It’s Friday afternoon, April 12, at Coast Union High School’s baseball field. Dutifully the reporter arrives at 2:20 p.m. to set up radio equipment at the top of the bleacher section directly underneath the banner that reads “KTEA-FM 103.5.”
The only sound besides the wind rustling the leaves of the stately eucalyptus trees is the nattering echo of a lawn mower in the distance. And the only other soul nearby is the head coach, Brian Machado, who is raking the mound into a sandy smoothness for the high school pitchers who will soon arrive.
High above, a few mares’ tails and other wispy cirrus clouds dance against a baby blue backdrop as the coach puts the finishing touches on the shimmering green field. It’s just another golden spring day perfectly aligned with the cosmos for the boys of summer, who happen to also play America’s game in the spring here in Cambria.
On this very day way back east in that other land called Washington D.C., grown men and women, elected officials whose job it is to keep Americans secure and safe, wrangle and rage over the contentious issue of legislating more thorough background checks for individuals — some of whom may be misfits, murderers and/or mentally unbalanced — that wish to purchase weapons and ammo.
While many politicians are weighing their vote based on campaign money they received — and the subsequent seriously coercive pressure they are experiencing vis-à-vis high-salaried lobbyists — from the gun industry, the only weapons at the Coast Union baseball field are the aluminum bats the coach has placed in the bat rack at the south end of the west dugout.
By 3 p.m. the radio equipment — microphones and the digital technologies that allow an iPhone to transmit voice reports to the studio in the eastern edge of the West Village and from there out into the community through frequency modulation (FM) — is in place, the Broncos are playing catch and stretching, and it’s time for the reporter to get the lineups from both coaches.
The head coach for the visiting team, the Cuyama Valley Bears — a squad that turns out to be, apologies for the brutally obvious reference, the bad news bears — brings his lineup to the radio reporter with a smile as his players loosen up following their two-hour, 114-mile trek from the remote village of New Cuyama.
By scoring 11 runs in the bottom half of the first inning, the Broncos have sealed the fate of the Bears, who don’t appear to have the athletic skills necessary, or are perhaps too inexperienced, to be competitive at this level of baseball.
Example No. 1: Coast Union has men on first and second and a ground ball is hit to the third baseman. It’s an easy play if he fields it and steps on third base for a forceout. But instead he flings the ball wildly in the direction of the first baseman, who can’t catch it and instead of an easy out a run scores.
Example No. 2: The same situation occurs later in the first inning — two Broncos on and a grounder hit to the third baseman — but this time the third baseman’s ineptitude allows the ball to scoot cleanly under his glove into left field for another error and another Coast Union run.
Coast adds seven runs in subsequent innings to dominate, 18-0, but the reporter and his broadcast partner, Steve Spisak, aren’t cheering. Certainly, a win is a blessing in most contexts. But this is a day for empathy, not rejoicing. As multiple-Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep notes, “The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”
It is easy, if a person tries, to put one’s self temporarily into another’s shoes. Hence, hearts went out to those humbled Bears who showed up, gave it their best shot, got whipped and boarded their bus for the gloomy trip back home.
Meanwhile, if those heavily lobbied members of Congress back in the nation’s capital could put themselves in the shoes of folks who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at that movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and elsewhere across America, a smidgen of sanity might be allowed to prevail.