Jewish World Review Oct 10, 2011 / 12 Tishrei, 5772
Outside the Park
By Mitch Albom
It was almost
I walked down a small street called
We've all seen men like this. Perhaps you ignore them, or maybe cross the street.
I decided long ago that if someone is put in my path there must be a reason, so I did not turn as I approached. Instead, I reached into my pocket.
"Hey, I know you!" he said.
Hello, I said.
"Whoa, I know you! I know you!"
He said my name, and he fumbled around as if looking for something, squatting, peeking behind the light pole. His clothes were layered, a couple T-shirts beneath a blue sweatshirt, the hood pulled over his head. He was small but trim, his face ruddy and whiskered white. It was a good, strong face, finely boned, one a director might choose to play a homeless man in a film.
"Can you sign something for me?" he asked.
He held out his small piece of cardboard with his message for help.
"This is all I got," he said.
I asked his name and he said "James" and he said "I'm 60" and I asked how long he'd been out here and he said "all night." He said
"I was an iron worker," he said. "You know Local 25? I was in that. Made a lot of things."
He glanced at the massive
"Heck, I worked on this place."
You helped build the stadium?
"I sure did. Yep. Right here."
He sniffed and shuffled his feet. He said he'd hit hard times since then, couldn't find work. He mentioned several places he'd sleep at night, a shelter on
"I'm not on drugs, I'm sober, don't do any of that stuff anymore," he said.
I hadn't asked. He said it anyhow.
As we spoke, he would offer intermittent handshakes, as if we were saying hello throughout the conversation. I felt the power of his palms, strong and meaty, and it didn't surprise me that he once worked with iron.
It also didn't surprise me that he was homeless. Men who make things with their hands are a shrinking tribe; men out in the streets are a growing one.
We spoke for 10 minutes. At one point, a stadium worker wandered over, perhaps to make sure everything was OK, as if this man might be bothering me; why else would we be talking so long?
"We're good," I said. "This is James. He helped build the stadium."
"Yeah," he echoed. "Iron worker. Local 25."
He smiled. No bitterness. No resentment. He did not look at his situation with the writer's ironic eye, as a man forced to panhandle outside a building he helped create.
Instead, when I handed him more money, he blinked, swallowed, and almost began to cry. "Aw, man," he said. He opened his arms and offered a hug, which I quickly accepted. It was the best way to hide my own tears.
There are a million stories in baseball, and, like home runs, some are inside the park and some are out. I asked James if he'd be there the next night and he said, "Definitely," and I said, "Good, see you then." Early Wednesday morning, after the game, I grabbed several boxed dinners from the press box and carried them out to
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