‘I got to shake Garrett’s hand, and through eye contact I showered him in fatherly gratitude for his act of grace’

Denver, CO–My 8 year-old son Tyler and I are real Colorado Rockies fans — we paid to see games well before witnessing the miraculous baseball played during the 2007 run to the World Series. Tyler and I discuss the players each morning over the Sports section.
We pick our favorites, we track their stats, we ignore their salary negotiations, and we root root root for the Rockies whether they succeed or fail. One warm summer Saturday I took Tyler to a game. We went early because this was “Picture Day,’ where you can go onto the field to have your photo taken with the players. Tyler was so excited he dressed in his full-blown Rockies uniform, complete with cleats and glove. For all I knew, he had on his protective cup too. There were a lot of people there and we were packed in tight. The players came out and began circulating, submitting to fan delirium and posing for photos. We missed several of them because we couldn”t get up to the field edge. I finally maneuvered us to the edge and we waited for our chance. And here came Garrett Atkins, the good-hitting third baseman with better than normal defensive skills. He had an underdog thing going on with us, due to the big shadow cast by star outfielder Matt Holiday, so he was therefore Tyler”s favorite player, and mine too. And here he was in the flesh, coming our way. Atkins got to us, all 6″3′ of him, bigger than life. Fans pushed from behind and all sides. Everyone was trying to grab Atkins’ attention and despite my efforts, he became occupied a few yards off. We tried to squeeze through and it just wasn”t working. I thought we”d lost our chance. I turned to Tyler to console him. I put my hand on his shoulder and suddenly there was Garrett, kneeling next to Tyler at eye level. “What”s your name?’ Garrett asked him. My son stuttered something unintelligible so I helped. Garrett picked him up, held him at eye level and said, “That”s a great uniform, Tyler. Listen, will you do me a favor? Will you let me have a picture with you? I”ve been trying to find the best Rockies fan here today and I think it”s probably you. I want to thank you for coming to see us play.’ Tyler nodded, his eyes as round as plates. I quickly snapped a couple of photos, and Tyler remembered to smile. As he put Tyler down he said, “Did you bring your mitt, Tyler? That”s good, I”ll try to hit a ball to you. Will you watch for it? Thanks for the picture, Tyler.’ It was over in an instant, but I got to shake Garrett”s hand, and through eye contact I showered him in fatherly gratitude for his act of grace. Tyler remembers every inning and every out of that game. He remembers the score and the pitch count. He remembers that Atkins went 2 for 5 with one homerun and he turned a double play and made a diving stab that saved a run, maybe two. Tyler remembers what I was wearing and what the guy sitting in front of us was wearing. He told his mother and sister the Atkins story 15 times that night. Once in a while you encounter a celebrity who affirms why you spend money to see him, why you invest emotions in supporting his efforts. It is a surprise when it happens, given the apparently common temperament of professional athletes and their distance from those who idolize them. But here was a kid, almost young enough to be my son, worth millions, getting wedding proposals and naked pictures in the mail every day — this kid didn”t have to say a word to us. It”s worthy of mention when a guy such as he punctures the membrane between his life and ours and makes a human connection. Even if he never gets to be a big star, even if he fades next season, my son will treasure Garrett his entire life. And so will I. Thanks, big guy. [Note: Ken Furie, a Colorado business executive, has joined the blogging team at All of Ken’s posts are available here. Ken can be reached by email here and his blog is here.]

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