By Daniel Savitzky
2012 Murray Scholar
* USC Annenberg student Daniel Savitzky wrote the below column as part of his application for the 2012 Murray Scholars program.*
They say that baseball is a game of failure, but Eric Calhoun isn't buying it. America's pastime is the greatest icon of his wildly successful life. Eric, 38, has been attending Southern California baseball games for the last 15 years. He goes to USC games and UCLA games. He goes to Loyola Marymount games and Pepperdine games. And he goes to all of them alone. In fact, he said he hasn't missed more than one or two USC home games since 1998.
It's an impressive feat unconditionally, but once you see Eric deliberately clutch the railing as he approaches the stadium, and once you see him unfurl his metal walking stick to negotiate the steps to his seat just in front of Dedeaux Field's press box - in ear's range of the play-by-play announcers - that's when you realize that Eric is blind. He'll go on to tell you that he has been since birth. Only then do you realize just how incredible a person Eric really is.
"Most think of blindness as the end of the world," he said. "But I see it as the opposite. You have to live life as if you really care."
In many ways, Eric's love for baseball fulfills that personal credo.
His public addiction to the game is surprising, given that he has never seen it or played it. But when his mother took him and his sister to the Virgin Islands so she could go to college, Eric fell for the country's trend of listening to Los Angeles Dodgers games. It was baseball's enchanting qualities as a radio sport, Eric said, that made the sport an irreplaceable part of his life.
"There was something special about the voices I heard. They were so inviting and it made me feel like I was included in the game," Eric said.
That feeling of inclusion is invaluable for Eric. He lives in Crenshaw now, and he cannot help but deal with intolerance on a daily basis. He has been kicked out of restaurants, clubs, and other events just because he's blind. But Eric has never been kicked out of a baseball game.
"The fields are my sanctuaries," he said. "This is where I can go to forget about all my cares. I go home and I encounter a lot of gang violence, and the police can't always protect the area. At baseball games, I'm immune to that."
Unfortunately, that immunity has its boundaries. Dire financial straits are a limiting factor for Eric and his mother, Lorine, who scrapes together money selling homemade jewelry in order to support Eric's habit. His mother worries about him all the time, as he'll often come home at 3:00 a.m. in a very dangerous part of the neighborhood. Eric even had to use his senses to cross the street before gun shots went off not seconds later. But he didn't need any help.
"I don't need anyone to teach me street smarts in this neighborhood," Eric said.
"When he hit 21, he was like 'Mom, I don't want you to take me anywhere. I'm gonna do it on my own,'" Lorine said.
These poor conditions have had no effect on one of the kindest young men you will find in the city of Los Angeles, and he always brings an upbeat attitude and beaming smile to USC baseball games. They're often lightly attended, but that doesn't stop Eric from confidently breaking the silence with a cheer. "Go back to sleep, Utah," he yelled at a mid-March game against the Utes. His "Here we go, Trojans" chants always get a number of supportive claps from appreciative fans, but he is so much more than a cheerleader.
Given his disability, Eric has an immaculate sense of the game, constantly aware of the scene. Eric's more reliable than a box score when it comes to the game's situations, but he makes his mistakes. A Utah player went down with an injury late in the game, and Eric thought it was a mound visit. He yelled out, "Quit stalling!" before nearby fans corrected his error. Eric isn't afraid to make mistakes anymore, and he just went back to cheering relentlessly. His positive attitude is unflappable.
Despite his pristine attendance record, Eric has inspirations beyond college baseball. He tried once to go to school, but the daily workload was too much more him. Now he wants to take online journalism courses once the season is over so he can learn the trade and cover games as a professional, if his passionate hobby of being an internet DJ doesn't get in the way.
"I'd love to be able to cover the games as a journalist because I can bring a perspective to the game that very few others can," he said. "Maybe I can make some people understand how I follow a baseball game."
That's a worthy goal.
Until he meets it, and he will meet it, Eric is perfectly content growing older in the confines of USC's Dedeaux Field. The PA announcer wished this "Trojans superfan" a happy birthday to the crowd, and when he heard the applause, he couldn't help but crack a smile and wag his head just a little in a show of pride.
There is so much when he can learn from Eric's bravery, determination and positivity, even though he can't help but feel left out every time Alex Sherrod pokes a seeing-eye single to the outfield. Baseball might very well be a game of adversity and resilience, but you'd better believe that if Eric could play the game, he'd step up to the plate thinking hit.
He wouldn't accept anything less.