See also: Archive of Dirk Hayhurst’s Non-Prospect Diaries
Dirk Hayhurst is a 26-year-old
righthanded reliever in the Padres system who has spent parts of three
seasons at high Class A Lake Elsinore.
he made it all the way to Triple-A Portland last season, Hayhurst began
this year back with the Storm, officially making him a California
after going 0-1, 1.80 at the Lake, Hayhurst was promoted to Double-A
San Antonio in early May, and made two appearances at Triple-A Portland before settling into the Missions’ bullpen. Currently, Hayhurst is 3-1, 3.77 in 45 innings in the Texas League.
2003 eighth-round pick out of Kent State is writing a diary for
Baseball America this season, delving into the side of the minor
leagues fans seldom see. A mother brought her son past the bullpen a few days back. As they approached, we instinctively acted as if our attention was wrapped up in the game; looking away from them, avoiding eye contact.
They made their way directly to us, eyes trained on us, hoping to catch our attention. Soon they had closed the distance and were standing right in front of us, staring expectantly through the fencing with wide eyes and nervous smiles.
“Hello,” said the mother. We said nothing in return and continued to act as if we couldn’t see or hear her. She stumbled at our coldness, and cast hear eyes around sadly. She looked at her son, who never took his eyes off us, smiled, and then mustered enough courage to try again.
I can’t explain to you what its like to avoid someone on purpose. When I write about the concept it just seems too rude and heartless. Maybe it is, but I still do it all the time. In my line of work, sometimes you have to ignore people. You have to tune out the noise of the game. There is no shortage of kids who want balls just because some other kid got one. No shortage of folks who want scraps signed with illegible autographs because everyone else is doing it. No shortage of begging, and pleading for stuff they don’t really need, just want because someone else has.
Besides, my signature is just that: words written across something to spell my name. And my name is not important (hence, non-prospect diaries!). Yet to baseball fans, signatures are very important. They’re so important in fact, even the mascot signs balls. It doesn’t even have to be my name, or a name at all, just the fact we players scribbled on a scrap for fan is enough. Its all about the context.
For me, it’s a dead ritual, and doesn’t make sense. Maybe this is because I know who I am. Because everyday I see the mistakes and shortcomings I deal with that humanize me. I disagree that I am somehow more valuable because I do this job. Fans however, see my clean uniform and their boyhood dreams incarnate. When my hand presses a pen to paper, they find it magical. I don’t understand why this works the way it does, but its lack of logic in no way negates the reality of it.
“My son,” said the mother as she looked at her boy, “would really like to meet you.”
Again, she smiled nervously and again she was met with silence.
After a moment I broke and said hello to the young boy. He smiled and tried to hide behind his mom like young kids do when they are nervous. Mom asked him if he could be a big boy and say hello in return? He did, in a mute voice, then ducked behind his mother again. I bent down at the fence to get on the boy’s level, steadying myself with one hand on the links. As I did this, the mother knelt down quickly and put her hand on mine. My comfort zone was just violated, but before I could say anything, she spoke, in a soft and sad voice saying, “My son has liver cancer. It’s terminal. He really wanted to do this before . . . um, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with him.”
I was silent again, but this time for a different reason. I stared at the young boy, then at his mother whose face was serious and stalwart. The fellas around me had started talking with the young boy where I left off, though they were unaware of his condition. I walked away from the scene and over the some of the guys and whispered what I was just told. We looked at each other and, without a word of discussion, scooped up the youngster and placed him the pen with us.
We sat him down in one of our chairs and took seats around him. There he sat while we lavished him with attention. We asked him about everything a young boy loves to talk about: toys, baseball, candy, parks, games . . . We acted amazed at his stories and affirmed how he would become a big leaguer someday. We made him feel special, because he is. Finally, when our time was up and he had to go, without request or prompting, we produced a baseball and signed it for him.
When we gave the boy that ball, there was no dead ritual involved. Our names were no longer scribbles to be collected, and the ball was no longer a souvenir. That baseball was now a letter, and each signature was a testament of hope, encouragement, and joy. I can’t explain to you how much happiness it gave that mother and her son to share those moments with us.
I still can’t explain why people treat us so special for putting on a baseball uniform. But in those few moments together, it didn’t really matter–in those few moments, baseball made perfect sense.
You can reach Dirk at email@example.com.