While sitting behind the third-base dugout watching the Bend Elks take on the Bellingham Bells Friday evening, Bend’s Judy Darrow became fixated on the young girl running back and forth from the dugout to home plate retrieving the bats of the Bells’ hitters.
“She was living my dream of being a bat girl,” said Darrow, 82.
In the series finale of the Bells-Elks on Sunday, Darrow joined the young girl, 9-year-old Peyton Johnson, in the Bells’ dugout, fulfilling her dream of 70 years. She wore a custom-made baseball shirt with blue sleeves that had “Bucket List Day” embroidered on the front and “82” on the back.
“It felt really good to make her dream come true and I know she had a lot of fun,” said Johnson, a soon-to-be fourth-grader in Bend.
Darrow let the younger bat girl chase down the bats throughout the course of Sunday’s game, but when the home plate umpire had to take a quick break after being struck with a ball, out trotted Darrow with a cup of water for the ump.
Several things needed to fall into place for the dream of 70 years to come true on Sunday. Had the Bellingham Bells not been playing in Bend, Johnson would not have been tasked with snagging the bats after Bells’ players at bats, and Darrow would not have seen her doing the job she had once longed for when she was Johnson’s age.
And if Darrow had not been sitting directly behind the Bells’ dugout, she would not have met Johnson’s mother, who was delivering her daughter something to drink, and the conversation of the dream of being a bat girl would never have occurred and Darrow would not have made it into the dugout Sunday evening.
“It was purely accidental,” Darrow said. “It was all talking to the right people.”
Darrow’s love of baseball started when she was 10, watching the Spokane (Wash.) Indians, a then minor-league affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Later, growing up on her family’s farm located between Grants Pass and Roseburg, she would listen to the minor league Sacramento Solons or the San Francisco Giants radio broadcasts during the afternoons.
Baseball would prove to be a positive outlet for Darrow, whose mother passed away when she was young. Listening to games and tracking the teams and players became a welcoming distraction.
“Baseball helped me focus on something fun and exciting,” Darrow said.
Since moving to Bend 22 years ago, Darrow and her baseball-loving husband, Ken, have regularly attended Elks games when they are in town and the weather isn’t too hot.
For Johnson, an athlete herself who plays lacrosse and flag football, becoming a bat girl was also in the works for several years.
While playing summer ball for the Bells in 2019, former Summit High School baseball player Troy Viola brought Johnson’s older brother Conner to be the bat boy for the Bells when they played the Elks at Vince Genna Stadium. Peyton wanted to do the same thing her older brother had done.
Spending three games in the dugout with the players, getting signed balls and bats and taking photos with the team was a fun experience this past weekend for Johnson.
“We talked about the game a lot; they were really kind to me,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of fun meeting some of the new players.”
The game of baseball brought together two complete strangers and formed a special bond between two baseball lovers separated by more than 70 years.
“I had a lot of fun with Judy,” Johnson said. “I’m just excited to have Judy as a friend forever.”