MILL RUN, PA—In a town where residents are still in shock over last Sunday's brutal mass slaying, in which a mentally disturbed man shot 17 men, women, and children in Main Street's St. John The Baptist Church before turning his shotgun on himself, last night's County League baseball game against longtime rival Uniontown was completely ineffective in mending the hurt and despair felt by those in the area.
According to those in attendance, even after the supposed natural healing powers of pitches, hits, stolen bases, ground balls, and bunts, the shooting—the first in Mill Run in over 10 years and easily the most deadly criminal incident in Mill Run's history— remained fresh and raw in the town's collective consciousness. Mill Run lost the game 7-4, though many at the game say they were still in shock over the shooting and were therefore not aware of the final score.
"I still miss my brother and my sister-in-law," still-shaken hardware store owner John Geary said after the ultimately non-therapeutic sporting event. "God, I miss them so much. Even that double by Josh [Thurman] in the fifth [inning] really didn't make me feel any better about some madman shooting them. In fact, I felt worse, because for the brief second I cheered, I almost forgot that I'll never see Randy and Melissa again, that Father Corrigan isn't supposed to ever regain consciousness, and that some of the children in this community are now parentless."
"Cheering for a stupid double in a stupid baseball game after everything that happened," Geary added. "What kind of idiot am I? Why did they even play this game?"
Mill Run mayor Frank Shultz said the game was not canceled due to his mistaken belief in the "healing power of sports" to "make everything better."
"Obviously, I couldn't have been more wrong," Shultz, who doesn't plan on attending another sporting event for a long time, told reporters after the game. "And I officially apologize to all the citizens, who need professional help, spiritual guidance, and each other's love and company far more than they needed a stupid baseball game."
"Everyone wants everything to go back to the way it was, but seeing as how a man killed 17 people in our church and then shot himself, I think I would much rather admit that things are completely abnormal at the moment than pretend that I care if we make the playoffs," said resident Diane Ward, 47, who said her shock and grief were in no way blunted by a crisply executed double play in the seventh inning.
Locals reportedly watched in shocked silence throughout the entire game, rarely reacting to the play on the field, and never with much enthusiasm. No one interviewed afterwards believed that the sight of the team taking the field was symbolic of the town's will to "continue on," took any solace whatsoever in the collective singing of the national anthem, or thought the moment of silence before the game's first pitch was "moving," considering that it occurred at the trivial and relatively unimportant site of Town Baseball Field #5 and not a more dignified location.
In fact, attendees said, at no point did anyone suffering from the pain and despair created by the massive murder-suicide, a tragedy that will forever alter this town's way of life, feel any less miserable because of the nine-inning baseball game.
"It's just baseball," said Tracey Wallace, 11, who lost both parents and her older brother in the slaying and reportedly had to be sedated to stop her convulsive sobbing after she was asked if she would like to throw out a "healing" first pitch. "Not Daddy alive again. Not Mommy back. Just baseball."
The baseball game's inability to heal the town came as a shock to many in the sports and sports-entertainment media. According to every single ESPN correspondent, Sports Illustrated editor, and every nationally known sports columnist, over the last six years the spectacle of sports has invariably allowed individuals, communities, and entire nations to almost instantly heal, and in some cases, apparently skip altogether the normal years-long grieving process that accompanies a monumental tragedy.
"I don't know what's wrong with these people," Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said on Sunday's edition of ESPN's The Sports Reporters. "Maybe they just didn't understand what was supposed to happen. First, the group experience of watching the game was supposed to show the town how strong they were/are as a community. Second, with that newfound strength, it was their role to realize they could overcome any type of tragedy as long as they have one another. Third, while the game was going on, if they observed anything positive from the home team—a clutch hit, a home run, or a well-fielded ground ball—it was the duty of those in attendance to have the epiphany that their deceased loved ones were watching from above, cheering them on from heaven, and that everyone on Earth could and should now move on."
"And most of all, those in attendance would leave the game completely healed so that everyone could see how beautiful it was that, with the aid of the eternal magic of baseball, this town was capable of healing," Lupica added. "Mill Run screwed that one up. I think these people are letting this whole church murder thing get in the way of what's really important."
Mill Run resident Tommy Shroyer, who was in the church at the time of the shooting, disagreed with Lupica, saying, "Believe me, I didn't feel that anybody was watching us from above. I felt really sad, like I was doing something stupid, because if they were watching they were probably wondering what the fuck we were doing at a baseball game."
According to Denver Post sports columnist Woody Paige, the area doesn't need time to reflect upon the tragedy.
"These sad sacks simply need more sports," Paige wrote in a piece that received over 500 positive e-mails from fans nationwide in less then two hours. "I recommend the town's mayor get his town healed by adding 20 more County League baseball games, moving up the start date of the high-school football season, and bringing players from the Pittsburgh Steelers into the school gymnasium to play a fun and heartwarming game of mandatory celebrity donkey basketball. Sports is going to heal these people whether they want it to or not."