The summer of 2005 was your typical Texas fare – hot, dry and dusty. But that doesn’t stop little Texas boys and girls from playing baseball and it doesn’t stop the dedicated parents who want to see their kids enjoy some of the finer things of childhood. So it was that a group of us congregated at the baseball diamond – getting ready for the final tournament of the season. Dads were busy grooming the diamond, painting the baselines, checking the PA, and manly things like that while we moms scurried about the concession stand.
Pretty soon up pulled a couple of suburbans and the Dragons from Anson, Texas swarmed on the field. They were a great looking group of spit-shined and polished kids – all wearing their bright green Dragon T-shirts and black baseball pants.
Since my duties also include taking photos for the local newspaper I made my way from the concession stand out to the diamond just when the opening pitch was delivered. It was a beauty – a fast straight line right over home-plate and pretty soon the Dragons batter was called out.
And so the game went – right down to the last inning of the game with the opposing team several runs ahead of the mighty Dragons. There was some consternation inside the Dragon dug-out but pretty much it was just a bunch of kids having fun regardless of the situation on the field. I hadn’t noticed little Case Graham until that next to last inning. He hadn’t gotten to play at all but was soon to take his spot in the outfield. According to our league rules every player must play at least one inning and must get at least one turn at bat. At the top of the next to last inning the Dragons made their way to their assigned duties. Everyone was in place and ready to begin when I noticed Case – he was making his way precariously into the outfield. I hadn’t realized that Case was crippled. I soon learned that he was born with Spina Bifada.
Case hurled himself to the outfield. He little metal crutches glistened in the sun – they were the kind that sort of wrap around the lower arm with a bar that can be used to steady and prop yourself up on. His little legs looked like threads of skin stretched across needle like bones and they dangled to and fro as Case lurched himself to the outfield.
Case’s dad was one of the coaches. There was no doubt that he really enjoyed working with the other kids and there was also no doubt that he wanted Case to enjoy all the activities of childhood that he could. Case played in the outfield. His dad helping to instruct him all the way – if a ball came in his direction Case moved as quickly as he could to stop the ball with his crutch, grab it and attempt to launch it back into play. You can imagine how difficult this might be – but Case had become pretty good at it over his first year of baseball experience.
Case was the last little boy to get to bat but it didn’t matter much. The other team was several runs ahead at this point in time and would undoubtedly win the championship game of the tournament. Case approached home-plate. His dad helped him into position and took away one of the crutches. Case propped himself up on the other crutch and grasped the bat with one hand. I was just off the baseline between home plate and first base, ready to take pictures of the courageous Case when the coach from the other team approached the young pitching ace on the mound. I could hear every word the coach said. “Son,” he started, “When you throw that ball aim it right at his bat and make sure that it hits his bat and he gets to first base.” A lump formed in my throat and I tried to swallow it down as the pitch made its way through the air. Thump – it hit the bat Case was holding and rolled about two or three feet in front of him.
The stands erupted. Parents from both teams began to yell, “Run, Case, run. Hurry, Case, you can do it.”
The pitcher appeared to be running towards the ball and it took a minute for Case to acquire his other crutch and begin his journey to first base. Just as Case passed him by the pitcher slowed down to a walk, grabbed the ball and threw it excessively high and wide to the right of first base.
Again, the cheers from the crowd began to crescendo. “Hurry, Case, go towards 2nd.” The first baseman had scrambled to get the ball and then realized what was actually happening here. He, too, slowed down, hurled the ball high and to the right of the 2nd baseman.
By now hysteria was apparent in the stands. Men, women and children were all on their feet yelling for Case to keep on going, hurry, go – Case – go.
The same scenario happened as the 3rd baseman missed the throw and Case rounded the corner on his way to homeplate. It took an agonizingly long time for Case to make the journey – the 3rd baseman held on to the ball and tossed it way outside of the baseline just as Case touched homeplate with his crutch.
By now most everybody in attendance was clapping and screaming wildly. Case had himself an in the park homerun. Most of us, myself included, couldn’t contain our emotions and tears ran freely down our dusty faces.
Case’s dad ran out to his son, grabbed him up and held him up in the air – as if he was looking at a bright, shiney trophy. I wanted to catch this great shot but felt as if I was almost intruding on this father/son moment while gazing into the lens at close up range.
Case’s Dragons didn’t win the big game but no one really cared. The boys and girls had witnessed a small miracle in the fact that Case was allowed to join them in this All-American past-time. We had seen signs of great courage not only in Case but in his Dad who allowed his frail son to join in the team. We had seen teamwork at it’s best and sportsmanship by youngsters that grown men usually don’t exhibit. We had seen acceptance by a whole group of young kids who didn’t see Case as being a burden but a companion. We had witnessed that sports aren’t always for the physically gifted and we had watched the self-esteem of a small, struggling boy grow by leaps and bounds. Yes, Case now felt as if he was the BMOC (Big Man On Campus) – and everyone needs to have that feeling at least once in their lives.
Growing courage, teamwork, sportsmanship, acceptance and self-esteem – that’s what all youth sports should be about – and I’m so thankful that little Case Graham had the opportunity to experience it all.