Sunday, December 21, 2008

All the Way, Shay!

At a  fund-raising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he posed a question:

“When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do.  He cannot understand things as other children do. Where  is the natural order of things in my son?” The audience was stilled by his query. Then the father continued, “I believe that when a child like Shay comes into the world, mentally and physically disabled, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.”

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where  some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, “Do you think they’ll let me play?” I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, “We”re losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.” So Shay struggled over to the team’s bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played right field. Even though no hits  came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

And in the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay’s team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was handed a bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because  Shay didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung  clumsily and missed. The pitcher took a few more steps forward and again tossed the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. But instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman’s head, out of reach of all teammates.

Everyone from the stands and both teams started  yelling, “Shay, run to first! Run to first!” Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled, and made it to first base.

Everyone yelled, “Run to  second, run to second!” Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay neared second base, the right fielder had the ball. He was the smallest guy on their team and now had his first chance to be the hero for his team by throwing the ball to the second-baseman for the tag. But he understood the pitcher’s intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman’s head.

Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home. All were screaming, “Shay, Shay, Shay -- all the Way Shay!”

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third, Shay, run to third!”

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams as well as all the spectators were on their feet screaming, “Shay, run home! Run home!” Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.

“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world. Shay didn’t make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!”

NOTE: adapted from Echoes Of The Maggid, Chapter 5: “Perfection at the Plate” by Rabbi Paysach Krohn. It is a true story, told to the Rabbi by a friend. says this is a "glurge" -- an inspirational tale, sometimes true, purporting to deliver an uplifting message, but in fact merely "chicken soup with several cups of sugar mixed in" resulting in a "sickly-sweet concoction that induces hyperglycemic shock." believes this story is a poor pity lesson that doesn’t help the disabled because they don't "experience the honest praise of admiring teammates and co-workers for their actual contributions" which robs them of "their every chance to be seen as actual people." I agree their criticism is accurate in the broad context, but in a story like this, involving a severely disabled child with a brief time to live, the broad context assumed by is out of focus, and the humanity of the "normal" kids is heartwarming and comforting to read about. And I freely admit, my heart was warmed! (The information is found here, so you can decide for yourself.)

Another example of sportsmanship occurred in May of 2008, during the women's softball game between Western oregon University and Central Washington University. Sara Tucholsky hit her first home run but she missed first base, started back to tag it, and collapsed with a knee injury. She would be called out if her teammates tried to help her. A pinch runner could be called in, but the homer would only count as a single.

Then, members of the Central Washington University softball team stunned spectators by carrying Tucholsky around the bases, stopping to let Tucholsky touch each base with her good leg, so the three-run homer would count — an act that contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs. Here's a video of it.

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