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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

The Immaculate Rejection

Maxed-out media facility leads to a "Jungle" experience for the ages

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — On Monday morning, I made an 11th-hour attempt to secure a credential for the regional final against South Carolina. I received a prompt response assuring me that the press box was overfull and there was no room for me.

It turned out to be the best rejection I’ve ever received.

I wouldn’t be attending the game the easy way, so I made it complicated. Three of my kids wanted to come along, so I bought us general admission tickets, and prepared my kids for their first expedition into the Jungle. I’m not sure it was a decision that a parenting expert would agree with; after all, they stayed up way too late, turned in sloppy homework on Tuesday and went to bed dirty.

They also got to scream at the top of their lungs, exchange high fives with instant friends and get swept along in a contagion of joy that they won’t soon forget. In my parenting economy, that’s a pretty good tradeoff for a messy math worksheet.

Early in the game, the kids seemed restless, asking me often what the score was (the answer didn’t encourage them) and fixating mainly on the concession selection.

But when Ryan Wood’s home run soared directly over our head in the fifth, they were starting to get locked in. My 8-year-old son wandered to the front rows of the jungle and someone gave him a “23” sign, which he held up proudly whenever Brandon Henderson approached the plate.

When Devin Harris took his role in the script seriously and stepped up for Part One of the Hollywood ending in the ninth, everything about that night in the jungle started to take on a mystical quality. I even developed a fondness for the half-full yellow trash can that I had been standing directly behind all evening.

My kids found some vacant canvas chairs and planted themselves there, with the blessing of a family in front of us that couldn’t quite stay off their feet.

Extra innings meant decision time for me and the other parents in the stadium. Had it been a normal night, my children would have all been in bed by that time, and I would be relaxing in the recliner. As the 10th inning opened, I gathered my two older kids – the voting majority – and told them that there was no telling how long the game might go on. I asked them what they wanted to do.

Then my 10-year-old daughter looked at me intently and said words that are music to the ears of a sportswriter/mother: “I want to see what happens.”

So we stayed, and in the end even my 4-year-old seemed to know that he was in the middle of something special, especially when we watched the Pirate players do their own version of the Lambeau Leap (the Jungle Jump?) into the arms of the Pirate Nation.

For me, the game marked the 20th anniversary of the day that I decided I would be a sportswriter. Some people stumble upon their career path by accident, but I was different. I set a course when I was 20, and I’ve stayed on it ever since. I was inspired by two things in the spring of 1989: The movie “Field of Dreams” and the farewell column that Frank Deford wrote for Sports Illustrated.

Both the column and the film reminded me that sports are about more than sports; they’re about family and forgiveness and triumph and joy and restoration. And both inspired me to find my own voice to convey the transcendence of these games.

Because of last night, I’ll have a ready answer when my children ask me, “Why did you want to become a sportswriter?” I’ll bring them right back to June 1, 2009, to our little community around the yellow trash can:

“Remember the way it felt when you gave a high five to that man who was a stranger just minutes before?”

“Remember that wave of happiness when Kyle Roller slid safely into home, how it seemed to touch every person there and make them forget anything but that singular exceptional moment?”

That, I’ll tell them, is why I do this.

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06/17/2009 01:22:00 AM

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