Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2003

On the team

Tonganoxie 13-year-old one of 12 bat boys for Kansas City T-Bones

June 25, 2003

Erick Lowe has his own locker in CommunityAmerica Ballpark, his own officially licensed Kansas City T-Bones uniform and cap and a baseball glove to boot.

The only things distinguishing Lowe from a Northern League player are a numberless jersey -- and a few birthdays.

Lowe, a 13-year-old from Tonganoxie, was selected as one of 12 area boys to work as bat boys for the newly formed independent league T-Bones. Lowe and his bat-assisting colleagues beat out 63 other hopefuls for a rotation at Kansas City home games.

"We didn't think he would get picked," said Cathy Lowe, Erick's mother.

In February, Erick submitted an essay to the organization. The T-Bones asked why the youth should be a bat boy, and they sought a recommendation from a teacher. Tonganoxie Junior High teacher Marilyn Daniels nominated Erick. After sending in the proper literature, it would be a matter of some time before Erick knew whether he was a bat boy.

About four months later, the T-Bones notified Erick that he had made the cut.

Erick said he described two main reasons in his essay as to why he wanted to be with the team.

"I really enjoy playing baseball and I like being around it and I thought I'd learn a lot from being around the players," Erick said. "For all the players their dream is to play professional baseball and that's what I want to do."

The bat boys rotate in a three-game system -- during each game, a bat boy is assigned to right and left fields, while another is in the visitors' dugout and the last one in the Kansas City dugout.

The rotation certainly worked in Erick's favor. With a capacity crowd of around 7,000 for opening night, Erick was chosen for the first home game in T-Bone history.

"That was the funnest night because they did so much that first night," Erick said.

Along with contests for fans in between innings, the team had cheerleaders dressed in pinstripes, but with skirts instead of baseball pants. Erick, though, said he hasn't seen any cheerleaders since opening night.

"I thought they were going to do that every night," Erick said.

A baseball player himself in the Tonganoxie intermediate league, Erick is all about the baseball. His favorite thing about the stadium is the large T-Bone logo behind home plate. He even prefers T-Bones games to Royals contests because "you can get more into it."

But the 13-year-old also enjoys absurd in-between inning contests that have become a minor league trademark. Erick's favorite event is the sumo body suit race, which became even more interesting last week when it was combined with the beer mug race.

"It was a little slower," Erick said.

As much as the Tonganoxie bat boy enjoys the shenanigans, he found that opponents don't always share that sentiment.

While in Kansas City more than a week ago, Winnipeg Goldeyes manager Hal Lanier became disgruntled with the contests -- he even yelled at participants. A former major league player, Lanier managed the Houston Astros in the 1980s.

"He wasn't nice about it either -- he was cussing at them," Erick said. "It was kind of funny."

Erick might not have been a bat boy if it wouldn't have been for an aunt. She was looking for try-out information about the actual team for her son, but stumbled across the bat boy contest instead.

After finally learning that he would be a bat boy, Erick, the youngest of four brothers, an accomplishment to show his siblings.

"He said, 'Finally I get to do something my older brothers never did,'" Kathy said.

One of Erick's favorite T-Bones is Allen Shrum, a 6-3 200-pound catcher from Chico, Calif. Shrum just happens to remind Erick of older brother Ryan, a former Tonganoxie soccer and football player. A placekicker at Hutchinson Community College, Ryan booted a 50-yard extra point after the Blue Dragons incurred a slew of penalties.

"He kind of acts like him," Erick said with a slight grin.

Being at the ballpark allows Erick to enjoy games from a prime location, but the job isn't all peanuts and crackerjacks.

Erick has to vacuum out the visitor's locker room and pick up any extra equipment in the dugouts. Because of rain the day before, the T-Bones had to play a doubleheader June 13. That meant Erick didn't return home until around midnight from the ballpark.

But with the tough jobs come the rewards. Erick watched newly acquired firstbaseman/designated hitter Eddie Pearson hit a game-winning home run game one of that doubleheader. Pearson's locker, by the way, is adjacent to Erick's.

Able to reel off names of players instantly, Erick also has kept tabs on the T-Bone trading block, which included Pete Rose's son leaving Kansas City for the Joliet Jackhammers in exchange for four players.

Erick hopes to return to CommunityAmerica Ballpark next season as a bat boy. If not, he likely will be back to see his favorite team in what he views as baseball's purest form.

"The thing I like about it is it's not a farm team, it's the Northern League," Erick said. "They play for themselves and not a professional team."

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