"I hate these events." Sonny Evers was talking to no one, and everyone, in the Padres locker room. He continued to vent; "First day off in a month and I have to spend it making small talk with people more interested in my stats than in me."
The event in question was a tour and mixer for season ticket holders. The visitors would get to see the stadium, then a meet and greet with the players, and finally up close at a limited batting practice and warm up session on the field. The Padres did this three times per year, limited to 50 fans per session. This one, in the last week of August, was the third and final one for the season It was the first since Ginny Baker had been called up. The whole team was in the meeting room, in uniform, waiting for Oscar to arrive with the fans.
Ginny was about to say something when Mike Lawson, her catcher and team captain stopped her. "Let it go. He does this rant every time we have one of these events. He'll be fine by the time they get here."
This time, however, Sonny added a new wrinkle. "At least this time they won't want to talk to me. They're all here to see you, Baker. The rest of us could quietly slip out and not a one of them would even notice."
Now Ginny did respond; "I didn't ask for this. I just want to play ball and maybe get noticed based on how well I pitch."
Sonny didn't let up; "You're full of it. You love every bit of the attention you're getting. If you didn't you wouldn't be doing late night TV and having huge parties sponsored by Nike and putting on that non-stop social media onslaught and doing all those photo shoots. Is there a magazine you haven't been on the cover of?"
Ginny shot back; "Just because I'm taking advantage of the publicity I'm getting doesn't mean I like it. You think I like having to keep my blinds closed because there are telephoto lenses pointed at my windows 24/7? You think I'm happy there are a million pathetic geeks getting off to my picture every night? This is my first day off in a month too. You think I want to spend it being paraded around like a show pony for a bunch of people who think they own me because they have thousands of dollars of disposable income and can't find anything better to do with it than go to ballgames?"
Ginny turned to see Oscar and the fan group, many with their phones up and recording, standing in the double doorway of the meeting room.
Oscar continued with his prepared speech;"Ladies and gentlemen, your San Diego Padres!" The fans came into the room. "I need to talk to Ginny privately for a moment. Go ahead and chat with the rest of the guys and we'll be right back."
Ginny followed Oscar down the hall to an empty office. "Ginny, do you think it's possible you could go a week without giving me a PR problem?"
"I'm sorry. Sonny was ranting and giving me a hard time..."
"I don't care what prompted it. You're going to go back in there and apologize to each one of those people individually. These are our best and most loyal customers. Make them want to continue paying your salary."
Ginny did as she was told. Most of the fans were understanding. They had jobs where they sometimes had to do things they weren't enthusiastic about. A few were upset at her characterization of them as dilettantes who used their money strictly for their own entertainment. She wound up having to commit to several personal appearances at charity events in the off-season to smooth things over.
The event was on a school day, so the group was comprised almost completely of adults. The lone exception was a blonde girl who was about eight years old. She wore Ginny's jersey, but she and her mother had carefully avoided Ginny during the mixer. Ginny had spoken and apologized to everyone else, so she went over to them.
She spoke to the mother first; "Hi. I'm Ginny Baker. Glad you could make it."
The mother shook Ginny's hand; "I'm Nicole Chesser, and this is Kim. She's been your biggest fan."
"Is that so? Nice to meet you, Kim." The girl burst into tears. Ginny got down on her knees in front her. "Why are you crying?"
"You were my favorite player ever. I had to beg mommy to let me skip school so I could meet you in person. I did extra chores. Then we got here and you said you don't want to see us."
"Well, Kim, I'm sorry I said that. I didn't mean it."
"If you didn't mean it, why did you say it?"
"That's a very good question. Kim, I'm really happy you look up to me. But there's one thing you should always remember. I'm a person, just like you. I make mistakes, just like you. I make them every day. Right before you came in some of the other players were teasing me and I got upset. Sometimes when people are upset they say things they don't really mean. You've done that before, haven't you?" The girl had stopped crying was nodding slightly in agreement. She did so more vigorously to this question. "It's bad to say mean things about people, even when you're upset. You know what you do when that happens? You apologize and you do your best not to let it happen again. Kim, I'm truly sorry for what I said. Do you forgive me?"
Kim nodded again, now smiling, then hugged Ginny around the neck. There was a collective "aww" as Ginny hugged her back and she noticed that whole group, players and fans, had gathered around and almost all of them had their phones up and recording.
It was Oscar who broke up the scene. "Alright everybody, let's get down to the field and see some action."
As they started walking, Ginny looked at Kim; "Did you bring your glove? I need someone to toss with?" The girl looked crushed as she shook he head no. Ginny smiled broadly; "That's OK, you can use mine."