Michiana Chronicles: Model Citizens

Sep 14, 2018

Former President Jimmy Carter greets South Bend Cubs fans at Four Winds Field in August 2018.
Credit Sid Shroyer

It was my good fortune to be in attendance the evening that the Carter Build Habitat for Humanity folks treated themselves to a night out at the South Bend Cubs game at the end of August.  I would have been on the couch at home, otherwise, checking the TV for the latest episode of “What Goes Around Comes Around,” if my buddy Doug Snyder had not called the night before and said,

“The season is about over; we need to get to a game, tomorrow or Thursday, whaddaya say?” and I voted for Wednesday. How many two dollar beers can I drink on Thirsty Thursday, anyway, and Doug said, “Okay, maybe we’ll see the Carters,” and I said,

“Really? The Carters are going to the game?” 

Doug has his finger on the pulse like nobody’s business, and if Doug says the Carters are going to the game, then, definitely, the Carters are going to the game.

“Yeah,” said Doug. “The President, Jimmy, and Rosalynn. They’ve been in town all week with that Habitat for Humanity thing.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

It’s hard for me to think of two famous people I hold in higher esteem than the Carters, so even though I’m way past the age when I should be enamored of celebrities, I was really excited to think I might get to see them the next night at the ballpark that is five minutes from my house.

I’ve seen pictures of the Carters in the stands at Atlanta Braves games. It makes sense to me that they’d be at Four Winds Field.

It’s hard to imagine them on the red carpet at the MTV awards or all dolled up for the latest release at Cannes Film Festival; it’s not hard to imagine them in the ballpark in anybody’s hometown anywhere. The Carters aren’t really celebrities. Fame is not their thing, but it can be a useful tool for promoting a humanitarian project, for promoting humanity.

As we usually do Doug and I agreed to meet at the flagpole behind home plate at 6:45, and so on that night, walking down South Street at 6:43, I saw  ahead of me the commotion the Carters created before I understood that they had created it, people gathered respectfully around them for pictures and autographs and best wishes as they entered the ballpark. By the time I figured that out, though, and before I got close enough to participate, they were inside. ‘Thirty seconds,’ I told my self. ‘I could’ve parked half a block closer.’

“They just went in,” I told Doug when he walked up on the Taylor Street side of the park. “I just missed them.”

The best part of the game occurred when, without fanfare, the former President and First Lady took their seats on the balcony of one of the suites just to the first base side of home plate, before the first pitch.

The crowd recognized them in a gentle wave of applause that rolled out along each side of the field until it extended into the outfield and to every corner of the ballpark, even into the dugouts, in a spontaneous expression of gratitude, that gradually built to a sustained standing ovation, for the work that they do, and, I think it’s fair to surmise, for the people that they are.

Two innings later the owner of the team provided the crowd a video tribute to the former President and  First Lady and to the Habitat for Humanity organization, closing with what he had intended to be their introduction to the crowd, which was, of course, a wonderful gesture, and as it turned out a little redundant, but they stood again, to acknowledge our appreciation, and we stood again, too, but I think both sides of that equation felt a little odd, because we’d taken care of that already, without anyone telling us that we had to, on our own. In fact, we’d taken care of it in a more sustained and sincere manner that first time, on our own.

That annoys me, by the way, about the modern spectator sport spectacle, with the ever-present assumption that I need to be told when to cheer, or applaud, or stand up, or dance, or sing, that is, to act like I’m posing for a picture. But, honestly, I didn’t really intend to do a rant about the slick veneer of insincerity that glosses over almost everything in the 21st century public square. Here.

Because in this instance, public figures of such great integrity as Rosalynn and her partner, former President Carter, came to my town for all the right reasons and what I simply want to say is that I am thankful that we got to let them know we appreciate it. That’s what I want to say.

Around the fifth inning, as Doug and I headed down to the right field corner for a Ben’s Soft Pretzels pretzel, apiece, with the mild sauce, there in the concourse behind home plate were the 94-year-old former President and the 91-year-old former First Lady, at the end of what had been a long hot day at the work site, and a public appearance at the ballpark, standing outside the air-conditioned comfort of the owner’s suite saying hello, greeting children, smiling, and posing for pictures.

Music: "Love" by Paul Simon