My first international game of catch occurred 10 minutes from my house.
As soon as Bruce stepped out of his truck, I noticed his Tigers hat and jersey and made the expected comment from a Royals fan, “Nice.”
“I grew up in England,” Bruce said, “but the first MLB game I went to was at Royals Stadium in 1986. I probably haven’t thrown a ball in 15 years. Actually, I have no recollection of playing catch since I moved to Springfield.”
I heard the words he said and was completely fascinated by the way he said them. Bruce has lived in Springfield since 1999 – “I still can’t get used to that humidity in the summer” – and talks with a delightful Northwest English accent. “When I first moved here, people really struggled to understand what I was saying. Just such a thick, heavy accent.”
Bruce has dual citizenship in England and the US and fell in love with the game thanks to some friends from the US who recorded Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary on VHS. He’s played cricket, of course, and is a Lakers fan, then a Pistons fan, and his favorite ballplayer is Roberto Clemente.
“Such a great ballplayer, such a great person.”
I kept tossing the ball because I was fascinated by Bruce’s story. Each answer prompted half a dozen new questions. He now works as a photographer and his pictures are incredible.
And then I realized we had another connection: Bill and Shirley Virdon. Bruce was the photographer for Wyatt (Day #17) when the News-Leader interviewed the Virdons after the Houston Astros won the World Series.
So we started swapping Bill Virdon stories.
His Spring Training with the Yankees.
His Christmas card from George Steinbrenner.
His epic trivia answer as the only Yankees manager to never manage in Yankee Stadium.
“Did you know he was in an episode of Seinfeld?” Bruce asked.
And then he pulled up the video on his phone (+1 for smart phones).
Although it was some 40 degrees cooler than yesterday, I worked up a good sweat playing catch with Bruce. Long toss and pop ups and sliding feet on sopping wet ground.
Baseball tells the best stories and really does help bring people together.
One final note: Bruce’s fiancée is a shoulder surgeon. Just posting this in case I need a reminder later this year.