Greens comforted by baseball family

John Green is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s also the father of Christina Taylor Green, the smiling little girl who many Americans can’t and won’t forget.

Green loves his job. He is terrific at what he does. He earns a living for his family by doing it.

Yet there is heartache attached to it, too. Green spent around 200 nights on the road last year. He cherishes the other days, when he can enjoy the simple pleasures of being a father. But a nation is mourning now, because the nights at home won’t be as rich as they should have been.

Christina is gone, one of six victims in a shooting last Saturday that has left the country anguished and heartbroken.

She was buried on a sun-splashed Thursday, beneath a bright blue desert sky. Thousands gathered in and around the Catholic church on a dusty road, assembling in the morning and lingering until mid-afternoon, just as children in the neighborhood started walking home from school.

Then the cars rolled away, crunching gravel beneath their tires. The sewn-back-together American flag recovered at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001 — the day Christina was born — will return to New York.

But the vigil isn’t over. Not for the scouts.

They compete against one another all year, trying to outwork and outwit the next guy in order to sign the best ballplayers. They are big boys in a big-money game. They want to win. But when they learned last weekend that the little girl from Tucson was John Green’s little girl, well, the scouts did what scouts do: They booked flights.

Logan White, Green’s boss and close friend, counted more than 50 scouts among the congregation Thursday. And that number included only those he saw. White was seated up front, near the family. Again, that tells you something.

Those scouts understand the full scope of this tragedy in a way that the rest of us can’t, because John Green’s sacrifices are their own. They know the time he spent on the road — and the time he will never get back.

That is why, when Christina’s funeral was over, so many of them drove back to Green’s house for a reception.

“We want to work in a kids’ game,” White said over the telephone, as the guests arrived. “It’s a game we love, and that’s wonderful. But there are so many sacrifices.

“You can’t join the Lions Club. You can’t join the Kiwanis. We’re 24/7 baseball. It’s almost like working in a game within a game. It gets a grip on you. Finding players isn’t the difficult part. It’s the hours on planes, driving, traveling. Everybody understands that. It’s an unspoken thing. We know what we’re going through.”

So they traveled here this week, instinctively fulfilling President Obama’s call for national empathy even before he made it. And they came from all corners of the country — including the Northeast, despite the severe winter storms there. The show of support wasn’t surprising — and that made it even more impressive.

Darnell McDonald, an active player with the Boston Red Sox, surprised Green by attending Christina’s wake on Wednesday evening. Green, while scouting for the Baltimore Orioles, signed McDonald to his first professional contract 14 years ago.

When a visitor stopped at a Tucson coffee shop on his way to the funeral on Thursday morning, only two patrons were seated inside. One was Billy Owens, a high-level scouting and player personnel executive with the Oakland Athletics.

Owens has known John Green since the early 1990s. Both men played baseball at the University of Arizona.

“That’s the brotherhood of the scouting community,” Owens explained. “If you had an opportunity to be here, you needed to be here.”

Green’s official title is “national crosschecker,” a job many Americans — even many American sports fans — know very little about. Its essence is this: Every year, roughly 1,500 baseball players are selected in an amateur draft that covers the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The 30 major-league teams try to observe, evaluate and interview as many prospects as they can.

Green has scouted for the better part of two decades. Now he has a job that is hard to get and even harder to perform. Based on initial reports from area scouts, he identifies intriguing players and travels to see them. He talks with those who have insight into their character — parents, siblings, coaches, teachers. Anyone. Then he recommends which teenagers might deserve million-dollar signing bonuses.

In fact, John Green is known for doing so without equivocation.

“He’s a bulldog,” White said. “If he likes a player, he goes to bat for him. When you hear John Green say, ‘I like this player,’ it’s really hard not to listen. He’s not a fence-sitter. He will tell you if a kid can play or not.”

Green is able to show such conviction because of the legwork he does. He saw a lot of players last year. Often, he saw them more than once. That is the essence of good, thorough scouting. That is also why the scouting life is so hard on families.

Even under ideal circumstances, it is difficult to be a great scout and a great father at the same time. But John Green, by all accounts, has been that for Christina and her brother, Dallas. White remembers Green altering his schedule last year so he could be certain to attend Christina’s dance recital.

“John does as great of a job of balancing as anyone I know,” White said. “He’s a quality-time guy. He would always throw batting practice to the kids, push them in the swing or take them to the pool. He mixes the two really well. And he’s got a phenomenal wife (Roxanna).

“Christina really was a special kid. She was the best of both of them: Roxanna is beautiful, graceful, polished in a lot of things; John is tenacious, tough, doesn’t back down from anything. She would have been a phenomenal leader in anything she did.”

Baseball was a common interest for John and Christina, who famously declared her intent to be the first woman to play in the major leagues. After all, it is the family business. John’s father, Dallas Green, pitched in the majors before managing the Philadelphia Phillies to a world title in 1980.

John Green, who has an engineering degree, could have picked a career that didn’t involve the long, unpredictable hours. He could have chosen a line of work where he would be free from the inevitable comparisons to his father’s many accomplishments. But none of that seemed to interest him.

In the 20 years the two have known each other, not once has White heard his friend mention anything about working in an industry other than baseball.

“I don’t think he’s even thought of it,” White said.

John Green loves baseball. That is obvious. But on Thursday, by counting the dozens of men who joined their traveling family in a time of tragedy, we learned something far more profound.

When a mourning father needed it most, baseball actually loved him back.