Rounding the Bases



As spring gradually rolls toward summer, I see a lot of kids on baseball diamonds, girls on softball fields and adults reliving their glory days in recreational softball leagues. No matter where I go, the same memories race to the forefront of my mind. I can see my father wearing his red McCann and Clary shirt while standing on the pitcher’s mound and hurling strike after strike at me and my teammates, since kids were not allowed to pitch at that age.

I can feel the ball striking me squarely in the back during a game on a hot summer day when Mike Ahrens, who was a year older than me, launched the ball toward the plate but lost control of it. The stinging sensation as I tried to pick myself up from the dirt, regain my composure and walk to first base is still within reach, even 38 years later. I was fortunate enough that day to round the bases and score, which now makes me realize that I’ve been lucky to have relatively good health. I’m still rounding the bases, but others who I knew when I was younger have not been so lucky, including Mike. Although Mike and I were never friends, I did share a lot of good memories on the baseball field with his brother, Roger. When I look back on the simple things in life, it’s amazing how certain things stay attached and others disappear. Many home runs are unforgettable and others become a simple swing of the bat that get mixed in with batting practice cuts.

When I got out of college and entered the workforce, I joined the co-ed softball team at work. I figured it would give me something to do during the week. There were only about 70 people who worked in the office, and most of us on the softball team were like family members. Although the games were meaningless, they brought us together. I watched Ruth’s daughter throw dirt in Jim’s son’s eyes, and I saw Ruth discipline her in front of everyone, something that very rarely gets done these days, almost 25 years later. Meanwhile, both of the kids grew up and moved away from this “small town.” They had bigger dreams than all of us who stayed behind. It doesn’t make those children any better or worse than the rest of us. They are just trotting around the bases and taking in the sights and sounds.

I don’t recall getting upset with anyone. It didn’t matter if someone made an error, struck out, hit a home run, popped out to end the game, or even pulled a no-show when we really needed people. Every Tuesday night, Bob Choenier would roll into the beaten down ballpark on his Honda Aspencade with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Matt and Jim would arrive early enough to take some fly balls and get a few swings in before the game started. Jim always swore by his Subaru vehicles, and two and a half decades later, he still drives one. Gary Carter, Jim Patnode, Wendy Duval, Paul Schmiel, Ben Lapham, and a few others whom I’m sure I have forgotten were always on the field having fun. Nothing was bigger than any of us. We would all show up at work the next day and go about our business.

I’m not sure if it was because we were all so much younger, or if time had a way of changing things in a variety of ways. Our business expanded and the ratty, old ball field quickly had stands built around it. People started coming in droves and tore the players in many different directions, but the players kept rounding the bases. A few of  our contributors passed away far too young, but many of us still remain. Some of us headed down different career paths, some of us tried advancing our careers, and others fell in line and accepted the changes of time. Some of us made out better than others, but we are all still the same people. When you’re at the plate, you do everything you can to get around the bases and score. The team that scores the most runs wins…………..right?

Now, I wish I could just stand at home plate and blast home runs over the fence. I don’t want to round the bases. I don’t want to score. At the time, many of us didn’t realize that time doesn’t stand still for anyone or anything. Instead, we felt immortal. Many of our kids were young, some of us didn’t even have kids, and others were becoming grandparents. A few of us had battled health issues, but most of us didn’t have a clue about the beauty of life and the cruelty that can accompany it. We were ignorant to the ways of the world.

When I spoke to Ruth this morning, the topic of that old softball team came up, and I spent the rest of the day thinking about those days. I would race to Johnsburg after work to shoot in a 3-D archery league so I could get back in time for the game. It was the beginning of my target panic, which crippled me for a few years. Eventually, I was able to leap over the demon, and I found myself on the national scene, a place I had never dreamed of going. Although I wish I could go back, I’m extremely thankful for my journey.

When my bat connected with the ball last night, I was overwhelmed with how it felt. I knew the ball had a chance when it began its flight. Unfortunately, the wind held it up, and it hit the fence halfway up. When I began my journey out of the batter’s box, I realized how lucky I am to still be able to do many of things I have always loved doing. It saddens me that a few of the people I wrote about in this piece were not able to enjoy long lives. We never know how long we have, and that is why I pursue the things that make me happy. I might still be in the same office that I was when that ragtag group of co-workers formed that special team, but I have rounded the bases in my own way. I’ve reached for the sky in some areas, but fallen short in others. I’ll still keep chasing dreams, but I’ll never forget the teammates I had on the team that didn’t matter, the people who were around before things became complicated. I thank all of those people for giving me something to remember. When we hit balls in the gap, we always think we can get to second base. Sometimes, though, people never have the opportunity to get to first base. My trip around the bases has been incredible. I’ll keep running as long as possible. Although I enjoy(ed) hitting home runs, I’m now content to do it in my mind so I never have to cross home plate.


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