The best way we know of to define the phrase is to pass along this letter from Robert Sanders, coach of the Beringer Braves…
Dear Mr. Westerman, First, I and all of my players, coaches and parents would like to congratulate you and your committee on the wonderful success that was the Freeport International Baseball Tournament. Secondly, we would all like to thank you for the tremendous opportunity you afforded us.
I had heard on Sunday night that you were having a meeting this Saturday to look at the results of your efforts and maybe consider doing this again next year. I hope that this letter reaches you by then because I’d like to share a couple of moments with you that I feel were worth every effort and sacrifice that we made to get there.
Probably our best all-around player over the course of the year was Shawn “Donkey” Donaghy, our center-fielder. Shawn is certainly a character, but also a very talented baseball player who eats, drinks and sleeps the game year-round. He is a 17-year-old and has played varsity baseball and upper-level summer ball for the last three years, so he has “been around” when it comes to tournament baseball. What you may not know though is Shawn did not have one of his best tournaments in terms of offensive production.
As you know, we were at the park Sunday evening to watch the final game and the fireworks and to let the players mingle around. When everything was over and all the good-byes had been said we were headed to the bus out in left field and the players noticed that Shawn was standing in center field and wasn’t coming. I yelled for him to come along and he just stood there. I sent a couple of the kids out to get him and they too just stood there even longer. Well, by this time I have my entire team huddled around Shawn in center field and they’re not moving, so I walked back to find my star player absolutely sobbing with several others joining in.
“Coach,” he said, “I don’t want to leave this. This has been the best. I’ll never forget the way it felt to be treated the way people here treated me. Everybody who came up to me knew my name, called me “donk” and made me feel like I was some kind of star. If I never play another game of baseball, this was worth it all.”
Every kid agreed. Not one of them was trivializing the moment, which is a pretty shocking thing when you know the collection of jokers we have.
What was important to me in this story though was that it had very little to do with the baseball itself. He wasn’t talking about his homerun, his great catches, the wins or loses. He was remembering the people and the feelings he felt. I have to admit, even I welled up a little bit then.
We returned to our hotel that night, the kids were restless, so I had the older guys, who are basically done with baseball now except for their senior high school seasons, come over to my room and talk about what they had just been through. Having played in the lower minors, I was explaining to them that what they experienced was pretty close to what I had experienced in the minors and that was what kept people chasing the dream of playing pro ball.
We wrapped up our conversation at about 3:30 a.m. when my second baseman and acknowledged team leader Brian Donnelly said something that made me feel like a king. You see, Brian is a very average skill player but knows and executes the game better that any teenager I’ve ever seen in my thirty years around the game. He is headed to the University of Kentucky as a 17-year-old high school graduate on an academic scholarship and knew all along, that this tournament would be the last time he ever played the game this way.
“Coach, now I know what old people mean when they talk about how the game used to be. We could never match this at home. The people there are too jaded by professional baseball and all that hype that goes with it. This was just pure, raw baseball for the fun of it. I’ll remember this for as long as I live, and I’ll remember you gave us the chance to be here too. We all decided we think your a pretty special guy after all.”
Thank you Sonny. Now I’ve got something else I’ll never forget.
Your Friend Forever,
Fort Mitchell, Kentucky