It was the final week of spring training and I was covering a game in a stadium I knew very well, in a city where I had spent the last six years of my life.
I was taking the elevator down to the clubhouse to talk with the starting pitcher for the day. The pitcher had a rough outing so it was barely the fifth inning. I didn’t feel like walking down four flights of stairs so I took the elevator.
The elevator attendant and I picked up a few more passengers on the next floor down. It was an old man in a motorized wheelchair, what appeared to be his wife and another slightly younger man.
“All the way down?” the attendant asked the newcomers.
“Yeah. We have to get out of here,” the man in the knockoff hover-round said. He was wearing a camo hunting hat and a Cardinals jersey even though St. Louis wasn’t even playing that day.
The attendant remarked about it being hot.
The guy in the wheelchair told her it had nothing to do with the heat. According to him,the reason he was leaving was because the large group of teenagers that were sitting next to them. I knew exactly the group he was talking about. They were football players from the high school next door to the stadium. When I wasn’t covering baseball they were one of the teams in our prep coverage area. I knew a lot of those kids. They knew me. They called me “PrepZone” when I saw them in the breezeway before the game, a nod to the high school sports show I hosted in the fall.
Most of them come from the not-so-great part of town. And, yes, most of them were black. And apparently, the group of teenagers were acting like teenagers. He called them thugs because they wouldn’t stop laughing and joking during the game.
“It’s a shame nobody ever taught them to behave in public,” the 300-pound man in the motor scooter said. “I don’t understand why they couldn’t just sit them out in the outfield. It’s not like they could afford their own tickets anyway.”
He actually wasn’t wrong. Most of the kids probably couldn’t afford to spend a random day at the ballpark. It was likely the the first game of their lives for many in the group. His companions smiled.
Maybe it was his black knee-high circulation socks, or the McCain/Palin bumper sticker on the back of his motorized scooter, or the casual racism, but this guy annoyed the living shit out of me before the elevator was even in motion again.
Luckily, I had some flatulence on deck so I casually turned my asscheeks in his general direction and I let it go. I’m a tall guy so I was just the right level to send warm fart directly into his face.
It was almost enough to make the guy stop talking. Almost.
“Those are the same kids that raped that poor white girl in the bathroom,” Mr. Diabetic-Amputee-in-Progress said in the general direction of anyone that would listen. “It was all over the news, like 30 of them gang raped this poor girl and videotaped it.”
I was the news. I covered that story from the beginning. That’s not quite how it went down. And those weren’t the kids.
The elevator doors opened. As I shuffled past him, I didn’t hold back this time. No discretion necessary. From about six inches away from his face, I ripped another one. It was loud, almost percussive. Since I had been eating ballpark food almost exclusively for the past six weeks, it was ripe. I’m pretty sure it was closer to a shart on the moisture scale.
Moist probably isn’t the right word. I’m pretty sure I shit myself. Eating ballpark bratwurst with extra pepper and onions was suddenly not a regret for me.
And it caught him with his mouth wide open. It was grand. As we were leaving the vestibule, I let go of the doors just in time for them to smack right into him. Fuck him.
Look, I get it. I’m a multi-generational Floridian. (And if you say the Florida isn’t the Deep South, you haven’t spent more than a vacation week here. We blend all the ugly parts of Alabama hate with the Midwest American retiree ignorance to form a new, super-pernicious form of racism) Off-color jokes are a Christmas tradition during family gatherings. I grew up in a Florida town where segregation is designed by city ordinance.
And at this point you are probably wondering what this all has to do with being a dad.
I very well could have been one of “them.”
But I didn’t. Because sports.
As a middle class white kid, I had the semi-blessed upbringing where I could have gone my entire life where I could have only seen the “other” in news reports and movies. Instead, I had black centerfielders and Korean shortstops and Puerto Rican catchers. Racism had no place in my world.
And it continued into my career as a sportswriter. Dominican street kids were middle infielders to me. Where some assumed gangbangers, I saw cornerbacks. Preconceptions are a hindrance in my line of work.
Racism has no place in sports. On the playing field, everyone is equal. That should be understood by those that support it.
In the last year or so, something changed. Casual racism in sports become a thing again. And I don’t like it. It came to a head this week when Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones called out fans at Fenway Park in Boston for calling him a monkey and throwing bags of peanuts at him. Black players around the league, like Yankees’ starter CC Sabathia, backed up the assertion.
I can’t stomach local talk sports radio in my town because my local sports teams have a black shortstop on the baseball team and a black quarterback on the football team. I can’t handle the vitriol when they advocate the white dude batting .193 should be batting leadoff. They like to scream it loud to whomever will listen to their rants.
And that’s a problem. Sports should be a path in which we teach our children not to hate.
The stadium should be free of racism, no matter what. Sports should be everyone’s safe zone. Whatever bass-ackward politics you subscribe to, it does not belong in sports. Leave it at the gate.
If I have to explain to my 4-year-old why the guy two rows up is advocating for the deportation of the Mexican reliever because he blew a save, realize that you are doing nothing to make America Great Again, you are the reason America sucks.
I am raising my son to know that ethnicity is meaningless. Anything less is anathema to being a true American.
I apologized to the elevator attendant on the way back up. She was an innocent bystander and didn’t deserve to be stuck in an elevator with my juicy, wet farts.
“If I wasn’t working I would have smacked him upside his head,” she said despite having to smell onion fart for three levels in an enclosed box.
And maybe that’s the problem. Nobody has the courage to stand up to these people. You can not treat them as human beings. It’s not even a partisan thing because anyone that truly knows me, knows that I hate liberals just as much.
But something had to be said, even if it meant shitting my own pants. We all have a duty to speak out against the ugliness that is currently overtaking our great nation. Verbal or not.
Because as my grandfather was so keen on saying whenever he squeezed out an epic ass blast, “Blessed are the lips that speak without a tongue.”