Friday, July 8, 2011

When Reality Intrudes

I've heard this said in other ways — more eloquent ways — so please forgive my feeble and wholly inadequate paraphrase:

People watch sports in part to escape from reality.

They may wish to get away from any one of several kinds of realities, and sports events are diversions. They're almost like fiction, like a movie or a TV show, a drama that people watch for a few hours before returning to their lives and whatever it was they wished to escape.

Sports events are the way we wish our lives could be. Someone wins and someone loses. No one wins all the time. But athletes learn from their failures, and they know that tomorrow is another day — a new day. No mistake, no miscalculation is final. Redemption is always possible.

Sure, sometimes there are tears in the losing locker room after a particularly hard fought athletic contest. But deep down, most athletes know — even if they have just lost a championship — that they will have another opportunity. The sun will come up tomorrow. The slate will be wiped clean.

Perhaps one of my favorite journalists of all time, sportswriter Red Smith, once wrote that people go to athletic events to have fun — and then they pick up the newspaper the next day to read about it and have fun all over again.

And, nearly every time that people have gathered for sports events in human history, it has been fun.

But what happened last night at a Texas Rangers baseball game in Arlington, Texas, definitely was not fun, particularly for the folks sitting in an upper section of the Ballpark. A man was reaching over a railing, trying to catch a ball, and he fell head first to his death after he apparently lost his balance.

The Dallas Morning News quotes a witness as saying that "[i]t looked awful because you knew there was no way he was going to land on his feet."

The man's young son was with him and, presumably, saw the whole thing.

Since I heard about this tragic story, I've been thinking about the (admittedly few) times that I have gone to professional baseball games.

Most of the time, I've attended minor league games in small, intimate ballparks where virtually all the seats were on the ground level — so such a tragedy was not really possible.

But there have been times when I have attended major league games in their palatial stadiums, and I have sat in upper decks — although never on the front row behind a railing.

Nevertheless, from time to time, it did cross my mind, as I ascended each level, that the farther up we went, the greater the chance of something bad happening.

But something bad never did happen. It was just my imagination running away with me. The fantasy was safe.

That fantasy has been shattered now for a young boy — and countless others, too, although his loss is clearly the greatest.

I presume that his father, like most of the men who live in Texas, was a sports fan who would have wanted to pass on his love of sports to his son.

But, after watching his father die, I can only wonder if such a thing is possible for that young boy now.

Will he ever be able to watch a baseball game — or any sports event — without seeing his father tumbling over the railing in Rangers Ballpark?

Will he ever be able to erase the memory of seeing his father on the pavement below, his head apparently bleeding profusely?

I have loved sports since I was small. It was a passion my father passed along to me. Dad was never much for "having a catch," as Kevin Costner put it in "Field of Dreams," but he has always loved the drama of athletic competition and admired the skill it takes to excel.

And, if I outlive my father, one of the ways I will honor his memory is by watching and savoring athletic contests.

I hope that young boy will be able to do the same.

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