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Dirk Hayhurst is a 26 year old MiL reliever in the Padres system. The 2003 eighth-round pick out of Kent State is writing a diary for Baseball America this season (the "Non-Prospect Diary"), 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.


(I searched, sorry if already posted).

I donk around and act like a jerk and get into stupid arguments and whine about the Os and get balls deep into all kinds of de-humanizing statistical analysis and rag guys who aren't really good at being pro baseball players and who I don't even know, but the reality is at the end of the day this kind of stuff is what its all about.

Go baseball, and even more, go good humans.

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I had an interesting range of reactions to this post.

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.

My initial thought was in respect to Davearm's criticism of Pujols in another thread, because I've read quite a bit of criticism of Pujols just not signing autographs (in contrast to Cal signing for a couple of hours on the road after a rain out), but the star players have to make a policy of avoiding autograph hounds or they'd never accomplish anything in public.

My next reaction was that I've always found minor league players to be quite easy to get autographs from, providing that one is aware that they can't sign any during the game or when they're getting ready for the game until all their prep work is completed. Then I usually see several of them over by the fence signing autographs for kids. That's one of the reasons I love going to minor league games; the players are so much more approachable.

But then I got to the part about the kid having liver cancer and I choked up. I'm not the bawling type, but my eyes do tend to get misty rather easily; my wife loves to relate how it was me and not her who walked out of Love Story with tears flowing too freely to stop.

It isn't just the players; all our hearts open up to the kids, and especially to those who are dealing with serious illnesses that no child should have to endure.

Thanks for posting this! I'm planning to copy it over to my Cardinals forums.

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This needs to be stickied so everyone can read it. I was listening to "Linger" by the Cranberries while I read this... and I bawled the entire time. I've asked Keys players the same question year after year, and always get the same answer. This answer was much different from any I have ever heard.

The fact that we as adults can get so caught up in a sport to forget that there are kids like this is amazing. Anyone who takes time out to hangout with these kids should be applauded.

I agree with Migrant; kids that feel this pain will be able to feel the enjoyment of this moment more than just about everyone else. I find it amazing that as humans, such a small thing can affect us, but that kid will forever remember that moment...

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One of the reasons that I'm such an ardent fan of Rick Ankiel is because I've had the opportunity to meet and talk with him, back in 2001 when he was at Johnson City of the Appalachian Rookie League, trying to work through his control problems.

I told Rick about a friend of mine who was dying with cancer, who happened to be married to Adam Kennedy's aunt. When Adam was playing in the old Hawaii League, he stayed with them. Rick autographed a baseball for me, which I sent to "The Old Curmudgeon" (his moniker at the time).

The only reason that we had stopped by to watch Rick in Johnson City, is because we had stopped by to visit with my dying friend, on our way back from a visit with family in Missouri. As we were leaving, he pointed out that Johnson City wasn't really all that far off the interstate on our route back to Pennsylvania.

After we got to Johnson City, we learned that the team was on the road, so we chased over into Southern Virginia to track them down. It was one of the more memorable baseball games I've attended, well worth the extra time and travel.

Despite all the problems he was dealing with, I found Rick to be very polite and friendly, although a bit reserved.

Rick just hit his 7th home run tonight since being called up from Memphis, to close the deficit in St. Louis to 3-2. Jack Wilson, an ex Cardinal, doubled home 3 runs in the 2nd off Mark Mulder, making his first start back off rehab from "minor" shoulder surgery.

Watching the Cardinals post game show on FSMW last night, one of the hosts was gushing about how visitors to St. Louis absolutely had to see the Arch, the Botanical Gardens, the zoo, and Rick Ankiel making a throw from right field. My family and I all got a glow out of listening to that.

As a fan, I'm afraid that I have a tendency to follow my team more with my heart than my head. I'm still a big fan of Jack Wilson too, after talking with him at Little Rock as he signed autographs for kids until they literally turned the stadium lights out. A really nice kid; it hurt when the Cards traded him to Pittsburgh.

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