Watching the Major League Baseball postseason, all those crowds, all those parents and kids sharing high-fives and hugs, it was impossible not to think of Dana Inman.
I met Inman, a devout fan of the Texas Rangers, two years ago on the uptown No. 4 subway, destination Yankee Stadium, which is now a parking lot. Stadiums, like everything else, have expiration dates. No one knows that better than the itinerant Inman, who was in New York paying homage to her late son, Dustin, who from the time he was a kid had always wanted to visit every big-league ballpark.
Dustin made it to Cleveland, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Arlington, Texas, which is the epicenter of the baseball world these days as the Rangers, a franchise that declared bankruptcy earlier this season, qualified for their first World Series. Inman was there, in person, when the Rangers beat the Yankees. The win triggered memories of loss.
“It’s bittersweet,” Inman said, “because my son wasn’t there.”
How her son Dustin, a three-sport star who always sported his Rangers cap, would have relished this World Series, even though Texas trails three games to one after last night’s 4-0 loss.
How he would’ve rejoiced at the sight of his favorite player, the drug addict who turned his life around, shedding tears because the high point of his career triggered memories of the low point in his life.
How Dustin, who died in a 2007 motorcycle accident at the age of 25, would have liked this manager, Ron Washington, who is about so much more than a dalliance with cocaine. He would’ve adored pitcher Cliff Lee, who recognizes that athletic achievement, even at the highest level, won’t define a person.
Teams to Love
Dustin would’ve loved this team, too. Not just for its winning, mind you, but, more importantly, how it goes about winning.
Come to think of it, Dustin would’ve liked the Giants, too. It wasn’t long ago that San Francisco baseball was defined by one slugger, Barry Bonds, whose ego was about the only thing bigger than his drug-enhanced biceps. Bonds had his space in the clubhouse. Enter at your own risk. There was Bonds and everyone else. That isn’t a team.
These Giants, much like the Rangers, are an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. They do the little things, which are big things. Most importantly, they like each other.
Dustin was the rare athlete that hated to lose but knew winning wasn’t everything. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder liked to win, sure, but not at the expense of sportsmanship. The concepts of team and togetherness mattered more to Dustin than any final score ever could.
‘Like a Team’
“Dustin’s whole thing about sports, and what he would love about this team, even though there are some great players, there’s no one person’s ego that’s taken over,” Inman said. “They play like a team.”
If the Rangers have a superstar it’s Josh Hamilton, a leading candidate for American League Most Valuable Player. It was Hamilton who, after receiving the championship series MVP trophy, said he didn’t want to talk about himself. His preference was to discuss the contributions made by his teammates.
“Dustin truly knew what it meant to work together to obtain a goal never thought imaginable,” Inman said.
Inman has a particular affinity for Hamilton because her son had an affinity for the player whose career was almost derailed by drugs.
Dustin learned of Hamilton’s back story while on a job interview for an engineering position in Cincinnati. He was ecstatic that this highly touted prospect who seemingly lost everything had found a roster spot with the Cincinnati Reds. Always a sucker for the underdog, for perseverance, Dustin called his mother and told her about this non-Ranger worth watching.
Not long after that Dustin was gone and Hamilton was traded to Texas.
“I felt a connection to Josh the moment he arrived,” she said.
Inman recently attended her son’s 10-year high-school reunion. While looking through his keepsakes Inman found a bumper sticker from 1996, the year the Rangers won the American League West. She also came across a box of baseballs inscribed with her son’s signature.
“He signed them like he was a major-league player,” she said. “Like he was Babe Ruth or something.”
Kid at Heart
Dreaming big and sports have always gone together. So, in memory of her son Inman started the Kid at Heart Foundation, which this weekend will hold its first fundraiser in conjunction with the Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. restaurant chain. The foundation’s aim is to provide sporting equipment to kids whose families can’t afford it. Maybe the next great baseball player will get his start here.
As for the Rangers, they’ll have Lee on the pitcher’s mound tonight in the first of three must-win situations.
Inman, meantime, allows herself a fleeting moment to ponder a championship parade, at which, if history is any guide, families will gather to celebrate their favorite team’s accomplishment. Lots of smiles, laughter, high-fives and hugs.
And on the other end of the telephone more tears from a mother who would give anything to share this, win or lose, with her son. It’s something to remember, but not dwell on, the next time you and yours visit the ballpark.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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