In a series of clicks, darkness shrouded the playing field at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pa., Saturday. The ballpark’s denizens settled back into their seats, basking in the glow of a few illuminated scoreboards, the concourse’s light and the thrill of another victory for their hometown Barnstormers, a satisfying 9-0 decision punctuated with a rocket sliding up the early-September sky.
As the post-game fireworks commenced, a figure emerged from the home dugout and drifted along the first-base line toward right field. His teammates sauntered to the locker room, laughing and cheering and congratulating each other on the franchise’s first one-hit shutout, a gem tossed by starter Matt Wright. His manager met with a newspaper reporter to discuss the two-hour, 15-minute contest well before first deadline. His fans, entertained by the post-game fireworks, sat and peered out toward the night sky beyond right center field.
All of them, that is, except one.
As Matt Watson, the ‘Stormers seasoned outfielder, marched out along the crisp outfield grass after a Saturday-night victory, his son marched beside him.
Watson’s Black No. 50 jersey with red trim unfurled around his waist over white baseball pants. In two official at-bats during the game, he drove in one run with two hits, scoring twice himself. He also walked twice.
After the game, he made the walk beyond the 90 feet to first base. It’s the walk welders make after hours of soldering, the walk doctors make after multiple surgeries or the one police officers make after a shift on the beat.
It’s the walk home, a walk that takes welders and doctors and police officers – and even professional athletes – takes them and turns them into people.
Watson’s black cap, under the light from the LED scoreboard on the right-field wall, pointed toward the fireworks display. One of the burly arms, the right one, from his 5-foot-11-inch, 205-pound frame, wrapped around his work tools, a bundle of heavy wooden bats. He used those bats to clobber 14 home runs and drive in 43 runs this season.
Attached to his left arm is a glove hand that caught balls from the major leagues. Saturday, for the independent-league Barnstormers, that hand fielded the only hit for the opposing Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, a double from Ben Harrison, the Schwanger Bros.’ “K-Man of the Game.”
That was in the second inning.
After the game, under the pops and flashes of fireworks and the incandescent scoreboard lights in right field, Watson’s glove hand dwarfs, yet gently clasps, the hand of a boy of about 10. Compared to Watson’s hulking frame, the boy looks fragile. Yet, despite the discrepancy in appearance, the pair moves along the first-base line in a natural motion.
At one point, Watson looked like the figure walking next to him. He grew up in Lancaster County himself, playing youth baseball, starting for the J.P. McCaskey Tornadoes as a freshman.
In two days, he’ll turn 33, and his baseball career is on the wrong side of the hill. Earlier in the week, the Barnstormers released another local boy, Aaron Herr, due to a crowded roster. Watson has seen younger players, those looking for a chance to shine in a professional atmosphere, a chance to catch the eye of the major leagues. He’s seen them displace players like Herr, players like himself.
For Watson, the bundle of bats in his right arm represent the first three decades of his life.
But that life’s focus has shifted to the boy hanging on to his left.
This walk, this transition from professional life to family life, takes place in the privacy of homes every day. Father comes home, tie loosened, collar wrinkled and son eager to have his old man back.
On Saturday, it unfurled in the shadows of a dark playing field under the light of post-game fireworks.
When they reach a point in mid-right field, Watson and his son pause. They crouch down on the grass, reclining, leaning in toward each other.
They watch the explosions in the sky.
For the recorded 8,176 in attendance, the moment passes, capping a warm night in early September. For Watson, it represents a quiet moment, a break, in a long, dwindling baseball career.
For the boy, the younger Watson, it’s a memory he’ll always have, a walk he shared, not with the starting-left fielder for a minor-league baseball team.
It’s a walk he shared with his dad.
Tim Gross is an aspiring sports journalist from Lancaster, Pa and a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University. His work has been published in The Buffalo News, the Olean Times Herald and the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, where he currently works as a sports assistant. For more, follow him on Twitter and Tumblr and read his sports limericks.