I’ve been involved with athletics of some sort or another since I was six years old. It all started on a little league field in Hudson Falls, NY and continues today on all sorts of softball fields throughout the area. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a team and the sport played with a bat and ball has piqued my interest more than the others. Although I enjoy playing in adult hockey leagues there’s something about baseball and softball that hold my attention year after year, even as I head toward the half century mark.
Fifteen years ago I was asked to play on a softball team with a lot of guys who where considerably younger than me. At the time I was in my early 30s and most of these guys were in their early 20s. As most people know, the age gap in those years is a little different than the same age gap when you’re in your 40s or 50s. Most 20 somethings haven’t had much in terms of life experience, so they tend to live in a fantasy world where reality hasn’t clicked in yet.
When I was asked to play I gladly accepted. I worked with a few of the guys and the rest of the team was made up of their friends. I’ve always been able to fit in quickly with the people on all of the teams I’ve played with over the years and this team was no different. When I took the field with these guys I had a pretty good feeling we were going to be in for a long season and boy oh boy was I right. Actually it wasn’t a long season……………….it was a long decade. We got lucky and won a game here or there because the opposing team would have to play a game with eight guys, but it was rare. Over the last few years we finally started flirting with winning records.
From those first days there have been a lot of people who have come and gone, but the core group of guys still play today. The very first year I met Marc Wilson. He was a young kid who was full of life. He wasn’t a freakishly athletic specimen, but looking at him from a distance I figured he would probably be one of the guys on the team who could hit for power and drive in runs. After a few games I realized I was wrong. From my observations it appeared that he hadn’t grown into his body yet. Although he had a long way to go before becoming a good softball player he had something that very few people have and it was evident in the first game I played with him. I’ll never forget when he hit a ball down the right field line and headed toward second base with all the speed he could muster up. About halfway there everyone on the field knew he wasn’t going to make it, but he didn’t break stride and launched into a headfirst slide. Dust flew all over and Marc skidded to a stop. I couldn’t help but laugh when it was clearly evident that he hadn’t planned the slide too well. The shortstop stepped off the base and walked a few steps forward to tag Marc on the head. He never made it to the base. I still laugh about it today, especially when I see how far Marc came from that day.
Marc was always a stubborn guy when it game to softball. He would listen to advice, but almost always persisted on doing it HIS way. Kevin would lecture him about where to throw the ball and thankfully that finally stuck in his head the last few years. If a ball was hit to him he was mentally aware of the game around him. In prior years he was always unsure, but he allowed himself to learn from Kevin and listen to him.
When Marc started playing softball he always wanted to be a power hitter. He could never understand how a guy as small as me could repeatedly hit the ball over the fence. He always thought that since he was bigger than me he should be able to hit the ball farther than me. I had to explain to him that the size of a person doesn’t have much to do with how far he can it the ball. My bat speed and transfer of weight contributed to my power.
Eventually Marc found his place and realized his potential. I’ve never played with a right-handed batter who could place the ball so well on the right field line, especially when we needed a big hit. If the game was on the line he was always one of the guys who I wanted at the plate. He became a master at finding a hole between the fielders and did it consistently. Over time he realized he could also hit the ball on the line to left field. Whenever he game up the other teams would always yell, “Good hitter! Can hit it anyplace, but watch right field.” When you get a reputation in softball and all the teams know you it means you’re a good player.
Whenever I listened to the other teams chattering I always thought back to that slide into second base and couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Marc, the guy who was lost in his own body, became the guy who other teams feared and sought after. Along the way he found his place on the field. One year he tried pitching and became one of the most sought after pitchers throughout many different leagues and on tournament teams. If he was a major league pitcher you could say he was a nibbler. He would get two strikes on a batter and start throwing moon balls in hopes of landing one on the plate. He almost always got at least one strikeout per game and that’s good pitching in unlimited arc softball. He was proud of that, too, as he should have been.
About ten years after meeting Marc I got the feeling that in some ways he hadn’t really found himself among people other than his immediate friends. Since he was a good player and an even better guy I asked him to play on one of my teams. I knew these guys would welcome him onto the team as part of the family. As anyone would be, Marc was nervous the first time he played with us, but the nervousness didn’t last long. He went 4-4 that night and pitched a near perfect half a game (since he split time with our normal pitcher) and his contributions were the main reason for our victory.
