Slo-pitch is softball with a few minor differences. Softball was my sport. Boys played baseball and girls played softball, but I would just like to clarify that the ball isn’t soft at all. It’s bigger than a baseball, but when it’s smacked directly at you when you are standing on the pitcher’s mound, it’s definitely not soft.I played the game from the time I was ten years old until I was about 23. I was a pitcher, or like one of my first coaches called me, I was “the shooter”. My dad to this day still calls me the shooter sometimes, imitating my old coach and laughing. I smile because it's a fond memory. Coach Bob pacing back and forth, yelling, “You’re the shooter! Come on shooter!” My parents and other parents and my team mates cheering me on and one team mate in particular, Mel, with her Martin Short impersonation from Saturday Night Live “You look marvellous” coming from third base.
I didn’t have the fastest pitch, but it was pretty accurate. I loved pitching, it was fun and exciting. I played a few other positions, including out-field, but I don’t think I could have been a fielder full time. Standing around waiting for the ball to come my way wasn’t my idea of excitement. Batting though, now that was exciting! I think the most fun part of the sport is running the bases. Stealing second was always my top priority, third was next and even home sometimes. I was a little greedy, I guess, but when an error is made by the other team, giving you the opportunity to score, you go for it, and don’t hesitate!Running bases was Mike’s specialty. His team called him “wheels” because he was so fast. I can still see him rounding second and sliding into third on a base hit; the infielders eating dust and the rest of us applauding.
I think the game of baseball (or softball, or slo-pitch) is a lot like life. There are a lot of exciting moments, but for the most part it can be quite monotonous. It’s about systems and routines and thousands of swings at different opportunities that come right “down the pike”.Every batter faces a curve ball every once in a while. In the sport, a curve ball can change the whole game and in life, a curve ball can change everything.
On March 7th, 2011, when our curve ball, ALS crossed the plate, everything changed. You see it coming and suddenly you start to shake in your boots. You lose all the confidence you had the last time you were up to bat. The stance you perfected after years of practice is lost and you find yourself on your knees begging for mercy.The late, great New York Yankee, Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS in 1939 at the age of 36. Two weeks after the first baseman was diagnosed, he retired from the game with 23 grand slams under his belt. He was twice named American League’s MVP, six times World Series champion, seven times all-star, and the Triple Crown winner of 1934. With the same courage and poise he had every time he stood in the batter’s box, he delivered a retirement speech to a jam packed Yankee stadium. He started his speech by telling the crowd that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I’m sure Gehrig was overwhelmed by the support he received that day from his fans, friends and family, not to mention all the other Yankees including team mates, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.
Lou, nicknamed “The Iron Horse” for his amazing streak of consecutive games (2130 games), which held a record for 56 years was the first MLB player to have his uniform, number 4, retired and he was elected into the baseball hall of fame in 1939.The truth is ALS really sucks! More truth, I have almost lost my mind a few times and still could. Mike though, is mostly good. He remains content. With one foot in the batter’s box and one foot out, looking to my old ball coach, Hawk (real name Bruce) for direction, I can hear him telling me to keep my eye on it. Mike’s eyes are still on the prize and mine have been wondering all over the place. I almost forgot the number one rule in the game, “keep your eye on the ball” and I almost forgot the number one rule in my life, “Keep your eyes on God!”
Lou ended his famous speech by saying, “I may have had a tough break, but I sure have an awful lot to live for.” Mike feels the same way! Lou passed away in 1941 at the age of 38, two years after he was diagnosed.Jesus says: “In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” John 16:33 (Amplified Bible)
My first year of softball - 1979 - Bottom row left to right - good friends Jen, Jodi, Debi and then me. Sadly Debi passed away five years ago...so missed and so loved by family and many friends! Debi's sister is top row far right.
Mike's slo-pitch team, The Jolly Coachman - 1986 (a year before we met).
Mike is bottom centre, wearing a Blue Jays ball cap. Good friend Ron, top row third from left.