One of the great things about sports is that you never know where a story will take you. An account of a couple of professional football running backs, one supernaturally talented, the other a plugger, can morph into the life lessons offered in Brian's Song. More often than you would expect, the topic of athletics is like a front porch, an entry point into the place where the story really lives.
Kevin Moore has a passion for baseball. Now in his early forties, he still displays enthusiasm and a good sense of humor when he speaks of his sport. But there's more to him than that, and at times he seems to be struggling to keep things under control; he can literally shake with the effort.
A solo-practice attorney, Moore toils in a small, cluttered, two-room office in a set of old duplexes in the northwest part of Denver. In addition to the standard collection of legal accoutrements -- shelves of leather-bound tort tomes, framed university diplomas -- his office is festooned with baseball memorabilia.
The collection -- stuffed mascots, programs, pennants, souvenir bats -- is a reminder of specific times and places. Several times over the past half-dozen years, Kevin and his wife and two kids, a girl and a boy, have piled into the family car to explore different parts of the country that have their own unique minor leagues. Along the way, the Moores take in a handful of games, watching as many teams as possible. After a couple of weeks, they end the trip with a stop at the nearest major-league park to watch the big boys play. Everyone has a ball watching ball.
Kevin is one of those baseball fans who love the game intuitively and unconditionally, with the same intensity of feeling that some childless people reserve for their pets. Everything about baseball is a source of endless fascination for him, and whatever character flaws the game has revealed in recent years, he has been willing to forgive.
"It's the fairest game ever invented, isn't it?" he says in hushed tones. "Everyone gets a chance. It's got strategy, pace, lingo. It's the only game in which the defense has the ball. You become friends with the people you watch it with because of the slow pace. It's a thinking man's game.
"Baseball's the game," he concludes reverentially. "I've been smitten with it ever since I could throw a ball."
You might say he was born to it. His father, Ralph Moore, was a longtime sports writer for the Denver Post. Ralph used to take Kevin to Mile High Stadium while he covered training-wheel clubs -- the Bears and then the Zephyrs -- before the Rockies replaced them in 1993.
The Moores were a big, prominent Irish Catholic clan: six brothers and two sisters. Sports in general, and baseball in particular, was one of the things that drew them all together. When the family attended a game in force, they would take up an entire row.
The kids enjoyed playing sports, too. Mike, the second oldest, was the football star, making it to college ball before running out of gas. "He was our athlete, a big, strong, fast guy," Kevin says. "Everything you'd want in a big brother."
Kevin himself attended many places of athletic worship, but he prayed hardest to the baseball god. He played third base and catcher. From ages nine through twelve, he participated in what is now known as the Connie Mack League. For a while, he was part of a talented traveling team, taking the field on diamonds across the metro area and, later, in Utah and New Mexico.
Cruelly, though, as Kevin got older, the sport he loved more than anything ended up rejecting him as unsuitable. "I never made my high school team," he says. "I got cut four years running at Regis High School. I kept going out as a matter of principle." Unable to go steady with his first choice, he played the field, running cross-country, participating in basketball, lettering in golf.
During college, then law school, Kevin continued to grow away from baseball. When Denver was finally awarded its major-league club, he'd catch the games at Coors Field. But it wasn't very satisfying.
For Kevin, whose love of the game was simple and pure, the big-time players appeared disconnected from baseball. They were joyless, serious men who seemed to be taking the field for all the wrong reasons. Kevin resented them because they didn't respect baseball the way he did. A Rockies season-ticket holder since the team's arrival in Denver, he eventually decided not to renew his seats.
Kevin's love for baseball ultimately was greater than his dissatisfaction with its professionals, and while the major league left him uninspired, he gradually returned to baseball. In some ways, it was out of his control. When his son started swinging a tiny bat at a T-ball in Little League, the sight made him remember why he loved the game so deeply.
Sabrina, his wife, had never been a big fan. But after watching the children fall in love with baseball -- "and listening to my endless droning on about the Great Game," Kevin adds -- she soon became a devotee, almost in spite of herself.
