By: Hollie Hamilton
What Baseball Means to Me
In a word, love.
I’m about to turn 40, and as I reflect on my life, the things that are most important to me have love in them, and the most beautiful memories I’ve had have love and baseball.
It all started with a hat — a quiet mistake my father made by placing a Texas Rangers cap on my 2-year-old head. It was right then and there that I would fall in love with baseball, and I always wore that hat for the next year, taking it off only for the five minutes it took to wash my hair. I’ve asked what happened to the hat, and I have been told it fell apart.
Baseball would make me fall in love three times. Once as a schoolgirl to Dean Palmer, when I would write “Mrs. Palmer” in my notebook. I couldn’t understand why my friends didn’t know who Dean Palmer was. The second time working in The Ballpark in Arlington (now Globe Life Park) and learning the inner workings of it. I couldn’t wait to go into work in the promotions department. The third time with a player I won’t name. Our eyes locked as he was signing an autograph for me in a minor league park. My heart skipped a beat, and I like to think he felt the same thing because he watched me leave from the field.
I couldn’t even think of anything more to love than baseball until the birth of my two sons and how much love I had for them. I put baseball away and worked on being a mom to my kids, and they needed my full attention. I would soon learn that both my children have autism, and getting them the help they needed became my top and only priority. Gone were baseball cards, books, encyclopedias full of stats. All replaced by autism books, books about Applied Behavior Analysis, speech, occupational therapy. Going to their different therapies replaced going to games. Day in and day out, I was going to do what I could to help my boys. Then it became too much, and I snapped. I could no longer function. I made the decision to go to therapy, and in a session, I was crying about how overwhelmed I was and how everyday life was tearing me apart. I told the therapist all about my duties as a mother, and then she asked me the question that would change my life.
“What do you like?”
I had been so busy taking care of my kids and their autism that I forgot about me. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I then said the only thing I could think of.
“Really? What do you like about baseball?” she asked, and as I thought about the answer, my memories came alive. I told her the story about how I went to a mall at 7 a.m. to meet my idol, Rusty Greer. I still remember his hug. I told her how I worked in the promotions department for the Rangers. I even told her about the minor leaguer.
She asked, “So you watch baseball?”
“No!” I answered.
“Why?” she questioned.
“I have kids with autism who watch their stuff nonstop.”
Then she said, “Maybe it’s time you do something for you.”
I bought the MLB package that same day, and right there on the TV was my minor leaguer in a major league uniform. With my love for him and for the game, I started cheering, I started being excited and it woke my love for life again. Baseball was back!
I started small, with West Coast games after the boys went to bed and Chicago Cub games during the day while they were in school. It became the respite I needed. Something away from autism, from being a mom. Something that was mine. I found my baseball cards and even my autographs and pictures. I had always been a writer, but never about sports, and suddenly I wanted to write about baseball, and so I did. I started a blog at missbaseball.net. I joined Twitter and made some great baseball friends and connections. Through writing, I found myself. I also found this picture of a 26-year-old Dean Palmer. I had bought the picture to have him sign it but was too scared to approach him. With my blog, I wasn’t scared, so I asked him in a story, and two hours after I published, he reached out to me and we made arrangements and he finally signed my picture. The blog would make me brave again, and I asked another former Ranger, Frank Catalanotto, for an interview. I got the interview, and it was one of my most read posts, about his wonderful charitable foundation. I felt like a human being again. I was busier than I had ever been, but I was happy; at this point, I had managed to keep baseball and autism separate.
Until one day a surprising thing happened. I turned on the TV, and my oldest son came down the stairs to play with his toys, and he didn’t ask me to turn it off. Usually, it was Thomas the tank engine on TV, but that day it was the Rangers. My youngest son would become more curious and would sit in my lap and ask questions about the game. My heart filled with love as I passed all my baseball knowledge to my son. Then there was one day while watching a Cubs game I looked down at my phone to answer a text, when all of a sudden, my youngest starts jumping up and down and screaming, “He did it! He did it!” He was Addison Russell, and he hit a home run during a regular season home game. The pure joy on my son’s face as he watched Russell round the bases was magic, and I tried not to cry. Then the autism came back, and my son had gone back to his own world. But for that moment, he and I were baseball fans.
My youngest is quite the Cubs fan. He always cheers for Addison Russell. He comes alive when a game is on. He laughs at the people in McCovey Cove jumping in the water to get a baseball. He’s fallen asleep to the bedtime stories by Vin Scully. He loves the Rangers and Adrian Beltre.
My oldest son has what most people would call more classic autism symptoms, and with that, baseball is something hard for him to focus on. But I’ve noticed he seems to enjoy the low hum of the crowd during the game. I would wonder if he was absorbing anything about the game. I would get my answer. I turned on the pregame before a Rangers game, and the analyst started talking about the New York Yankees. Now, I should explain: Being a die-hard Rangers fan, I don’t cheer for the Yankees.
Then the television start speaking about Yankee information and stats, and my oldest looks up from his iPad and says, “Mom, we don’t cheer for the Yankees, right?”
I said, “That’s right, dear.”
“No, we don’t like the Yankees,” he confirmed.
I said, “No, we don’t.” I’ve never been so proud. He also knows that we don’t cheer for the Astros, either.
Now my house is full of baseball books and autism books. We enjoy going to some minor league games, as well as watching major league games on television. While baseball is still my much-needed respite, it is also wonderful to combine two of the things I love: my children and baseball.