The Chillicothe Paints are the closest baseball team to where I live. They are part of the Prospect League, a summer collegiate wood bat league. They play their home games at VA Memorial Stadium, My eight-year-old son, Quenton, loves watching live baseball, so I try to take him to several games over the summer.
He shares my love of sports, but he rarely roots for the same teams I do. In fact, he seems to go out of his way to be on the complete opposite side of the fence from me! I like the Columbus Blue Jackets, he likes the LA Kings. I like the Reds, he pulls for the Cubs (Quenton was minus-100 years old in 1908). I like the Bengals, he’s decided he’s a Steelers fan.
I like the Chillicothe Paints. Quenton’s favorite team is the West Virginia Miners. Go figure.
Sometimes, Quenton likes to hang around after a game and try to get some autographs. During the 9th inning at a recent Paints-Miners game, another fan walked up to us where we were standing, near the dugout exit.
“Have I been hearing you cheer for the Miners?” said the stranger.
“Yeah…” replied Quenton, a little hesitantly.
“Well,” continued the stranger, “I have this game ball that I got from one of the Miners’ players today. Would you like to have it?” Getting a game ball is probably the holy grail of take-home treasures for Quenton. We’ve gotten a couple over the years, but they’re very rare. I’m not sure Quenton took his eyes off the ball as he said thank you.
“Which one is your favorite player?” he asked my son. Baseball has a way of bringing people together.
“Number 7, Austin Norman,” was my son’s reply. My son has a scout’s eye. Austin is one of the league leaders in batting average, RBI, runs scored, and steals.
“Really?” said the stranger as a smile curled his lip. “He is staying with my family this summer.” Remember, this is a summer league for college players. They stay with host families during the 10-week season. “Would you like to get his autograph?”
Silly question, right?
When the game ended (a tough walk-off loss for the Miners in the bottom of the 9th), I saw the “dad” go up to Number Seven and have a brief conversation. Austin then came straight up to my son and said hello, and shook his hand.
“So, you’re a Miners fan, eh?”
“Yep, sure am!”
“Well, thanks for coming to the game!” Austin took the baseball and a black Sharpie (I try to always carry one to the games) and gave Quenton his autograph. I asked them to pose for a photo, and they happily obliged.
Quenton was holding Austin’s batting gloves while he signed the baseball. After the photo, Quenton started to hand them back to Austin.
“That’s okay, you keep those.”
Quenton was practically beside himself! I shook Austin’s hand and thanked him for being so kind to my son.
All the way to the parking lot, Quenton relayed to me every detail he learned as he inspected the gloves. The palm of the right glove had completely worn through. “And they’re still wet!” he proudly informed me!
Of all the team rivalries I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not sure any of them are more hotly contested than a Paints-Miners game. And that’s no small feat, considering the fact that the teams are made of college athletes from various places who rarely play on the same team more than a season or two. Paints fans love to hate the Miners. The Miners fans seem to enjoy finding reasons to deplore the Paints, too. And that’s sorta the way baseball ought to be, as long as we can still shake hands at the end of the game and bid each other safe travels until we meet again.
Thanks, Austin. I hope you have a long, bright, and happy career. And I’ll even be fine with you going 4-for-4 against my Paints – as long as the rest of the team goes 0-for-27 and we win!
This article was published in the Sunday, July 31, 2016, issue of the Beckley (WV) Register-Herald. Assistant Sports Editor Gary Fauber kindly asked if they could reprint my article and photo, and I gladly obliged. Thanks, Gary!