We got to Truist Park before the gates opened. There were multitudes swarming the gates, sort of like the Children of Israel waiting to enter the Promised Land. Except this Promised Land had nachos.
I weaved through the Biblical throngs, making my way to the main office where I was given an unofficial press pass because I am a writer.
Over the years, I have learned that writers get lots of unique privileges. I have been fortunate enough to experience many exciting situations, simply because I was a writer with a press pass. A 24-hour layover in Philadelphia International Airport is only one example.
“The press does not get free beer,” I am told by an Atlanta Braves employee. And by the way the employee says this, I get the impression that writers with press passes are the reason this rule is in place.
Before I entered the park, I passed through a metal detector, emptied my pockets, recited my ABCs backward, etc. Then, they gave me several official bracelets, lanyards, badges, and a gentleman performed a cavity inspection. And I was good to go.
Next, I was immediately greeted by Larry, my personal tour guide for the evening. I don’t know Larry’s last name, but I know he’s from Chesterfield, South Carolina, because it was on his nametag.
Larry escorted me to batting practice on the field.
Larry is 66 and cheerful. He is an easygoing guy with a raspy voice reminiscent of Louis Armstrong. On our journey through the stadium, everyone, apparently, knew Larry inasmuch as we were greeted by dozens of employees and volunteers who gave him high-fives, handshakes, and fist bumps. Everyone likes Larry.
“You’re a popular guy,” I say to Larry.
He shrugs. “Been here a long time.”
Larry started with the Atlanta Braves organization when he was much younger. “At the time, I’s working three jobs at the time, putting my kids through school. Shoot, at one time in my life, I was working four jobs. I wasn’t never sleeping. You know how it is.”
Larry was hired as a wheelchair pusher. His job was to escort wheelchair users all over the enormous park. He pushed chairs all over creation. He pushed chairs up steep ramps, into the parking lots, and helped disabled park goers into their vehicles.
During baseball season, Larry was logging hundreds of miles each week.
“All I did was push chairs, and I loved it. Best job I ever had. Met folks with diseases, illnesses, lotta cancer patients, elderly people, sick kids, and every kind of disability. Everyone come here to enjoy baseball, so that’s what I help’em do. I took their mind off the hard stuff. You know how it is.”
He wheeled people around the stadium. He made sick children giggle. He escorted elderly fans to the restrooms, he stepped in for caregivers, and he was occasionally a shoulder to cry upon. He helped the weak, the infirm, and the dying.
In his first year working for the Atlanta Braves organization, management voted Larry employee of the year. At the time, there were 3500 employees working for the organization, but the guy from Chesterfield with the raspy voice just stood out.
“I ain’t never forget that day,” he said. “They had me walk down onto the field, they give me a jersey signed by the whole team, in a framed glass case. Everybody was clapping for me, folks was crying, and it was the highlight of my life.”
He pushed wheelchairs for nearly a decade. Sometimes every day of the week. Sometimes, fans visited the park just to see Larry.
“I miss pushing the wheelchairs,” he said. “Miss meeting all the people. But it’s the other employees’ turn now, it’s their turn to make someone’s day. Because that’s what it’s all about, you know? Making someone’s day. You know how it is.”
You know how it is.