Grief at the Ballpark
Every year I take my boys on a mini vacation to Arizona for spring training. Sunday was our last day and we wanted to watch the Angels play before driving home. We arrived at Tempe Diablo Stadium at 9:30 a.m. to pick up our batting practice passes and try to meet some of the players up close. We ended up meeting and talking with several fans that had the same passion for baseball as us.
When Pujols and Trout came over to the dugout, all of the kids (adults too) got excited and asked for autographs. It was great to see the older kids helping the younger kids gets their balls signed. One mom kept taking selfies, which was comical because she was so excited. It made me remember that feeling of excitement when it was my first-time watching batting practice—but my job now is photographer and pen passer!
When it was time to leave the dugout, one of the older, more savvy fans told the kids to follow him to the “tunnel,” where all the players pass through as they make their way to and from the field. By now everyone was allowed into the stadium, so it was crowed, but the same awesome fan kept helping all the kids get their balls signed. It was a great experience for my boys and the start of a wonderful day for us as a family, which is why what happened later in the day was so shocking.
Our seats for the game were in the last row, in the shade by the front gates, and behind home plate (spring training stadiums are smaller, so these were great seats). During the middle of the game my youngest son and I went to the concession stand. As we walked, my son drifted off a bit but was still within my sight. As I was ordering, he came up and told me and the cashier that there was a man screaming and yelling. I looked over to where my son had been and saw a very large crowd. Then, I noticed there were policeman too. The cashier asked him if it was bad screaming and yelling or just a happy fan. My son said that it was bad screaming. The cashier and I looked at each other in dismay, so I told my son to stay with me and that the fan was probably just drunk.
When we walked back to our seats with our food, we passed by the man who had been yelling. I saw his face as he laid on the ground—his head was propped on a golf cart and he was sobbing. Startled, I began to rush my son back to our seats but looked back because it was unclear what was going on. I saw the police were around him but also giving him space. Suddenly, an opposing-team fan walked up and started cheering loudly and an officer quickly rushed him away. It was a very odd and disturbing scene. My friends and family also heard the screaming and asked me if I knew what was going on—I told them what I heard and saw—which wasn’t much more than them. I suggested we just go back to watching the game. The police were with the man who was probably a drunk fan (something that can be common at baseball games).
Immediately after uttering those words the family in the aisle in front of us returned to their seats and one of them turned to me, her face clearly upset, and said the man wasn’t drunk, he had just been notified by the police that his daughter was killed in a car crash.
My heart jumped into my throat. I was dumbfounded. I recalled looking at the mans face while his head was on the golf cart and realized his screams were not from intoxication but from grief.
We sat there in silent horror until my boys looked at me and asked, did she say his daughter died? I grabbed my boys, hugged them tight, and quietly replied yes. They looked at me in shock and disbelief. I had no words.
Inside I was bursting with mixed emotions—sorrow for the man who just lost his child, anger at myself for brushing of the situation and assuming he was drunk, and dismay at the police—what were they thinking? Why would they tell him here in public and not in a private area? Silly question of course—like most parents/adults, we would have demanded to be told why we had to leave before we got out of our seat.
Then it hit me, I had to say something to my boys. After this game we had a 6 hour drive home ahead of us and here was a man, a father, whose child died in a car accident. I looked at my sons and their faces said it all. They were thinking the same thing before I even realized it. I assured them that we would be very careful driving home and that they shouldn’t worry. Instead, we needed to pray for the father and his family as we can only imagine his pain. That seemed to be enough because neither asked again, although I think they wanted to know more.
The game moved on, the father’s screams soon faded, and everything eased back to normal. My oldest even caught a foul ball and we all happily cheered for him.
Although the evening ended well, I couldn’t stop thinking about that father. I played back everything that I heard and saw over and over in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened so, when I arrived home, I immediately texted my girlfriends who are always supportive. I know the father was inconsolable, but I wish I had been more understanding and didn’t rush to judgment, assuming he was a drunk fan.
We all know that life can change without notice but, until it does, we just don’t think about it. As a parent, seeing how this father’s life was turned upside down in an instant, this realization hit me hard. That day has taught me a big lesson—to appreciate each moment I have with family and friends and especially my boys. I will probably never cross paths with that father from the stadium again, but I feel his grief and it continues to stay with me. Wherever you are sir, I’m sorry I misjudged your situation and you will continue to be in our prayers.