By TOM MAY
August 22. It is the 234th day of the year. There are 131 days remaining until the end of the year. There are 126 more shopping days until Christmas. There are 101 days until Indiana does not play Kentucky in college basketball.
During the years, Aug. 22 became the birth date for The Food Network’s Giada DeLaurentiis and Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend Valerie Harper. It is the birthdate for famed NFL coach Bill Parcells and Boston’s Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski.
American singer-songwriter Tori Amos was born on this day, as was French composer Claude Debussy. Science fiction and fantasy author Ray Bradbury called Aug. 22 his birthday, as did playwright James Kirkwood, Jr.
As the sun peeked above the plain on Aug. 22, 1956, about a thousand residents awakened in a sleepy berg in Oklahoma on scenic U.S. Route 66 eager to find their morning paper. Commerce had no newspaper of its own, but its connection to the stories of the outside world was printed in the News-Record, a daily trucked in from nearby Miami, Okla.
The front pages of the newspaper might well have been void of any ink, for everyone in Commerce thumbed quickly past them to the pages containing the real news of the day, coverage of America’s Favorite Pastime.
The Yankees had opened a series in the Bronx against the Cleveland Indians. Future Hall of Famer Herb Score had shut out the boys in pinstripes 3-0, but Commerce’s own center fielder, Mickey Mantle, had managed to get a hit as he chased baseball’s elusive batting prize, the Triple Crown.
Elbows leaned against the Coca-Cola machine outside of Commerce’s only gasoline station, a locally owned Conoco franchise. Could Mantle actually end up leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in? Would the Yankees go on to win another World Series? Might Mickey be the star?
Smiles creased their faces as they recalled the high school Mantle who played circles around all the other boys.
Today in that same Oklahoma village, the population has burgeoned to around 2,500 residents. Famed highway Route 66 still flows through the middle of the town. The News-Record is still brought in by truck and still carries the baseball scores, although technology has provided more connections with the outside world than just the paper. And today, in that same Oklahoma village, the thoughts and attention of the citizens are again focused on a baseball player.
Flowers, Australian flags and small picket signs pepper the road side where a senseless shooting had taken place. Christopher Jones, a catcher for East Central University Tigers’ baseball team, was gunned down by three youth, two under the age of 17, as he was jogging.
One of the alleged murderers claimed it was a random act of violence, an idea hatched because they were bored. Players, coaches and students are visibly shaken. Friends and family are broken. Two-hundred and seventy-five miles away in Commerce, elbows lean against the Coke machine and simply can’t understand why.
Nearly two thousand Augusts earlier, elbows of about 70 men who followed a rabbi named Jesus leaned against fig trees awaiting the harvest. Their teacher told them to leave their chores and go to a real harvest field — hurting people who needed to hear a message of a God who loves and is gracious. The Creator of the universe had a purpose for everyone and is ushering in a kingdom. They were to tell the people to prepare for it by repenting — turning from a life that didn’t care about the future, that gave no thought to the feelings of others, that conjured up sinful acts just because.
Their mission was to carry good news until the end of the age.
Perhaps if we did a better job of carrying good news, we wouldn’t have to be burdened by so much bad news. Perhaps then the folks in Commerce could talk about a boy in pinstripes playing in the Bronx instead of a boy in a casket.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.