In fact, it was her idea to make a vacation out of baseball the way that Kevin remembered it. "We'd always had a hankering to see America without tourist traps and amusement parks," Kevin says.
The initial excursion was in 1996. The Moores loaded up the car and pointed it southeast. The first stop (it would become a regular on future trips) was in Colorado Springs, to savor a Sky Sox game. After that, the family saw, in daily succession, the Wichita Wranglers, the Amarillo Dillas, the Tulsa Drillers and the Abilene Prairie Dogs.
"The trip was perfect," Kevin says. It reminded him of why he'd originally fallen for baseball. In those minor-league parks, he saw a game fueled by excitement and love, not steroids and greed. The peach-fuzzed boys who were playing dreamed of the majors, naturally. But most seemed blissfully content to take the field -- grateful and astonished still to be playing a child's game on a warm summer night.
The next family journey was to Montana's rookie league. The drives were long, but that was part of the fun, too. By sheer chance, it turned out that Sabrina had planned their trip to coincide with one team's schedule. The family ended up following the Butte Copper Kings for more than a week, through Helena, Billings and Great Falls.
Once again, it was Abner Doubleday's creation as Kevin had always envisioned it: beautiful and basic and accessible. One night, with a Billings game rained out, the Moores decided to drive to the local mall -- what else can you do in Billings when it's raining? That's apparently what the entire roster of the minor-league Mustangs thought, too; after all, most of the players were still in their teens, and teens hang out at malls. The Moores passed a wonderful evening wandering around the stores with the players.
Another night, Kevin and the kids ambled out onto the field under the soft lights and mingled with the young team members. Unlike major-leaguers, the guys didn't mind at all. In fact, they seemed thrilled by the attention. One of them gave Kevin's son a bat to keep.
The minor-league life, like baseball itself, was full of endless possibility and whimsy. In Great Falls, the family pulled up to the stadium a few hours early. "While we were waiting," Kevin recalls, "this guy said, 'Can I help you?' We told him we needed tickets. He said, 'I'll set you up.' It turned out to be the general manager. I talked baseball for an hour with him while the kids played in the park." Later, Kevin and the kids chatted with an old guy who'd seen every game for the past four decades. It was heaven.
In 2000, Sabrina decided that the next baseball trip would be to California. The format was the same; the games would begin along the way. First up were the Las Vegas Stars, followed by the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and the Lake Elsinore Storm, and finishing, as always, with the major-league flourish: the Anaheim Angels. It was as the family was pulling into the Las Vegas stadium parking lot for the first game that Kevin's cell phone rang and he learned that his brother Mike had been found dead.
All big families, it seems, have their hero, the person who shines brightly in everything he does -- the one whose words and encouragement brothers and sisters try hardest to earn. In the Moore family, Mike was it. "Mike was my hero," says Kevin. "He was my mom's favorite; I think she'd admit that. He was everything. He was the star."
Still, as the weeks after his brother's death unfolded, Kevin found himself realizing that much of Mike's life had become a mystery. A few years earlier, Mike had followed a girlfriend out to Las Vegas, where he'd found work as a foreman for a cable company. The relationship had fallen apart, though, and a new woman had come into Mike's life. Her name was Jenny, and Mike boasted about her to Kevin and his brothers. She was a wonderful woman -- "a nice Catholic girl," he'd said, shorthand in the Moore family for an acceptable partner.
But when Kevin went to visit a little later, he realized that Jenny was not perfect. She had a police record, for drugs and prostitution. "It was a real eye-opener, at the least," says Kevin.
For his family, Mike's new life was perplexing. It seemed he had somehow gotten caught up in an existence far removed from his personality. Everyone knew he drank a lot. But Mike, in his disarming way, would always point out that booze was legal; besides, it never interfered with his work.
This was different, though. "He was delusional," Kevin says. Mike, he would learn later, had tried to get Jenny clean several times, enrolling her in drug rehabilitation programs. "But I could tell right away that she had no interest in being anything other than what she was," says Kevin. "It was a source of great trouble and angst to us."
