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A Death in The Family
JOE POSNANSKI
January 24, 2011
His fellow scouts see him on television, just as they have seen him a hundred times behind home plates at high school, college and AAU games across America. They can't help but notice him. Some baseball scouts stand out among the crowd of polo shirts and radar guns that swarm the fields where young talent blooms. John Green is 6'3" and around 220 pounds. "He's a lot like John Wayne," his close friend Logan White says. Other scouts put it this way: They say John Green is simply too big a man to miss.
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January 24, 2011

A Death In The Family

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His fellow scouts see him on television, just as they have seen him a hundred times behind home plates at high school, college and AAU games across America. They can't help but notice him. Some baseball scouts stand out among the crowd of polo shirts and radar guns that swarm the fields where young talent blooms. John Green is 6'3" and around 220 pounds. "He's a lot like John Wayne," his close friend Logan White says. Other scouts put it this way: They say John Green is simply too big a man to miss.

Most baseball scouts do not know him, of course, not really. Scouts from different teams can't get too friendly. But in a larger sense they all know him. His story is their story. John grew up around baseball—his father, Dallas, was a big league pitcher and then a pretty famous manager and executive—but John loved the game on his own terms. He studied engineering at Arizona and pitched in the minors but became a baseball scout. When he was starting out with the Orioles in the 1990s, he probably put 400,000 miles on that old Honda Civic as he drove from ballpark to ballpark. He was pretty wild back then—"a mischievous guy, a prankster," White says. He can remember one time when they were both scouting and slept on picnic tables to avoid the rattlesnakes. It's a long story.

And, sure, some baseball scouts never quite grow up. Most do, though. John married Roxanna. They had a son, Dallas, and a couple of years later (on Sept. 11, 2001—a blurry day of joy and sorrow) they had a daughter, Christina. John would share his feelings of missing them while on the road. "That's really what we talk about," Red Sox scout Dave Klipstein says. "Baseball and how we are away from family."

Yes, John Green's story is their story—an endless road trip, clicking a stopwatch when batters touch first base, a patient and independent wife, beautiful young children, an almost desperate love for the game. Now the other scouts see him on television, and he persists through the cracks in his voice, interview after interview from his own living hell—"We had nine beautiful years with Christina," he says. They wonder where he finds the strength. They wonder if they could find the strength.

The tragedy has been told over and over: a cool Saturday morning in Tucson ... a gathering for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords ... a madman with a gun unloads his weapon at 10:10 a.m ... 14 people hurt ... six people dead ... the youngest, a nine-year-old girl named Christina Green.

Christina had gone with neighbors to meet Giffords because she thought she might like to get into politics. That's how the Greens do things. They follow their hearts. When John was a low-level Orioles scout he was invited to a team party, where he saw club president Larry Lucchino standing alone. The other scouts kept their distance. John walked up to the boss and said, "Pretty nice spread, eh, Larry?"

Everyone says Christina had Roxanna's grace and John's spirit. Of course she played baseball, the only girl on her Little League team. Of course she was elected to her student council. Outside Mesa Verde Elementary her schoolmates would put up a memorial for Christina with teddy bears and ballet slippers and posters. One friend, Paige Carlin, simply wrote down words that described Christina. BASEBALL. READING. PRETTY. ANIMALS. POLITICIAN. MATH. FUNNY. The biggest word on the page was HAPPY.

"Yes, I saw her a few times; we all did," Royals special assistant Luis Medina says. "John brought his family with him a lot the last couple of years. She was a beautiful little girl, inside and out. You could tell the first time you saw her."

Green is now a national cross-checker for the Dodgers, evaluating other scouts' recommendations, and White is the team's assistant G.M. White has a memory burned in his mind from just a few months ago: the Greens at his house in Gilbert, Ariz.; John pitching to Dallas and Christina in a backyard batting cage. "I don't know how to put this into words," White says, his voice cracking. "I have watched John grow up to become this wonderful father and ... then this ... this is so senseless."

A baseball scout tries to see little things. This, at heart, is the job. Anyone can see the big things—speed, power. But a scout, a good one, spends his life watching little things in the hope that he might see something everyone else misses. In the days after Christina was killed, there was so much talk. The President addressed the nation. Politicians and commentators and Tucson residents made their points about the nation's tone and about where to lay blame and about madness. It might seem strange, then, that the most hopeful words were the ones spoken by a baseball scout facing the unthinkable horror of burying his nine-year-old daughter.

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