Autism, Baseball, and the Whispers of Beauty

Sometimes a moment grabs you by the collar like Liam Neeson, throws you against the wall and demands, “remember this” without giving any further explanation. I had one of these moments two weeks ago at a minor league baseball game.

Jack (my 8 year old autistic son) knows nothing of baseball, except that you’re supposed to sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” during the 5th inning. He learned this from a video on my phone, taken at a Texas Rangers game in Arlington two years ago. Since they, uh, don’t sing this song at Eugene Emeralds games (jerks…), we were concerned that he might be disillusioned. He was not. In fact, Jack watched all 9 innings of baseball, ate popcorn, muttered movie lines to himself, and laughed at the fluffy green mascot. He was content. We were content.

It wasn’t until after the game that his OCD kicked into high gear. The field was calling to him. So he ran down the stairs ahead of Sara down toward the dugout where some Emeralds players were signing autographs. There was a pitcher who saw him and understood at once. Sara tried to get a picture of the two of them, but Jack was not interested. The man smiled and signed a ball for him, but he wasn’t interested in that, either. In fact, his response was to take the ball and throw it onto the field.

The pitcher just grinned. “He’d better go get it.” Jack was already gone.

That’s when we spotted him.

I was fifty yards away with my other four kids and a small band of friends. And there was my son, marching toward the pitcher’s mound, where the grounds crew was already tidying up.

“Jack’s on the field!” I yelled.

The boy was on a mission. When he reached the mound, he did what he had seen pitchers doing all night long. He threw the ball.

It did not go far. It did not have to. There, amidst the couple hundred remaining fans filing out of the stadium, we cheered like Cheeseheads in Lambeau.

He even gave us an encore, picking up the ball and throwing it one more time.

More cheering. My kids were exploding with jealousy excitement. And I wanted to dance. To enshrine the ball in glass forever. To preserve the memory.

That was my Liam Neeson moment.

I have tried to write about that night for the past two weeks, but I could never explain the impact. Why did it hit me so hard? There was no real breakthrough. Jack did not discover a hidden talent, or find a new passion. He just threw a baseball. It was barely even a sports moment. But there was beauty in it. Unmistakeable beauty.

This morning, I found an answer as I considered the other beauties in my life. The beauty of the Oregon countryside. Of Crater Lake, that impossibly blue pool in the mountain, where snow hides in the shadows of the rockslide walls even in the summer. Or the beauty of music. Of a Civil Wars song, where two desperate voices cling to one another just above a sea of acoustic hopelessness. Or the beauty of family. Of my wife, when she reaches up and pulls out a hair pin, letting her sandy blond ribbons tumble down over her shoulders like Sahali Falls in October.

Real beauty stills our breathing and stops our mouths, but never demands an explanation. We can describe it with poetry and metaphor, but we cannot diagram it with theorems or postulates. Real beauty just is. All we have to do is drink in the moment and listen, because it comes with a promise. A distant promise whispering in the wind: “This is only a taste. There is more…”

Today, I want to be done analyzing. What happened on that diamond was gorgeous. My son on a mission… that was art. And I look forward with a fan’s fervor to “more.”

(Ed’s Note — I think this guy deserves a special shout out: Eugene Emeralds pitcher Cory Bostjancic. You’re not supposed to just let a kid wander out on the field, but a good man knows when it’s okay to wink at a rule. I love how the grounds crew, too, pretended not to notice that Jack was out there. Just a great organization all around. Thank you, Cory!

3 replies
  1. Jonathan Benedetti
    Jonathan Benedetti says:

    A beautiful story and an insightful reflection. Reading this, I was reminded of the line from Rich Mullins’ song Here in America: “There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see, but everywhere I go I’m looking.” I also thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur”…

    May God grant us all eyes to see the beauty that surrounds us, ears to hear the “distant promise whispering in the wind,” and hearts filled to the brim with the wonder of it all.

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