Saturday, December 27, 2008

as a young boy of about ten, in toledo ohio, i was able to go to a few detroit tigers baseball games, courtesy of a family friend who was able to get me on buses full of kids, often with my brother. It was the days of al kaline and mickey lolich, big times for the tigers, but often we were way out in left field, and could barely recognize dick mcauliffe, who had an unusual stance. i was often with my older brother, but more than once i got lost, in the stadium or in detroit, and had to be brought back to the bus by a sympathetic volunteer. when i found out that i had been born in cleveland, i badgered the youth group until i got myself on the bus that went to an indians game, five hours in the other direction, in the eastern part of the state. but i got lost in that stadium too- actually more scary, since it was farther away, and again had to be brought back to the bus, in tears, by a sympathetic fan.

i mention this because, in 1988, at the age of 34, i was given the chance to return to eastern ohio, this time with wife and small child, and a job at what was then ashland college, in ashland ohio, 75 miles southwest of cleveland, more or less. my wife needed to bring the baby back to the states, and i needed a permanent job; this was a summer job, but gave me the chance to find a more permanent one once i got back. as i looked around, ashland wasn't that different from iowa city, or toledo, or many of the midwestern towns i'd lived in; cleveland wasn't familiar at all (i'd moved out of it before i was even one), but lake erie did give me a feeling of warm familiarity, and also seemed unusually clean and fresh, though i'm sure it wasn't. at this point i'd already been an indians fan for almost thirty years, thirty years of futility, and what struck me the most was simply being surrounded by other indians fans, and cav fans, and browns fans- the average joe in the street suffered as i did at the futility of cleveland sports. and sure enough, my boss was an indians fan, and even took students up to indians games, two or three times a summer. i went twice, at least once with the baby; the indians won both times, and the baby, who is now 21, is still basically an indians fan.

what else can i say about that summer? it was an interesting town; old, pretty, home of the brethren church; our neighborhood however had a lot of motorcyclists and not a whole lot of people we wanted to talk to. this kind of rev-your-cycle-at-all-hours idea was not something we were used to, nor was the small town life in general, or even the fact that we were tucked right up against amish country to the south, with cleveland also a little too far away to really get to know. when a job opportunity came in the fall in kansas, i took it, though i probably would have stayed in ohio even then if i could have. when the time came to move, we loaded everything into a small toyota corolla and sputtered out to kansas, by way of michigan, chicago, and iowa.

but before we left, an odd thing happened. at the second baseball game, i was walking out of memorial stadium, when, lo and behold, there was a young boy, lost, crying. he'd gotten separated from his bus group somehow, and stood there crying. as i looked around i realized that memorial stadium, huge in any book and in the baseball world, really was no longer that big to me anymore, though i'm sure it was a huge place to a little boy. it was easy enough for me to find the security and get the boy to his bus without putting my own group out much. which i did. when i left ohio, i felt good about it; again, i was glad to be heading west, out toward the rivers, but, if nothing else, i'd returned a favor that some anonymous guy had done for me, maybe 25 years earlier. it was certainly an astounding coincidence that it was me that first saw the kid- it gave me a chance, really, to see myself as a lost child, to reconnect with that small window of my childhood, to reconnect and even do something about it. and, of all the stuff i saw and did that summer, that image is what sticks with me now, 20 years later.


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