Eight-year-old bat boy Tom Kelly Jr. knelt on his cushion to one side of the on-deck circle at Fenway Park. The storied baseball stadium was quite a sight for a first-time visitor to Boston. His erect body was alert to everything happening around him. It was obvious that he took his job with the Minnesota Twins seriously. As the manager's son, he probably had to prove himself doubly.
The duties of a bat boy are myriad. He is responsible for delivering warm-up equipment needed by batters to the on-deck circle and taking it back to the dugout when his team returns to the field. He retrieves each player's bat after his turn at the plate, takes the throws back to the dugout after infield warm-ups between innings, shags balls that go astray behind home plate, etc. The rest of the time, he stays out of the way as the play proceeds.
When Tom wasn't quietly poised for action the night I saw him, he was running back and forth performing his duties. Any runner heading back to the dugout after scoring a run was awarded a congratulatory back slap by the youth as he trotted past with the latest bat to be stowed away. After home runs, he stood sturdily by home plate to greet the returning hero.
He was almost tireless. At one point, his energies perhaps finally flagging just a bit, he threw a batting helmet toward the dugout in an attempt to have one less item to carry back after the Twins' turn at bat. It rolled to a stop halfway to its destination. Undaunted, he gathered up his armload of equipment, hurried over to the helmet, and tried to spear it with a bat. He finally succeed in getting the helmet on the bat, but lost a couple of other things as he struggled with his load. A kind-hearted player assisted him as he reached the dugout steps.
Effortlessly, he won the hearts of the crowd. We all cheered him when he caught a ball, or laughed when he did something with endearing seriousness. Perhaps without our realizing it, he spoke to us of the family nature of baseball.
In the rough and tumble of a man's sport, there was room for a small boy to take part and find a sense of belonging. It might have been easier to have had an older boy handle those chores for the team, but the players were willing to let this little fellow do some growing in their midst. There was time for him to learn the importance of maturity and responsibility while he entered into the magic of what must have been a dream come true.
It brought a focus to the evening that went beyond batting averages and team standings. It made Fenway Park a bit more intimate and humane. The players attained a dimension as people who are husbands and fathers as well as baseball heroes. It gave one a warm feeling, no matter who won the game.