This came across my Twitter feed late yesterday afternoon:
My mom introduced me to Ronnie Roberts two years ago. I’d driven down from Pennsylvania for a Lynchburg Hillcats game — it was Margaritaville Night, and my brother’s company was the night’s t-shirt giveaway sponsor — and at the table where you picked up the t-shirt on the concourse my mom was talking to him. She was telling him that I went to a lot of baseball games, that I have a strange but personal system of keeping score, things of that nature, and Ronnie, who didn’t know me and had never met me before, was interested. I showed him my scorebook, and I shared with him an anecdote I thought he’d find of interest…
A few years earlier, in 2015, I went to Harrisburg for a Harrisburg Senators game. It was late summer, Labor Day weekend, a Sunday afternoon game between the Senators and the Akron RubberDucks. When the line-ups were announced on the videoboard pre-game, two of the Rubberducks players, Bradley Zimmer and Nellie Rodriguez, appeared, as midseason promoted players often do, in the uniforms of their previous team. In this case, the Lynchburg Hillcats with the old-style lynx logo.
I had seen Zimmer and Rodriguez in Lynchburg that year. (And also, Clint Frazier.) I’d visited my parents in May, and my dad, brother, and I went to see the Hillcats play the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, so I was aware of them. (Zimmer, of course, has made the show. Rodriguez, on the other hand, may be playing indie ball this year, assuming there’s a season; he’s signed with the York Revolution.) This proved fortuitous because, two rows in front of me in the bleachers, was a group of Rubberducks fans from Akron. When Zimmer shanked a ball in an early inning down the right field line just to the right of the foul pole and I said aloud to no one but myself, as I wrote in my scorekeeping notebook, “He had the distance, but not the direction,” they turned to me, asked if I were a Rubberducks fan or even from Akron, and then engaged me in conversation throughout the game when they discovered here was someone who could talk to them knowledgeably about at least some Rubberducks players, at least until they left in the late innings. After the game, I walked across the Walnut Street Bridge into Harrisburg and had dinner at an Irish pub just off Second Street.
I told Ronnie this anecdote — the first half of it, anyway, about seeing Hillcats gear on the Harrisburg video board — and he was deeply interested. I didn’t want to keep him — he was the team’s Assistant General Manager, I believe, and he was trying to distribute the t-shirt — and I said that the next time I was in Lynchburg for a Hillcats perhaps we’d talk again, but he told me he was retiring after the season. He was glad we’d met, though. He liked meeting a serious fan. We never met again.
If there’s one thing I know about Ronnie Roberts from reading about him, it’s that my experience was not atypical. He loved baseball. He cared about the players. He cared about the fans. He wanted people to succeed. He wanted people to have fun. And he wanted people to take something meaningful away from the game that had brought him so much enjoyment over his life. The city of Lynchburg, the baseball community there, and baseball in general are all poorer without him.
I saw on Twitter a few weeks ago that he was entering hospice care in North Carolina. Cancer, if memory serves. I hope that, in switching off, it was peaceful for Ronnie.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s this — every connection we make in our lives, no matter how fleeting, is meaningful. Ronnie found a conversation with one random fan meaningful enough to engage in, and I found a conversation with a stranger meaningful enough that I can tell you all of that above. Our connections are part of the journey, and the communities we build and choose to be a part of sustain us along the way.
Article on Ronnie Roberts from the Lynchburg News & Advance here.