Friday, June 20, 2014

I'm His Mom

The working title for my post on the 2014 California and Carolina leagues' all-star game was, "Three Degrees of Separation." For the past eight months I have worked with Erin Buchanan née Wright, sister of Cincinnati Reds' prospect Ryan Wright, who is buds with teammate Kyle Waldrop, one of three players on the Bakersfield Blaze to make the all-star squad.

Despite tearing it up in Bakersfield (.345, .498, .843), Wright was not one of them. I drove to Wilmington ready for the next best thing, to root on Waldrop. When he came up to bat in the second I called out, "C'mon Kyle!" The woman next to me asked, "Is he your son?"

Waldrop singled hard to left to bring Brandon Drury home from second, giving California the early lead. The second time up, Kyle walloped one over the fence (and maybe the first row of cars in the parking lot) to make it 3-0.

Carolina played scrappy ball but Waldrop's three RBIs held up and made the left fielder the MVP. He was the obvious choice, and I was disappointed the photographs I had taken weren't better (see example).

Kyle Waldrop accepting congratulations from
his 2014 California League all-star teammates.

I saw a woman taking lots of pictures of Waldrop. Hoping she might share her photos with me, I approached her. The camera model and souvenir t-shirt pegged her for a fan but I politely asked, "Are you working press or a fan?"

"I'm his mom," she beamed. It made immediate what I know but usually forget: minor league players are people, with families and everything else, just like us. When players advance through the system (or plateau and go on to the rest of their lives), they're not alone. Relatives and friends are along for the ride, emotionally invested, hoping for the best.

Many of the players had supporters in the stands. Josh Hader, currently with the Lancaster JetHawks, got the loudest cheers from the crowd.  According to The Baltimore Sun, his family would drive two hours from Maryland to see him pitch with the Delmarva Shorebirds. Wilmington is even closer to home.

Jesse Winker and ... his brother?
There is certainly a resemblance.

When we think of these young men simply as prospects—below average power, above average speed and an 80 arm—we reduce them to meat. It's not entirely unfair; players get a contract and a bonus and then take the field to prove, with their bodies and their minds, that they deserve to stay. But it's not all they are.

I had seen four all-star games before Tuesday; the New York-Penn League in 2005 (the inaugural year) and 2011, the 2009 Triple-A game at PGE Park, and last year's Futures Game. I'm not much of a fan of the exhibitions. The game doesn't count and many players get only a cameo.

I am not Kyle Waldrop's dad and I'm not his mom either. I don't know Wright, Drury, Hader or Winker. However, witnessing the love that others have for them made this by far the most enjoyable all-star game I have seen. Once removed, it felt personal.

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