For those who follow minor league baseball, there is an awareness of the relationship that a team may have with its host city. Teams typically build a connection with fans through shrewd marketing, creative promotions designed to appeal to families as a whole, and presenting themselves as budget-friendly and broadly appealing entertainment.
From time to time, a team may connect with its community in a much more profound way. Those moments are few, but when they do occur they create a bond between team and city that often resonates throughout the years.
Since 2001, the Class A Lexington Legends has been a part of the community of Fayette County in Central Kentucky. At first the Astros' representative in the South Atlantic League, and for the past four seasons a member of the Royals organization, the Legends often draw well and have made more than a few fans on promotions alone; the concert series "Red, White and Boom" comes immediately to mind as a fan favorite.
Like most teams, they have a dedicated and fervently loyal band of season ticket holders, and host families who are more than happy to share their homes with players who are, quite frankly, often broke and in need. In the early Summer and late Autumn, a mild and gentle breeze wafting through the stadium couples itself with glorious sunsets just beyond foul territory on the third-base side of the diamond, and it feels just as close to paradise as one could imagine.
Every team, even in the low minors, has its own Hall of Fame. There have been a number of players who once wore the "Big L" who have made it to the Major Leagues. Players like Jose Altuve, JD Martinez, Terrance Gore, Mike Foltynewicz, and Nick Tropeano are only a few of those lucky and good enough to make the grade. Many more will follow, without question. A great many more have come and gone with little more than scattered remembrances of their brief moment of glory, fighting to keep their dreams alive against oppressive odds. Thousands of players will come and go without so much as an afterthought; that is the nature of professional baseball, at all levels.
The word itself, "legend", can fire the imagination in a number of ways. Perhaps in the simplest terms, a legend is simply something or someone who is memorialized in such a way that they are unlikely to pass from contemporary memory. Most of us, frankly, will pass through this life with little more than a few mentions on Facebook and warm recollections from our family.
There are moments in time, far too many, in which legends in the making find their lives abruptly and brutally cut short. Tears are shed, words of comfort are offered, but there are no explanations that can alleviate the pain and anguish felt by those left behind. We are left with questions that cannot be answered, and are faced with the prospect of trying to heal emotional wounds that often leave much deeper scars.
In the early morning hours of October 16th, just outside of a downtown Lexington restaurant, two cars suddenly opened fire on one another. A fifteen year-old high school student named Trinity Gay was in the area at the time, and though she was not involved with the young men who had so carelessly shot at one another, she was nevertheless a casualty of their private little war.
Trinity was the daughter of Olympian track star and Lexington native Tyson Gay, a legend in his own right within the athletic community. Trinity was the fourth generation of her family to excel in track, specifically as a sprinter in the 100 and 200-meter event. She had begun to compete at local, state and national events in sixth grade, and as a student at Lafayette, she had won titles in both events. Trinity excelled in her studies as well, and had dreams of becoming a doctor. She had many friends, rare talent, and was intelligent and compassionate. By all measures, Trinity had a bright future.
On October 16th, she was shot, wounded badly in her neck. Less than an hour later, she was gone. However unintentional, it was no less tragic.
We all deal with pain and loss in our own way. If we are strong enough, we can find constructive ways in which to channel our anger and sadness. It comes more naturally for some than for others.
Dani Greene is a mural artist. That is to say, she channels her emotions into artistic works which may cover entire walls. As she states, matter-of-factly, it comes naturally to her.
"I've been doing many types of artwork since I could hold a pencil," she said. "It's just always been a part of my life; I've never really put it down."
Greene has left her mark, so to speak, on many a wall in the Central Kentucky area. As with many artists, she paints with passion and raw emotion; three years ago, she painted a large mural on the side of a non-descript gas station on the north side of town. This was her memorial to her friend, Mukeshbhai Patel, a 51 year-old man who worked there. On December 9th, 2013, Patel was shot and killed in a robbery at the station. An 18 year-old man (boy? child?) was charged with the shooting.
