Friday, July 4, 2014

The Salt of the Earth

During the eighth inning of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies last June 26th, Miami Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia trotted out to the mound to confer with his pitcher, A.J. Ramos.  No big deal, right?  Except, it was.  Here’s the rest of the story.

Tony Gwynn, who died on June 16th at age 54, is considered one of the best hitters in baseball history.  During his 20-year career with the San Diego Padres he won eight batting titles, was a 15-time All-Star and won seven Silver Slugger and five Gold Glove Awards.  His lifetime batting average, .338, is the highest of any player who began his career after World War II.  Gwynn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, his first year of eligibility.

Far more than “just” a legendary ballplayer, Gwynn was known as a true gentleman.  Modest and unassuming, “what you hoped Tony Gwynn was like, he was like” said Keith Olbermann in this touching video eulogy.  Please watch it, I’ll wait.

OK, you’re back.  So on Thursday June 26th, Tony Gwynn, Jr., who plays for the Phillies, was sent in to pinch hit against the Marlins in what would be his first plate appearance since his father’s death ten days before.  As Gwynn stepped into the batter’s box, Saltalamacchia expressed his sympathies.  “Sorry for your loss,” said Saltalamacchia.  “Thank you, Salty,” replied Gwynn, and, as he settled in, the Citizens Bank Park crowd began to applaud.  The cheers grew louder and people started to stand.   Saltalamacchia, in a demonstration of thoughtfulness and class worthy of Gwynn’s father, trotted out to the mound, not to discuss strategy with Ramos, but to both allow the ovation to run its full course and step away from Gwynn so that the moment would be Gwynn’s, and Gwynn’s alone.

Saltalamacchia had the sensitivity and presence of mind to transcend the contrivance of the baseball game and act not as an opposing player, but as a caring fellow human being.  Neither Tony Gwynn, Jr. nor anyone else at Citizens Bank Park that day will ever forget the outpouring of sympathy for Gwynn’s loss and respect and admiration for his father that Saltalamacchia’s gesture allowed.

Salty could hit a walk-off grand slam in game seven of the World Series, and it would not warm my heart nearly as much as his simple act of kindness did on June 26th.