Over the years, especially recently – and almost exclusively -- with the quality work of Assistant Editor Andy Harris, there have a number of great stories in The Suburbanite about the Akron RubberDucks, the Class AA Eastern League affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
That’s understandable, for there’s a lot of great stuff to write about with the Ducks, Summit County’s only professional sports team. They advertise themselves as "affordable family fun," and that’s exactly what they are. Sure, going to Canal Park in Downtown Akron affords fans the opportunity to watch the possible future stars of the Indians, but in reality, with all the fun, ancillary things for kids and their parents to do, Ducks games can best be described as Cedar Point with a baseball theme.
With all that having been said, though, here’s an important story about the Ducks that hasn’t been told, and probably won’t be anywhere else other than here. But it needs to be.
Oh, yes, it definitely needs to be.
It comes with the passing of Christine Ball due to cancer. She was 58.
Christine Ball? You might say, "Who the heck was Christine Ball?"
The Ducks have a lot of fans – just look at their home attendance figures every year, a compliment to Green resident Brian Flenner, who is the team’s director of ticket operations – and there are no doubt any number of those who may claim to be the club’s No. 1 fan. With all due respect to those people, Christine was unquestionably their No. 1 fan, and has been for quite a while.
Christine and her husband of 25 years, Tom, residents of Akron’s Goodyear Heights neighborhood, have been Ducks season-ticket holders since the franchise moved to Akron from Canton 20 years ago, in 1997. Their seats were right behind home plate in the first row, on the aisle. But they rarely sat there.
They would always arrive early (season-ticket holders can get in before the gates open), sit in the top row of their section, along the main concourse, and take in batting practice, fielding practice, last-minute field preparations and all the other things that go on before games. Those are the things that only real baseball fans – people who have pine tar, resin, warning-track gravel and that clay-colored infield dirt burned into their soul -- yearn to see.
And Christine loved baseball. She really loved baseball. I think she loved it more than life itself at times. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who loved it as much as she did. If it were up to her – and I know she wished that it was – baseball season would never end. It would go on all year. During the cold months, they would simply move the games indoors.
When the regular season started to wind down every year, she was the saddest person in the ballpark, almost as if she were going to have to bid farewell to a good friend for six months.
While she followed the Indians from her native Cleveland, the Ducks, based in her adopted hometown of Akron, a short drive from her home, were No. 1, just like she was.
But if the truth be told, she rarely got to focus long on the pre-game activities, or, for that matter, also the in-game activities, such as simply watching the action. She was too busy entertaining an endless stream of people, from Ducks employees, including owner Ken Babby and General Manager Jim Pfander, to other fans and friends – she had all kinds of friends – who would stop by to chat on a regular basis.
That’s because Christine was a joy to be around. She was a kind, considerate person and a tremendous listener. It was never, ever about her. You had to pry from her personal information, not because she was an ultra-private person but rather for the fact she believed that you were much more important than her. So she would immediately start asking you questions regarding your day, your life, your hopes and dreams and your struggles.
She had an encyclopedic memory and would remember everything about you. That fact – and also that she was really, truly concerned and interested – was incredibly impressive. In a world where a me-first mindset seems to exist everywhere and anywhere, Christine really stood out because she built her life on a you-first theme.
To everyone who stopped by, she would remind them to come back later for another visit before they headed home. More importantly, she meant it.
Indeed, while Christine and Tom paid for their tickets, the Ducks should have really been paying them, for they had no better ambassador – baseball in general, especially of the minor-league variety, had no better ambassador and the Akron area had no better ambassador -- than her.
It won’t be the same going to Ducks games next season – and for seasons to come – without Christine Ball there.
You hear that all the time in sports – all sports at all levels – about special managers, coaches and players who leave their team in the offseason and will be sorely missed. Everyone wonders how the team will go on without their presence.
But when is the last time you heard that said about a fan?