The woman was standing on the sidewalk near downtown with a suitcase nearby and looked at me with heavy eyes. I nodded my head and said good morning as earnestly as possible. She nodded back but didn’t say anything. I wanted to offer to help her, to ask if there’s anything she needs, but didn’t know what I could possibly give. So I kept on walking.
The Monday morning cobwebs were especially thick in my brain and imagination. I was meeting Jackie, a reporter for the News-Leader, for a game of catch and concerned I wouldn’t be able to put two coherent sentences together.
Needing space to think, I went to the ball field early. The green-painted cinder block dugout at the rarely-used field across the street from Jenny Lincoln Park is a perfect catch-playing warm-up partner. Stretches and throws from thirty feet, sixty feet, and ninety feet and the cobwebs started to clear. I reached into my pocket to check the time on my flip-phone pocket watch and noticed that I was 10 minutes late. I spotted Jackie across the street and yelled to her.
Jackie is the causes reporter and has written about homelessness in the Ozarks on several occasions. This past May she spent the night at Safe to Sleep, an overnight shelter for homeless women. The shelter started under the guidance of Ramona Baker, a long-time friend from church. I remember reading Jackie’s story and feeling both thankful for the safe shelter as well as guilty for countless blessings I often take for granted in my life.
Jackie moved to Springfield after teaching middle school English for 3 years in Ellsinore, Missouri. She was nominated for a game of catch by Steve (Day #221) and agreed, but sent several GIFs as a warning of her catch-playing skills. Jackie is not really a fan of baseball or sports, though her husband is a pretty big Cubs fan.
“He grew up in Chicago, in walking distance of Wrigley Field.”
Now that the Royals have been officially eliminated from the playoffs, I confessed that the Cubs might be my postseason team to cheer. Although, Milwaukee and Colorado are also in the running.
“If I’ve ever played catch, it was when I was a child,” Jackie said.
She used the new Wilson glove and I the old mitt, just like yesterday, and she seemed earnestly surprised every single time she caught the ball. As we tossed the ball, she told me how the Safe to Sleep story became a reality, that it was a piece she had wanted to write for several years.
“I kept getting turned down, but kept asking. Finally, Ramona said yes.”
With the homeless population on the rise across the Ozarks, Jackie’s stories are incredibly important, providing insight into the people behind the cardboard signs.
“As a reporter, I get to know people who are so far out from my traditional circles, and that has really been amazing. Whenever I pop in to their lives, usually something wonderful or something terrible has just happened to them. I get to share their stories, to meet people when they are in the middle of doing something incredible.”
And that is exactly what playing catch has been like this year. Meeting and connecting with people not in my usual circles and hearing their stories, often laughing together and finding multiple places where our stories have crossed on this incredible journey of life.
Baseball brings people together.