Don greeted me wearing a “Help Coach Bell Strike Out ALS” t-shirt, a Conco Quarries hat, and his dad’s fast-pitch softball jersey from the News & Leader Parrots.
Wearing a wool jersey for a game of catch on an August day is next-level dedication.
“This is where I became a fan of sports,” Don said as we stepped on to Fassnight Field, the same place where Catch 365 started 222 days ago.
His dad was a catcher from the mid-1950s until 1972 playing for an Empire Bank team or the News & Leader Parrots.
“His playing days were done by the time I came to the games. But he’d coach third base and the stands would be full.”
The Conco Quarries team brought back not-so-good baseball memories. I always feared playing them. Their teams were always good. I noticed the name on his glove, Tommy, and was confused.
“It’s my brother-in-law’s glove. On New Year’s Eve of 2000, he was by himself in his truck and was in an accident on the ice. He died the day after Christmas of 2003.”
It’s amazing how a simple piece of sports memorabilia can tell a story full of powerful emotions. I’m still convinced that baseball helps tell the best stories.
Don works in the sports broadcast business. We first met when Striking Out ALS: A Hero’s Tale published and I was interviewed for his show. We reconnected last week at Mr. Nichols’ funeral as Mr. Nichols was one of Don’s teachers at Central High School.
What an incredibly beautiful and small world.
“Thirty-three years ago today, I did my first sports broadcast,” Don said.
A Kickapoo baseball game against Northeast Kansas City at Meador Park.
Shortly after he graduated high school, Don went to watch a Central game at Meador. He and a friend took along a tape player and were going to record doing play-by-play just for fun.
“Matt Coatney, who now does play-by-play in Nebraska, asked to listen to the tape. He gave me three pages of notes and suggestions. He told me to keep making tapes and he would keep helping me. He said he might be able to use my help down the road. August 10, 1985 is when I called my first game.”
One of my baseball coaches, Dick Rippee, was on the field for the Kickapoo team.
Baseball is such a small world, too.
Since that first game, Don has been announcing sports games of all stripes in Springfield and beyond. More than 3,600 games in total.
“I think a fun goal is 5,000 games. At the rate I’m going, it will only take about another 7 years. But I have no reason or desire to stop.”
Don stood near home plate and I walked out past the pitcher’s rubber. As we played catch — “It had to be around 2004 or so the last time I played catch” — Don talked through the 1991-1992 then-SMSU Lady Bears Basketball team that made it to the Final Four.
“I don’t think I’ll ever see a game as exciting as the one against Iowa in the second round.”
The first team he cheered for was the Oakland A’s when they won the World Series in 1973 — Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, and Catfish Hunter. A couple years later, he became a Cardinals fan and cheered them on to victory in 1982.
“It takes as long to prepare for a game as it does to actually play the game. You can’t just show up, put on a headset, and expect to do a good job calling the game. When sports are your livelihood, everything you do is game prep. It just becomes part of who you are.”
In two weeks, Don will be across the street calling the Parkview and Central football game. When he said this, I remembered Jacob (Day #188) and his goal of winning football games for Central.
Even catch playing is a small world.