Baseball gives you time to enjoy the day and visit with your neighbors | NevadaAppeal.com

Baseball gives you time to enjoy the day and visit with your neighbors

John L. Smith

A river of Clark County School District fifth-graders pours from yellow buses, meanders around Cashman Field and into the mouth of the ballpark Tuesday morning.

They are officially here to watch the Las Vegas 51s play the New Orleans Zephyrs in a Pacific Coast League baseball game, but only a small percentage of the young crowd stays focused on the playing field.

They are all elbows and fidgets and endless chatter. Kids at that age can outtalk an auctioneer without stopping to catch a breath. They possess so much energy it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever slow down, grow up, and have families of their own.

But the river flows, the outs and innings tick by.

“It’s like an anthill out there,” 51s General Manager Don Logan says. A proud father, between pitches Logan blurts out that his own daughter, Adrienne, is graduating from high school in a few weeks.

That’s one of the beauties of baseball. It gives you time to enjoy the day unwinding under a brilliant blue canopy. You can keep score, razz the umpire, cheer a deftly fielded foul ball, eat a hot dog, and visit with your neighbor.

I watch my own fifth-grader, Amelia, take in the scene. She acquires 51s mascot Cosmo’s autograph, then piles mustard, ketchup, onions and relish on a hot dog and starts at one end. She’s one happy fan.

Next to us, in a 51s cap and T-shirt, Dana Lane studies game stats and drinks a cup of coffee. He drives the noon-to-midnight shift for Checker Cab and spends most of the rest of his waking hours thinking of his 3-year-old daughter, Emily.

I personally have never met a cabdriver. I have met musicians, boxers, writers, sock salesmen, and cowboys who happen to drive cabs. So it is with Lane, who is a bright guy with a college degree writing a memoir of his time behind the wheel.

He’s scheduled to work four shifts a week, but this is Las Vegas, and four shifts turns to five, and five to six. He makes good money and has piled up colorful stories.

But the time away from his family has taken its toll. He took the job to make more money for his wife and daughter, but now he’s separated from his wife and has to hustle to see his daughter.

On the field, a 51s player hits a long foul ball, and the crowd of giggling children goes wild. Beatles concerts didn’t have this kind of fan reaction, Lane says. He shows everyone Emily’s picture on his cell phone, and tells a stranger he’ll pick his daughter up after the game.

“If I had some sort of normal schedule, then I could be with her more,” Lane says. “The job really puts you in a Catch-22. I think, ‘If you left the job, you’d have to downgrade the way you live.’ But if I left I’d feel like I was downgrading the way my daughter lives, the way she looks at me. It’s a very hard decision to make.”

It’s a dilemma experienced by legions of shift workers in Southern Nevada, people for whom the thought of a 9-to-5 life is a fantasy as fleeting as a morning ballgame. They run cocktails, pitch cards, park cars, drive cabs at all hours, and they make good tokes for their time. But those jobs can grind away at the foundation of their families.

Over the years, I’ve watched scores of couples struggle to balance shift work and children. I remind Lane that a lot of gaming industry employees know where he’s coming from, and he agrees, but adds, “I wish I had their eight-hour shifts, I can tell you that.”

On the field, the 51s fall behind by five runs before rallying to make the game close. The players won’t find more appreciative fans than the ones rattling around Cashman today.

But soon the mass of fifth- graders winds back onto the buses, and the place goes quiet.

I spend the rest of the day thinking how our children flow past us in a river of time, and all we can do is swim.

Later I call Lane to ask him a question.

He tells me he’s waiting to pick up his daughter.

I hear the joy in his voice.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.