I don’t know how much I’ve talked about where I sit or who I sit with when I attend games, but it’s important to know that for this story. When I go to a game, I sit in the left field bleachers. The left field bleachers are home to a group of people who attend 81 games a year (or more if there are playoff games). They bring flags and drums. They arrive hours before a game, and stay long after it ends.
The story centers around the drummers and their relationship with a group of very special children.
There is a teacher in the Oakland area, who teaches a group of students with special needs. She brings these students to a ballgame, once or twice a year and last year the group pulled out little drums to play along with the drummers. The drummers were so touched by their presence that they joined the group, giving up their seats to seat with the kids. This year the students returned, and once a gain the drummers had company. After the game, one of the drummers asked the A’s catcher, Jason Kendall, if he would sign a bat or a ball to send to the students in this class. He said he would, without hesitation.
On Saturday, Chantel, Jason’s wife, told Duke (one of the drummers, the one who I spent the most time talking with) that Jason had forgot, but he was taking care of it that day and the ball boys would run it up to her in the suite on Sunday. In the middle of the first inning Sunday, Chantel called Duke up to the window of the suite and handed him three items. Not only was there a bat signed by Jason Kendall, but the entire Oakland Athletics roster, including the players on the disabled list (far too many to discuss) took the time to sign the bat (Kendall personalized it to the PH class at Thornton Junior High). Inside a yellow sock there were two balls, that we did not pull out until the third or fourth inning. Upon removing them, we discovered that they too were signed by every player on the roster.
In less than 24 hours, Kendall had managed to get every player to sign items for a group of children who are often ignored, and get very little recognition. On Sunday, I learned a lot about Jason Kendall. His mom teaches a group of students with special needs. He cares, he’s shy and quiet, but he has a lot of compassion and understanding.
When he was in high school, he saw a rival become a vegetable after a car accident. Jason was by his bedside, knowing that it could have been him, that you’re only one step away. Last year, upon learning about a boy with cancer, whose favorite players are Kendall and Jason Varitek from the Boston Red Sox, Kendall flew the boy up from Southern California when Boston was in town. He brought the child onto the field during batting practice so that he could meet his heroes and be the star of the day.
When asked to sign a bat, Jason could have easily said no. He could have scribbled his name quickly on a ball and walked away. Instead he took the time to personalize and present a bat given by a team to a class of students. Jason Kendall is a class act. I know I certainly see him in a different light after this weekend.
I know that when Duke delivers the items to the children within the next week or so there are going to be a lot of tears and a lot of excitement. Enjoy your gifts PH Class of Thornton Junior High. Enjoy attending the games. And keep drumming!