reprinted from the Readers Digest
A Fan's Notes
by Bill Plaschke
The Sarah Morris Story
A sportswriter thinks he's met another crank. Instead, he finds a
Bill Plaschke predicted doom for the Dodgers.
Plaschke criticized...Plaschke forgot...Plaschke compared unfairly... The Dodgers need encouragement, not negativity. ...
That was part of a 1,200 word screed e-mailed to me in December 2000, a holiday
package filled with colorful rips. It was not much different from other nasty letters I receive, with two exceptions.
The note contained more details than usual "You're an idiot," It included on-base
percentages and catcher's statistics. It was written by someone who knew the
Los Angeles Dodgers as well as I thought I did.
And this note was signed. The writer's name was Sarah Morris.
I was impressed. I wrote her back. Little did I know that this would be the start of a most unusual relationship, which is now being recounted from a most unusual place. I am writing from the floor, Sarah Morris having knocked me flat with a punch I never saw coming.
May I ask you a question? For two years I have been running my own website about
the Dodgers. How did you become a baseball editorialist? That is my deam.
This was Sarah's second e-mail, and it figured. Every time I smile at someone they
ask me for a job. But about the last line. The part about "my deam."
Maybe Sarah Morris was just a lousy typist. But maybe she was truly searching for something, yet was only one letter from finding it.
It was worth one more response. I asked her to explain.
I am 30 years old. ...Because I have a physical handicap, it took me five years to complete my associate's degree. ... During the season I average 55 hours a week writing game reports, editorials, researching and listening and / or watching the games.
Sarah called her website Dodger Place. I searched, and found nothing. Then I reread her e-mail and discovered an address buried at the bottom: http://members.tripod.com/spunkydodgers.
I clicked there. It wasn't fancy. But she covered the team with the seriousness of a
writer. Still I wonder is anybody reading?
Nobody ever signs my guestbook. I get one letter a month.
So here was a physically handicapped woman, covering the Dodgers as extensively as any reporter in the country, yet writing for an obscure website with an impossible address, with a readership of about two.
That "deam" was missing a lot more than an r, I thought.
I started my own website in hopes of finding a job. No luck. So what if my maximum typing speed is eight words per minute because I use a head pointer to type? My brain works fine. I have dedication to my work. That is what makes people successful.
A head pointer?
I asked her how long it took her to compose one of her usual 400-word filings.
Three to four hours.
I did something I've never before done with an Internet stranger.
I asked Sarah Morris to call me.
I have a speech disability making it impossible to use the phone.
That proved it. This was obviously an elaborate hoax. This writer was probably a 45-year-old male plumber.
I decided to end the correspondence. But then I received another e-mail. In words with an inflection that leapt off the screen, Sarah Morris spoke.
My disability is cerebal palsy. ... It affects motor control. ... When my brain tells my
hands to hit a key, I would move my legs, hit the table, and six other keys in the process.
When my mom explained my handicap, she told me I could accomplish anything I wanted to if I worked three times as hard as other people.
She wrote that she had become a Dodger fan while growing up in Pasadena. In her
sophomore year at Blair High, a junior varsity baseball coach asked her to be the team statistician. She did it with a typewriter and a head pointer.
Her involvement in baseball had kept her in school, she said - despite her poor grades and hours of neck-straining homework.
Baseball gave me something to work for. ... I could do something that other kids couldn't. ... I wanted to do something for the sport that has done so much for me.
Okay, so I believed her. Sort of. Who, in her supposed condition, could cover a baseball team without the best equipment and help? I was curious, so I figured I would drive over one day and we would chat.
I live in Anderson, Texas. It's about 85 miles from Houston.
Texas? That seemed like a long flight to see a little rich girl bang on an exensive keyboard.
By now it was spring training, and I would have forgotten the whole thing. Except
Sarah Morris began sending me her stories.
Every day, another story. Game stories, featured stories, some with missing words, others with typographical errors, but all with obvious effort.
Then, fate. The Lakers were involved in a playoff series with San Antonio, I had one free day in Texas, and she lived about three hours away.
I asked if I could drive over to see her. She agreed, giving me detailed directions involving farm roads and streets with no names.
I drove east across the stark Texas landscape. On a winding dirt road dotted with potholes the size of small animals, I spotted what looked like an old toolshed.
But it wasn't a shed. It was a house, a decaying shanty surrounded by tall grass and junk.
Could this be right?
Then I saw, amid a clump of weeds near the door, a rusted wheelchair.
PS we have dogs.
Did they ever. A couple of creatures with matted fur surrounded the car scratching and howling.
Finally, a woman in an old T-shirt and skirt emerged and shooed the dogs away.
"I'm Sarah's mother," said Lois Morris, grabbing my smooth hand with a worn one. "She's waiting for you."
I walked out of the sunlight, opened a torn screen door and moved into the shadows, where an 87-pound figure was curled up in a wheelchair.
Her limbs twisted. Her head rolled. We could not hug. We could not even shake hands. She could only stare at me and smile.
But that smile! It cut through the gloom of the battered wooden floor, the torn couch and the cobwebbed windows.
I could bear to look at nothing else, so I stared at that smile, and it was so clear, so certain, it even cut through most of my doubts. But still I wondered. This is Sarah Morris?
She began shaking in her chair, emitting sounds. I thought she was coughing.
She was, instead, speaking. Her mother interperted. " I want to show you something," Sarah said.
Lois rolled her back up to an old desk on cinder blocks. On the desk was a computer.Next to it was a TV. Her mother fastened a head pointer around her daughter's temples, it chin strap stained dark from spilled Dr. Pepper.
Sarah leaned over the computer and used her pointer to call up a story on the Dodger Place website. Peck by peck, she began adding to that story.
She looked up and giggled. I looked down in wonder - and shame.
This was indeed Sarah Morris. The great Sarah Morris.
Lois asked me to sit. There was some things that needed explaining.
This shack was an inheritance from Sarah's grandmother. When Sarah's parents divorced, they moved here.
"The hardest thing for Sarah was leaving her Dodgers," Lois said.
So she didn't. She used her disability money, and loans, to buy the computer and the satellite dish that allows her to catch every game.
The Dodgers challenge her on bad days and embrace her on good days.
I asked what her Dodger Web page represented to her.
I asked how she feels when she is working.
I had contacted Sarah Morris months earlier looking for a fight. I realized now, watching her strain in this dark room to type words that perhaps no other soul will read, that I had found that fight.
Only, it wasn't with Sarah. It was with myself. It is the same fight the sports world experiences daily in these times of cynicism. The fight to trust that athletes can still be heroes.
In a place far from such doubt, with a mind filled with wonder, Sarah Morris brought me back. I had not wanted to walk in those shadows. But two hours later, I did not want to leave.
Sarah asked her mother to wheel her outside. I grasped one of her trembling hands She grasped back with her smile.
I climbed into the car and rattled down the dirt road. Through the rearview mirror, through the rising dust, I could see the back of Sarah Morris's bobbing head as she was wheeled to that cinder-blocked desk.
For she, too, had a game to cover.
After this story first appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers hired Sarah Morris to write for their website, dodgers.com. Her own site, renamed dodgerplace.com, now gets 500 visitors a week.
God Bless, Sarah Morris and Los Angeles Sports writer Bill Plaschke. Thank you.
And kudos to the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
I have been in contact with Sarah this week and she will be providing us with reports, when the Los Angeles Dodgers come to St. Louis in July.
And, please keep Sarah in your prayers.
Rev. Ray Mileur