Word just came out that the San Francisco Giants traded outfielder Nate Schierholtz to the Philadelphia Phillies. That statement means nothing to you if you do not follow baseball, a little more if you do. The vast majority of Giants fans will simply see the potential for upside in the addition of Hunter Pence to the lineup.
My son, however, is going to cry. Just the thought of breaking the news to him is making me sadder than I already am. We love Nate Schierholtz in our household, and as badly as we want the Giants to succeed, seeing him go hurts in a way that surprises me.
Sports in America have become such a mega-business that it is easy to forget why they are able to exist. As a collective whole, we fans will sporting teams to exist. It is our passion for the game, our love of our teams and our willingness to pay top dollar to support them that enables the most talented athletes to become rich and the already-rich owners to reap even more profits.
Most professional ball players will give lip service to “not forgetting their roots” and “giving back to the fans”. But as their careers skyrocket and seasons progress it becomes easier and easier for them to insulate themselves from the yearning masses who enable their lifestyle.
My son, Ryder, just turned 7. We started taking him to games 4 years ago, and it was 2 years ago that he started to become interested in the actual game and the individual men who play it. His rising interest coincided with the Giants’ “August of destiny” that saw them erase a 10 game deficit in the NL West and go on to win the World Series, turning him into a die-hard fan. He can recall with amazing accuracy plays, statistics and moments from games he heard on the radio.
You think you know Giants baseball? I dare you to put your knowledge of the game up against Ryder’s knowledge in his lifetime. How many men were on base when Renteria hit the home run to give the Giants the lead in game 5 of the world series? Who were they? What bases were they on? How many Giants pitchers have hit home runs in past 2 seasons? What was the count when Cain hit his last home run? How many men were on base? These are just a few of the random stats he has recalled on his own recently.
Ryder loves baseball and the players he follows on a regular basis. L-O-V-E-S. He can’t separate his passion from “the business of sports”, can’t temper his love for his favorite players with the ever-lurking threat of a trade. In August of 2010, Ryder announced that he wanted “to meet Buster, or Timmy, or Panda.” So in 2011 we started trying to give him the chance to get autographs.
We managed to meet a few of the Giants, even one of his faves (Romo!) but it was the day that he met Nate Schierholtz that changed his life. Mr. Schierholtz was kind enough to come over to the fence that separates the players’ parking lot from the public after the last game of 2011 and sign autographs for the few kids who were hanging around out there. Not Timmy. Not Wilson. Not Buster. Not Cain. Not even the rookies, Belt or Crawford. We watched them all get in their cars and drive off.
Nate Schierholtz heard the plaintive cries of a young fan who wanted nothing more than a few seconds of his time, and responded by showing a generosity that illustrated his humanity and his connection to his own baseball roots. The business of baseball has treated Nate pretty well, even if he has to uproot and move to Philadelphia. Try explaining that to a 7-year old who is going to be heartbroken when he learns that one of his favorite players left town on 24-hours notice.
No, seriously: you tell my son that Nate Schierholtz just got sent packing. Because I don’t know if I can tell him why the business of baseball just broke his heart.