In an earlier post written to describe the number 9, I made a passing reference to Hank Blalock, a baseball player who wore #9 for the Texas Rangers. I promised to tell the story of Blalock and his importance to me, and haven’t gotten around to that since. But since I wound up at number 9 on the mlb.com/blogs list of fan blogs, I am duty bound–at least in my own mind–to finish this thread off. So here’s why Hank Blalock means something to me.
The story begins on a July evening back in 2003. I was outside, speaking with my neighbor about the baseball All-Star game that was going to start any minute. The game is just an exhibition, and really means nothing in a practical sense, but it was being played in Chicago for the first time in many years. I would later find out that the game was created in Chicago, as a gimmick for the 1933 World’s Fair, and was meant to be a one-time event. Its popularity with the fans, however, made the “All-Star break” into an annual tradition, as much as spring training and the playoffs in October.
This conversation with my neighbor came to a screeching halt when my wife came out to tell me that her water had just broken, and we had to get to the hospital at once. She was pregnant with our second child, but wasn’t due for another two weeks, as I remember it. Our first child had been born four years earlier–on baseball’s opening day, ironically enough–and so I was lulled into thinking that the second child wouldn’t arrive until the due date, and perhaps a few days beyond. It was clear that this memo never made it to the now-incoming little one.
We went to the hospital, with the sort of nervous excitement that rarely ever comes in life. As we got checked in at the maternity ward, everything seemed to be going along well. I wanted to be there, of course, but I’m always concerned that I’ll somehow mess things up. So I stayed in the background as much as I could. The professionals, who handle this sort of thing on a daily basis, were running the show, making sure that things went as smoothly as possible. And I was good with that.
At one point in the proceedings, I excused myself to use the restroom down he hall. Along the way, I started to watch a few seconds of the game (a few minutes, perhaps) on a television that was suspended in the hallway. And I saw that it was a close, competitive game. It was probably the most entertaining all-star game in history, for the sole reason that I wasn’t able to watch it. But I truly did have better things going on at the time.
I went back into the room where the birth was taking place, and offered whatever encouragement I could. After some amount of time (it could have been 20 minutes, or it could have been an hour) I tried to excuse myself to once again see how the game was going. At that point, I was reminded that the proceedings taking place at the moment–which seemed to have come to a bit of a lull–were more important than a televised version of a meaningless baseball exhibition. And indeed it was. That small bit of the game from before would just have to be enough.
My daughter was actually born in the early hours of the following day. For that reason, I still think of her as my little All-Star. I fell in love with her right away, as with her older sister, and I’m the luckiest man on earth to have her. But I still wanted to learn about the outcome of the game.
I went downstairs to the hospital’s gift shop in the morning, and read the story of the game-winning heroics of Hank Blalock. And, at that moment, I wondered if “Blalock” would be a suitable middle name for my daughter. “Hank” just wasn’t going to work, but I wanted some way to commemorate the All-Star game from that year, and including the name of the game’s hero in some way seemed fitting. Nevermind that the name itself rolls off your tongue with all the grace of a snowplow. I thought it would have been strange, but somehow interesting at the same time.
This notion of using my newborn daughter to pay tribute to a ballplayer didn’t last beyond the elevator ride to the maternity ward, and in hindsight that’s for the best. I love my daughter and the girlie names we did give her, and so Hank Blalock–who played a few more years in the majors but has been out of the game since 2010–will just have to get along as being the most passing fancy that I ever had in my life.