Our baseball trip in 2003 consisted of a tour around our home area, Cincinnati. That is, we traveled to northern Ohio, through Indiana, western Tennessee, northern Georgia and Alabama, north to Kentucky and back to Cincinnati. Well, not exactly, Cincinnati, but close. Florence, Kentucky—across the river from Cincinnati—had started an independent baseball team, the Florence Freedoms, but the stadium was not yet built. So, in an effort to still host home games, the team played in a community park in Hamilton, Ohio, some 50 miles north of Florence—and about 15 miles from Ginny’s parents.
Taking advantage of free room and board, we stayed with the Skinners for a couple of nights and in return took them to see the Florence Freedoms play the Evansville (IN) Otters. That night was the first time we saw Jason Tuttle. We saw him play, but we didn’t remember him. Not right away.
The game was uneventful—Florence won 8 to 5. The seats were hard, being run-of-the-mill aluminum bleachers found in all community parks. The food was uncreative, dogs and peanuts. But this is not the purpose of the story. Five weeks later we saw Jason Tuttle again. This time, we were at Batavia, NY, one of our favorite parks (just 30 miles from our home). Batavia was playing the Vermont Expos (now the Vermont Lake Monsters) Before the game, Ginny was perusing the players’ stats that included the previous team they had played for and she noticed that one person had just moved from the Florence Freedoms to the Expos—Jason Tuttle. She leafed back in her scorebook to that previous game and found that we had indeed seen him play in Hamilton. She excitedly punched Dan and pointed out her find. At that moment, the player in question came out of the dugout and stood looking out at the grounds crew on the field, as if he’d been summoned by mental manipulation. Dan said, “There he is. Go talk to him.” Ginny said, “No. You go. You’re on the end.” Dan replied with a poke in her ribs and said, “You’re prettier.” Ginny glared at him, then mumbled something about “pathetic men” and made her way over to the edge of the dugout. (Batavia’s field is very small and intimate, so it’s easy to speak to the players without shouting at a distance.)
When she reached the player, Ginny said, “Mr. Tuttle.” She’s always polite that way—even though she probably could’ve been his grandmother. Well, to be fair, at least his mother. The young man turned, something like suspicion on his face. She said, “This sure beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio, doesn’t it?” It took a few seconds for the sentence to register. She hurried on: “We saw you play for the Freedoms a few weeks ago. You hit a single that night.” Then he smiled. He probably didn’t have any groupies. So she forged ahead: “We live in Rochester, but we were down visiting family in Ohio when we saw you.” He replied, “Yeah, I was just traded. And this is better than Hamilton!” She wished him good luck and returned to her seat. Every time Jason came to the plate, we would cheer for him. He’s not big or muscular. In fact, he’s rather short. And he didn’t hit the long ball. But he is one of the fastest runners we’ve ever seen. He could hit a little blooper past the pitcher and leg it out to be on first before the second baseman knew what to do with the ball. And he hustled! He played outfield and if anything even came remotely close to him, he was scrambling for all he was worth to retrieve that ball and get it to the appropriate player.
Two nights later, we were back in Batavia—we said it’s one of our favorites—and the Expos were still there. After we’d been in our seats for a while, Mr. Tuttle ran over to us. We’re not hard to find, always sitting behind homeplate. Through the netting, it was easy to see his excitement. He asked, “Were you here last night?” No, we couldn’t make it. “I hit a triple!” he blurted. Dan replied, “Are you kidding?” “It was great!” He was practically dancing with excitement. Ginny said, “I’m sorry we missed it.” Jason’s smile could hardly be contained to his face. Being away from home, it seemed for that moment we were surrogates for his family. And we were happy to oblige. We chatted for a while, then he returned to the dugout and we cheered him on through the game. He didn’t hit a triple that night.
After that, Dan kept track of Mr. Tuttle via the Web. He was traded, released, and picked up by an independent team, the Grays, in 2005. When Dan found out that Jason would be playing in Elmira, NY, we drove the two hours to see the game. After we found our seats, Ginny walked over to the Grays’ dugout (without being coerced this time) and requested to speak to Jason. When he came out of the dugout, puzzlement on his face, she said, “Mr. Tuttle, I don’t think this place beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio.” He smiled widely. She added, “You remember us?” His smile widened further: “Oh yeah, at Batavia.” “Well, Dan’s been following your career since then and when he saw you were playing here, we had to drive down.” Surprise colored his face: “For me? How long was that?” “Two hours, but we like baseball.” He seemed flattered—maybe he still didn’t have any groupies. “Wow, thanks.” Ginny knew not to draw things out, so she wished him luck. He smiled again and said, “Thanks for coming.” Of course, we cheered for his every at-bat. But he didn’t hit a triple then either.
That was the last time we saw Mr. Tuttle, which was too bad. Jason seemed to embody the genuine spirit of Minor League Baseball. He hustled, he dove for the ball, he strove every minute to play his best and to support his team. After seven seasons in the minors, never quite making it to the “Show,” he had accumulated a 296 batting average, a 362 on-base percentage and a fielding average of 984. The last team he played for was Sioux City, Iowa, in 2008. Last year, Dan actually tracked down Jason’s wife on Facebook, where he had a very friendly exchange with her about the husband for whom we once were groupies—if only for a short time. The Tuttles have a child now and Jason is doing some coaching at a sports center. We’re sure that he’s encouraging his young protégés to hustle out there on the field, no matter their size or age.
When we’re in his neck of the woods, we plan to look him up and ask him if it beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio.