home?
Ah yes, a new season is upon us.
Baseball’s arrival signals the end of winter and in many ways a new start. It prepares us for the playground called summer – a time that tantalizes our senses, a time during which we seem to harvest our most unforgettable memories.
Admittedly I soured on baseball for years.
The Orioles’ losing seasons, wretched management, an inept commissioner and the impurities ushered in by the steroid era severely tainted the sport I grew up on – at least for me.
Despite my jadedness towards MLB, I somehow seemed to maintain a level of respect and admiration for the diehard fans who inexplicably were able to wear blinders that shielded their love for the game from the pollutants that tried to destroy it.
Since the time he could really understand what baseball was or is he was attached to a loser. Most kids would find other hobbies or games to pass the time. Perhaps even another team. But not Tim.
Tim goes to all Orioles games and he is one of what appears to be a growing cult of sorts at Camden Yards – ballhawks. During his 19 years on the planet Tim has snagged 18 homerun balls at OPACY and countless batting practice long flies.
Yesterday Tim lost one of his ballhawking colleagues – Matt Hersl.
In a tragically freakish accident, the 45-year-old ballhawk, community activist and extremely well-loved brother, friend and neighbor, was taken from us.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Matt but I do know his brother Stephen, a kind, giving, classic gentleman, husband and father. I feel for Stephen, his pain and sorrow and the suddenness with which death has robbed him of someone so precious.
Today as Orioles fans, we’ve all lost because it’s people like Matt who keep the fabric of O’s fandom in tact, even when frayed to its final threads.
And though Matt rarely if ever sat in his seat preferring instead to shift his position based upon where he thought a batted ball into the grandstands might fall, it is fitting that the Orioles recognize his devotion, perhaps decorating his seat in an honorable way or give him a plaque on the flag court – something to properly acknowledge his devotion to his team and to his community.
It’s fans like Matt who preserve the game, its folklore and proper place in Americana.
The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. ~ James Earl Jones (Terrence Mann) in The Field of Dreams
Matt here’s to your memory, your selflessness, your love, your ballhawking and the permanent mark you left on those fortunate enough to have known you.
May it inspire others to be like you.
Rest in peace…