In the Light
How many of you have a dog?
Raise your hand.
Don’t cheat. I can see you.
That’s probably half of you.
The other half will have a cat.
And it could be plural — you have dogs and/or cats. And/or both.
I learned something a couple of years ago about dogs though.
Stick with me, because like most of my little anecdotes … I’ll get around to it in awhile.
Remember dogs, though.
I was chaperoning an elementary school class to a Tennessee Smokies baseball game for one of the many … I don’t know what you call them: Student days?
The kids get a trip to the ballpark, get a demonstration on the ill affects of choosing bad habits in life, and get a free hot dog.
As well as a chance to get an autograph from a player.
It’s all good.
I will give Randy Boyd — who is a Republican candidate for governor — credit for expanding these “school days.”
This is not an endorsement for Randy Boyd for governor.
It is an endorsement for Randy Boyd as a community-minded kinda guy.
There used to be one or two of these 11:30 a.m. games every season, now there are … Well, more.
The first time I chaperoned, the students from the school I went with would have probably never seen a minor league baseball game if it wasn’t for this program. They attended what could be described as an “inner city” school.
They do exist.
Here’s what I witnessed:
The kids get to the stadium and they are in awe.
Just clean and crisp and just … WOW!
And the stadium? Come on, it is nothing like any of these kids have ever seen before.
And it doesn’t stop with the aesthetics … That’s just the eye-popping start for these students.
They get a lunch with a hot dog, semi-healthy baked chips, a fruit drink.
Ballpark food. Come on, who doesn’t like ballpark food?
They get a chance to meet players, who walk up and down the aisles signing whatever a fourth-grader throws in front of them — hats, t-shirts, hot dog wrappers, even an empty chips bag.
There is a program about making bad decisions — sponsored by whatever school system has sent students to the game that day.
Knox County system does a decent one — at least from what I know and what I’ve seen.
And maybe Knox County shares it’s resources on other days — like I mentioned, this “school day” program has expanded.
Once the program is over and the first pitch is thrown, the students are allowed to go get concessions.
That’s where a chaperone is needed and that’s where I used to volunteer.
Think about this: You have a group of students, fourth graders mostly, and about half are boys.
These guys are at a ballpark for the first time ever. It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s not the classroom, and girls with cooties don’t matter anymore.
It’s a sort of baseball freedom wonderworld where they can get a miniature baseball bat and/or Smokies foam finger.
Trust me, I know the most popular items.
They want ice cream, popcorn, another soda, another hot dog, nachos, more ice cream, and … A Smokies’ souvenir.
And then, “Can Mr. Leinart take us to get popcorn.”
Or, “Can Mr. Leinart take us to the souvenir store?’
Or “Can Mr. Leinart take us to get pizza?”
All right, you have 6,000 (Smokies Stadium holds something like 6,500), kids — fourth graders usually — running around … You have to keep an eye on these knuckleheads you’re in charge of.
In between the carnage of kids ripping into their ballpark eats and the school sponsored program and the game is a demonstration by K9 law enforcement personnel.
Usually right after the hot dog luncheon.
Clinton City and Anderson County K9 units have taken part. I’ve watched them.
Usually the K9 units steal the show.
Not usually. Always.
Got a better word than impressive?
Whatever description you want to use has to include “awe-inspiring silence,” a bit of laughter, and just plain admiration of skill and work — like watching a craftsman.
The K9 units search boxes on the infield looking for the one box (or back pack, or potato sack, out of 12 that holds a drug.
Silence while a dog sniffs, thinks about it for a second (having two dogs, I think the K9 units are considering speed verses treat — do they get a bigger treat if they are faster, or vise-versa? I mean, my dogs are all about treats) — and then applause when the dog picks the correct box.
Not just “applause,” either. It’s like thunderclap stuff. You know … noisy.
Seriously, it’s 6,000-pus kids, and whoever else is in the stadium, holding a collective breath while the dogs work — then euphoria.
Nothing beats watching a dog do a good deed and then getting a treat.
The best part of this demonstration is when the K9 units are allowed to show their (in a sense) teeth — as in getting some poor volunteer to run across the outfield in a rubber suit (or something very, very protective) and the K9s are allowed to pursue and submit.
I don’t think that’s the right term.
What the dogs are allowed to do is, on command, chase down a fleeing suspect, tackle them, and basically play, “You’re my new chew toy until my handler arrives so why did you run anyway and isn’t this fun … For me? And can we do it again?”
You talk about total command.
And every year I’ve chaperoned, both baseball teams — the Smokies and whatever team was visiting that day — came out on the field and watched.
No, not “watched.” They were mesmerized by the K9s chasing down a guy in a dog-proof rubber suit.
Now, I like cats, kittens, felines, etc., etc.
But cats don’t chase down bad guys and bring 6,000-plus people (along with the members of two baseball teams) to their feet.
Cats may kill a lizard and drop it in the middle of your kitchen floor — that’s what they do — but that’s also the extent of their “wow” power.
So, here’s to Randy Boyd (not as a candidate for governor, but as owner of the Smokies) for extending the “school day” programs (or whatever they are called),” and the various law enforcement officials and their K9 units for making a visit to the ballpark exciting, and to other chaperones who had to remind me that I still had a kid hanging around the ice cream kiosk.
The Smokies open at home today.
It’s an early game — 11:30 a.m. first pitch, so get there early and watch the dogs take down a rubber-suited bad guy.