As one week led into the next Marc became part of the family and one of the top players on the team. He lit it up with his timely hitting and shut down the other team with his half-time pitching role. My friends (who were now his friends) thanked me every day for getting him on the team. In the previous 10 years I hadn’t seen Marc experience anything like it. He went to the bar with us and hung out after the games. We ended up winning the league that year with only two losses. Although we got eliminated in the playoffs the rest of the year was an eye-opening experience for everyone.
Marc played one more year with that team before the league rules changed and you could only play on two teams. Since he had been on the other teams longer he chose to play with them. I was on one of those teams, so I understood what he had to do. I also knew by watching him where his heart was really at. Although he didn’t play on our team he continued to show up for our games and give us support. He remained really close to everyone on the team and came to the bar a few times even though he no longer played with us. After all………….he had become part of the family and our family has strong roots. He was one of us and he knew it. I knew it made him feel good. When he showed up at the bar he always asked where the team picture was from the year we won the championship. He knew he was in it and he wanted to be in the photo hanging on the wall that said “League Champions” on it. To this day I’m to sure if that photo ever got hung up, but I’ll never forget how important that was to him. It was important to us, too, because without him I’m sure we wouldn’t have won the league.
When I was coming home from Colorado last week I was in an out of sleep in the backseat. About 24 hours into the trip I got the news. I sat in silence and glanced out the window as we drove by Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis. I couldn’t process the news I had just heard. “Marc Wilson died.” How was that possible? Marc was only 35 years old and I played softball with him the night before I left for vacation. I talked to him at my desk before I left about the games to be played when I returned. He told me how he was going to fix a hitch in his swing. He always tried to get better and I knew he meant what he said.
When I got home I still couldn’t believe the news and then when I got to the softball field on Thursday I expected him to be there even though I had said my goodbyes the day before at the funeral home. He was too good of a guy to go this soon and it hit me pretty hard. I went to the wake early so I could be by myself and deal with it on my own terms. I never expected to say goodbye to a guy 10 years younger than me who I played ball with two to three nights a week over the last 15 years. As one of my friends told me the other day, “God always picks the best flowers first.”
For the people who didn’t know Marc they missed out on a genuine and caring person. Since I wasn’t in Marc’s inner circle I’m not sure how he acted around his closest friends, but I do know that I’ve never been around a more respectful guy. He let his actions speak for his character. In all the years I played ball with him I never once heard him criticize anyone or say anything negative about the game, opponents or an umpire. I made an abundance of errors behind him over the years and he never once rolled his eyes at me or said anything about it. He was the best teammate a player could ask for. If someone made an error he thought it was his job to pick the person up. Although everyone wants to do this very few people are actually capable of getting it done, but he was one of the few.
Marc was a guy of few words around me, but his quick witted humor could make anyone laugh. Marc had a way of quietly spitting out a one-liner in a way that you couldn’t help but smile when you heard it. He was a guy who could make anyone smile without putting any effort into it. Marc was a guy who worked very hard to better himself in whatever he was doing. I saw it in softball because that’s where we shared the most time together. He would go to the batting cage to perfect his stroke. Some days he would go there before the game and then perfectly place the ball onto an empty green spot in the outfield. It was a pleasure to watch. Many days Marc’s work schedule wasn’t too accommodating for softball, so he would take his lunch break to play and then return to work. He went out of his way to make sure he gave everything he had in everything he did. He gave 100% in every at bat and with every pitch he ever threw. I respect him for that because so few people give 100% in anything, let alone a recreational softball league. Marc was a gamer in life.
Marc was never satisfied either. He always tried to get better and studied the game to do the right things to improve himself. One of the things that made me laugh is when people would misspell his name and spell it with a “K”. He would make sure he informed them they messed it up and politely ask them to get it right next time. I enjoyed that because one of my biggest pet peeves is when people spell my last time with an “e”. It was probably just another way that we quietly connected.
I’m glad I got to know Marc, especially after the first season of softball. I feel lucky to have watched him grow up on the softball field as well as in life. I remember asking him a few times in the parking lot where his car was and he told me he was having work done on it and he was driving his mom’s car. I appreciated things like that. He told me on a few occasions how thankful he was that his mom let him use her car. You can learn a lot about a guy by the way he speaks of his mother and that was true with Marc. Marc was a good guy and it showed in many different ways. I’ll miss him on the softball field, but I will also miss the days when he wandered up to my desk in the middle of the afternoon just to talk about this and that. As he found his place on our team a few years back, I hope he finds his place in the new world he is in now. He deserves to be surrounded by great souls just like his own. Rest in peace Marc. We’ll all miss you.