Dani's reasoning was simple enough: she just wanted to do something that would serve as both a memorial to her friend and a reminder of the alarming prevalence of gun violence in this country.
Naming well-known artist and PBS regular Bob Ross as her inspiration and hero, Greene is quick to mention that her mother was always supportive of her artistic pursuits. She said that her mother, who has since passed away ("she's guiding me from Heaven," said Greene), told her about her earliest artistic work.
"My mother said that the first time I could hold a pencil, I drew a cat," Greene said, laughing. "I had a cat at the time, so I guess I just drew what I saw."
Her efforts were not always so well received.
"Once, I got hold of a Sharpie and drew on the car. That wasn't good," Greene laughed.
Greene has painted a number of murals, some for local interests, but many simply as tributes to victims of gun violence. She feels, simply, that she has to do something to raise awareness about what is a critical issue in cities nationwide. There is virtually no place in the country that remains untouched by gun violence, and Greene speaks as if she feels the pain of loss so often experienced by those affected by this epidemic.
"We've had four incidents this week where kids were caught bringing guns into school (in Lexington,)" Greene mentioned. "I'm trying to bring awareness to a problem we have in Lexington."
"I'm not looking for notoriety," she added. "If more people are able to see that it's a prevalent issue and become more aware of this problem, then maybe people (will begin) taking action."
As Trinity Gay joined the far-too-numerous victims of gun violence, Dani felt a special need to memorialize a young lady with an amazing future ahead of her. Greene began immediately, seeking donations in order to make the mural a reality. The donations are for paint, supplies and equipment; Greene, reportedly, was not paid a dime.
A mural artist requires a canvas on which to paint. In this case, the canvas is an entire wall. Enter Lexington Legends team president/CEO and local supporter of the arts Andy Shea. Greene needed a wall; Mr. Shea provided it.
"Andy's a really cool, laid-back individual," Greene commented. "He's just really down to earth, and he took the time out to just sit and chat with me. He appreciates my art, and I appreciate his opinion."
On November 15th, with local support building steadily behind her, Greene and fellow artists Callie Barnett and Raymond Mueller began work on Trinity Gay's memorial mural. In what Greene refers to as "painting it forward", the trio has worked tirelessly to complete the mural. While temperatures were initially unexpectedly mild in the city, a 36-point drop did little to slow their efforts.
As they worked at their canvas, the local news networks picked up their story. Soon, it was mentioned on CNN. ESPN contacted the artists, as well. A number of local businesses gave their support. The mural, ultimately, would cover a width of approximately 75 feet, reaching about 20 feet high. It was no small undertaking.
"The community has been 95% positive in response to what we are trying to do," said Barnett, who is collaborating with Greene and Mueller for the first time. "A few nay-sayers here and there, but we expected that."
Mueller stated that this was an altogether new experience for him. "I've got a few projects around town, but not nearly the amount that Dani has," he said, also mentioning, "This is, by size, the biggest project I've been involved in."
"We did not expect the love and support from people who were just stopping by to let us know how much what we are doing means to them," Barnett added, "but we are grateful for it."
As drivers head toward downtown from the outer loop, Whitaker Bank Ballpark features prominently to their right. Home of the Legends, the northeastern wall now bears a monument to a life ended tragically soon in a senseless, violent act, in which she had no part but for which she suffered, nevertheless. It depicts an image of Trinity in her track uniform, next to the simple phrase "Pass The Baton". As Greene poignantly stated, this will not be the last memorial she creates.
"We've got seventeen murals planned, all victims of gun violence," said Greene. "It's just something I feel like I need to do."
Each minor-league team has its own approach to how it connects with the local community. Often, it is a connection built over many years, through special promotions, partnerships with local businesses, and so on. For one Sally League team, there is now a bond with the city it represents that will stand for as long as the park exists; a memorial and tribute to a life filled with promise and potential.
Perhaps summed up best by Greene herself, "She's forever a Legend, now."