Mike and Jenny's daughter, Meraya, was born on October 24, 1998. It was a problematic birth. As Kevin tells it, Jenny's physician, appalled at the level of drugs in her system, ordered an emergency cesarean section. While they were still at the hospital, a state social worker threatened to take the child away. A deal was brokered: Jenny's mother would take custody of both Meraya and Jenny's older daughter, Danielle.
Kevin heard from Mike only occasionally after that. Because Kevin was a lawyer, Mike would call him for legal advice, more often than not with custody questions. It was obvious that a gap had opened between Mike and the rest of the Moores.
Mike was found dead on July 24, 2000. At first the cause of death was ruled a heart attack. Later evidence, however, indicated that Mike may have died from a head injury. As far as Kevin is concerned, the case remains unsolved. What he does know is that Jenny was the sole beneficiary of Mike's life-insurance policy. She used the money to buy a double-wide trailer, where she now lives.
A few days after Mike's funeral, the Moores met in Denver as a family -- brothers, sisters, spouses. It was not in their nature to be passive, and they decided right then that their niece Meraya could not continue to live in such a dead-end existence. An intense discussion ensued: Who would take on the battle to gain custody of the child? "That's when Sabrina and I stepped in and said we were ready," Kevin recalls.
It was the beginning of a legal battle that continues today. At first, Kevin and Sabrina traveled to Las Vegas every six weeks or so to spend time with Meraya. They didn't want her to forget that she had a normal family, even if they didn't exactly live next door. It wasn't long before Meraya's big sister, Danielle, became part of the package, too. How could the Moores ask for one sister and not the other?
"We grew to love this child, too -- as a niece, as family," Kevin says. "We told her we viewed her the same as we did Meraya." Eventually, a Nevada family-court judge allowed the two girls to visit Denver -- a trip they've continued to make each Christmas and summer for the past two years.
Of the two, Danielle was the bigger challenge. More than Meraya, she seemed to feel adrift, with no real family to claim as her own -- with no sense, really, of what a family was. Kevin has told her over and over that she is every bit as much a part of his plan to adopt as her little half-sister. It's been hard work, though.
The struggle to adopt the two girls has consumed most of Kevin's time and energy, and he has had to place his summer minor-league vacations on hold for the past two years. He hasn't given up on the game, though.
On June 13, 2003, he saw a no-hitter during one of his visits to Nevada. The Las Vegas 51s (named after Area 51, the nuclear test site) were playing the Tacoma Rainiers. Kevin still has the ticket from the game, which he keeps on a windowsill at his law office.
He remembers the game vividly because it was the second one he'd taken Danielle to in an effort to bond with the little girl, who is now nine years old. The first time she'd been manic, a distraction. She'd bounced from seat to seat, barely noticing the action on the field. This time, however, Kevin had come up with the idea of giving her a program. As the game progressed, he taught her the arcane art of filling in a score sheet.
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The connection between the action on the field and the paper in her hand seemed to have some magical effect on Danielle. "When I gave her a score sheet and a pencil and explained that every pitch means something, it was like a light went on," he recalls. "She had control. It was an epiphany for her, and she had a great time." It was an eye-opener for Kevin, too. Baseball's calm order appeared to speak to Danielle, and it was then that Kevin first wondered if the game might possess some healing power.
Over the past couple of months, Kevin has gotten a few small breaks in the custody case. It's beginning to look as though he and Sabrina may be able to spend more time with their nieces. Kevin can't wait to introduce them to the things that mean the most to him. In short, he's finally planning another minor-league tour -- but this time, it will include two new members.
This summer's trip will take the Moores and the girls to the Midwest, through Nebraska and Iowa, and up to Minnesota. As before, the idea is to end the vacation with a big-league game -- the Cubs, perhaps, or maybe the Twins.
Kevin has faith in the trip. It is as if by putting his love and wonder for baseball on display, some of that depth of feeling may be absorbed by the girls he hopes will spend their lives with his family. "Baseball," he says optimistically, "finds a way."