When Hall of Very Good founder, Shawn Anderson and I sat down and created the Glenn Burke Memorial Courage Award, our ultimate goal was to find people who embodied what Glenn stood for: being you in the face of adversity/stigma/segregation and standing up for what is right.
My hope is that by the time you finish reading all of these articles, you see this year’s winner, Jon Teig, as not only a courageous young man…but the epitome of what Glenn Burke stood for.
On most summer evenings, you’ll find Teig in his Cedar Rapids Kernels (the single A-affiliate of the Minnesota Twins) uniform picking up bats and shagging foul balls. Teig, now 28 years old, has been the official batboy for the team since he was 13. Any player who passes through the Twins or Los Angeles Angels farm system simply knows him as “Jon-Jon”. You would think that by now he would have a room full of autographs and collectibles, but you would be wrong.
Teig doesn’t ask for autographs, because why would you ask your friends for their autographs? His friends include: Mike Trout, Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos, Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, and Ervin Santana.
This is the life that Jon-Jon leads and he does not think anything of. That’s because he is a man who has autism.
When we first debated on whether or not to choose Jon-Jon for this honor, I actually felt like another person was more deserving. That was until Shawn spoke with Jon-Jon’s father, Bob.
In that conversation, Bob said to Shawn that the younger Teig would be happy to receive the award…but he won’t understand why. To Jon-Jon, he is simply doing his job. He doesn’t think of it any differently than you or I when we wake up to head to work.
This hit me very hard.
Jon-Jon isn’t just the batboy; he is kind of like the team parent. He picks up the clubhouse, cleans the bottom of players’ cleats so they aren’t caked with mud and occasionally washes a uniform or two. Jon-Jon is never late to the ballpark and is usually the last one to leave, not because he is trying to be heroic…but because it is his job.
One of the biggest symptoms of people with autism is a preoccupation with certain objects or subjects. In Jon-Jon’s case, the Kernels and his role on the team are that object/subject. It is because of this aspect of the disease that this young man has no idea that what he is doing is heroic. This kid is just doing his job, as far as his father can tell.
This is where I fell for Jon-Jon. This is also why he was the only choice to receive this honor.
Glenn Burke never asked for special treatment, nor did he think that being an openly gay man mattered. Jon Teig is no different than Glenn. Neither man believed that there was any reason for them to receive special treatment, because…that’s just who they are. Both men love(d) baseball with a fire and passion that is unmatched by mere mortals. And neither of these men believe(d) that they are above the game or anyone else who is involved in the game.
That is the ultimate definition of a hero.
A true hero never realizes what they are until someone tells them, or at least that is what comic books have taught me. Heroes also do not ask for any praise or rewards (unless you count Iron Man, but that guy is not your typical hero is he?). They just go out, do their job to the best of their abilities, and go home. Real heroes don’t care about awards or personal accolades. In sports, real heroes care about the team and their teammates.
They use their strength to will others to be better.
Jon-Jon could not care less about getting this award from us. His life will change 0% because of the honor we are giving him. He will still head to the ballpark tonight, put on his uniform, make sure all of the guys are hydrated, and scrape mud off of cleats when it is all over. Sure he may look at the plaque from time to time, but he will never be able to fathom why he has it. That is something I, personally, cannot relate to. Maybe that is why I am a huge Jon Teig fan.
The Glenn Burke Memorial Courage Award means a lot to me. Shawn and I spent two years trying to get the okays to make it a reality. I think that it only fitting that, in its second year of existence, we give it to someone like Jon. This serves as a reminder to all of us that awards don’t matter. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Thank you, Jon. You are my hero.
The Hall of Very Good™ Class of 2015 is presented by Out of the Park Developments, the creators of the wildly popular baseball simulation game Out of the Park Baseball. Out of the Park Developments has made a generous donation to The Hall.