Monday, March 23, 2009
Nearly fifteen years ago I umpired one of my last baseball games, at St. Mary's college in Moraga - my partner was John Hege, a stocky fellow a few years my senior with a good head for umpiring and a wicked sense of humor.
The game I don't really remember, my life was changing and I still loved baseball, but I knew I was headed for different things. But I do remember the conversation John and I had in the parking lot. He told me he had joined the Oakland PD as a reserve officer - and he loved it. He spoke excitedly about being a cop, how the adrenaline he and I experienced from laying down the law on the ball field was nothing next to the rush of playing the role in real life.
I don't remember specific sentences, but I'll never forget that enthusiasm in his eyes. He had found what he loved.
I at one time had aspired to be a police officer; it appealed to me. Helping people, seeing justice served. But I knew well before my conversation with John, that such a life, while enticing, was ultimately not for me. Police work, like umpiring, was thankless - and truth be told, I am the type who would have a knot in my stomach for days after I made a bad call. I was, and still am, sorely lacking the thick skin needed for the job.
Not John. He could have a coach screaming in his face (though it didn't happen that often) and happily eject the loudmouth with a smile. Inevitably he would have a scathing joke about the offender afterwards that would leave me in stitches.
John and I, over about 4 years, maybe umpired a hundred games together. He, along with my good buddy Jay, was my favorite guy to work with. We also went to the Joe Brinkman professional umpire school together in 1991. He did well, but came down with a very nasty cold that saw him fall just short of moving on to the Major League Umpire Development program.
I lost contact with him, along with all my other umpire associates, when I moved to Tucson and away from the baseball life in 1994. I had fond memories of my time on the diamond, but my brother told me years later that I was a much happier person afterwards. Umpiring was for men of a different breed, men like John Hege.
Police work is even more daunting, and far more important. When a prowler came to my bedroom window at 2 in the morning, only 2 weeks after my little girl was born, the cops came quickly - and eventually caught the piece of trash. "Go back to sleep sir, this doesn't happen in Burbank." was what the officer told me.
Apart from the handful of instances where police have helped me directly, and even one time where they pulled me over because I matched a suspect's description, I know there are countless other instances where because of their mere presence or prior actions - I have been spared the evils of society.
I am in awe of these men and women, and I literally thank God that this thin blue line is there for me and my family.
On Sunday John and his partner pulled over a man for a minor traffic violation. The man put a bullet in John's head and killed 3 other officers before being killed himself. John as of this moment is still on life support, but is brain dead and will be allowed to go to his maker as soon as organ donation arrangements can be made.
The memory of John has been with me all day, and I am hurt and angered by the thought of such scum taking John's life. But I am also remembering the good times, and most important of all - reminding myself that John knew what he was getting into and was ready to give his life so the rest of us could be safe.
These days, my life is good. I am a successful television editor, on a show about, of all things, cops. I have seen first hand, raw footage, reel after reel after reel, of officers doing their job. Being human, yes, being tough, yes - but always having compassion and a greater need to serve their community and protect the innocent.
They are lied to, over and over and over again. And yet they keep their composure and their humanity. They pray before hitting a search warrant - pray for their safety and the safety of their families. And they pray for the safety of the suspects whose homes they are about to invade.
It will take awhile, but eventually I know I must pray for another man who now lies dead in the morgue - the man who took John's life and the lives of his fellow officers. The man who shattered the lives of the families and children, not only of the police, but of the people who knew him and probably even loved him.
In the mean time I am praying for John, that his passage into the next life will come soon and peacefully. I'm praying for those that loved him and the doubtless thousands of people whose lives were touched by his service and are now saddened at his passing.
In my mind, I can see John, that wry grin and twinkle in his eye as he stomps out to the mound to break up the coach and players bullshit session. Then he's back behind the plate, slams the mask down.
Posted by Chris Manzoni at 9:00 PM