(from Boston baseball, June 2019)
You’ve seen him at the ballpark, an hour or two or three or four before the games in khaki shorts and a polo shirt, sometimes carrying a rake or dragging a hose, walking across the field. You’ve likely seen Drago, his almost supernaturally well-behaved German Shepherd service dog, too, either at his side or not very far away, ready whenever he is needed.
I’m talking about David Mellor, Fenway’s Superintendent of Grounds, aka the groundskeeper. He and his staff have been responsible for maintaining Fenway’s field since 2001, and he’s also behind the designs you see mowed and rolled into the outfield grass that make Fenway’s field the most distinctive in the major leagues. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
I met David a few years ago to help him with a book project, and in our first conversation we realized we had more than a few things in common. Like David, I grew up in small Ohio town and as a kid was all about baseball. Like David, I was a high school pitcher dreaming of the majors, at least until I blew out my shoulder. But there’s more. Twenty years later I played for an over-30 team in East Douglas, Massachusetts. David told me his grandfather, Big Bill Mellor, who played first base for the 1902 American League Baltimore Orioles, later coached Douglas team in the semi-pro Blackstone Valley League. I played on the same field as his team, and Dave and I discovered we both had a copy of the same team photo, one that not only included his grandfather, but also a nineteen-year-old Hank Greenberg, and Will Jackman, the Satchel Paige of New England.
David was a better pitcher than I was and had a chance to play in college after high school, hoping to one day take the mound with his favorite team, the Red Sox. Then one summer evening he was walking across the parking lot of McDonald’s and a car roared into him, ripping up his knee and pinning him up against the restaurant wall. That began a long and often tortuous journey that would one day bring him to his current role with the Red Sox, where he’s probably spent more time on the field than any player on the roster. I won’t give away the rest of his story, but the next twenty-nine years of his life were dominated by nightmares, anxiety attacks, and flashbacks and other symptoms. He didn’t know why, suffering in silence even as he experienced even more traumas, including, remarkably, being struck by another car in the outfield of Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
It took David twenty-nine years before he realized he had PTSD. Once he did, he sought the help that has changed his life. David wanted to write about his experience to help others understand that PTSD isn’t just something that afflicts veterans of combat, but by a variety of traumas, physical and emotional. More importantly, David wanted readers to understand that a PTSD diagnosis isn’t hopeless, that it’s never too late to get help and seek treatment. His book, One Base at a Time, comes out this month.
But I’m here to tell you that his story is about more than PTSD, and that you need not suffer from PTSD or have been hit by a car and have your dreams crushed in order to benefit from reading the book. You see, in the process of helping David, which entailed hours of extensive interviews and conversations as David entrusted me with his story, I experienced these benefits first hand. I’ve been pretty lucky in my life and am fortunate not have experienced David’s kind of pain and trauma, but life hasn’t always been as smooth as the infield dirt at Fenway Park, either. When I helping David shape his words into a book, I wasn’t in a very good place either, deep in a hole I wasn’t sure I’d ever escape, feeling as vulnerable and alone as I ever have. But, one word at a time, in David’s story I found little parts of my own, and in David’s journey toward healing I found the confidence and strength that I, too, would one day find my way back out. I eventually did, and I think readers of this book, in their own way, may have a similar experience. Inspiration can be very powerful.
I also learned that David is one of the nicest guys on the planet. Every time we speak or email each other, without fail, he thanks me over and over and over again for helping him out. Well, I don’t think I ever really told David that that as much as he thinks I was helping him, for much of that time it was really the other way around. By trusting me to help share his life with others, he was really helping me recover mine. Today, David is proud to call himself a PTSD survivor, and as the very first reader of his book, I am proud to call him my friend and brother, and prouder still to have been fortunate enough to be the first person One Base at a Time helped find healing.
So buddy, this time it’s my turn: Thank you, David. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
David Mellor will be signing copies on June 11 @ 5:30 p.m.at the Red Sox team store at Fenway.. Glenn Stout’s most recent book is the New York Times bestseller The Pats. His last baseball title, The Selling of the Babe, winner of SABR’s Larry Ritter Award, provided the definitive account of the sale of Babe Ruth and its impact on the game. www.glennstout.net