I want to scream and shout and dance and celebrate that the 2021 Ozark Mountain Ducks are returning to the championship game of The GRBL with a chance to defend their title and ring the Howard Bell Trophy.
I want to tell you about Tyler Tate’s inside-the-park home run and the sheer joy I felt as I watched him round third base. (I’m fairly certain I was out of the dugout and before he touched third.) I’d also want to tell you about his mad dash home on a ground ball to left field and the bang-bang-collision-play-at-the-plate off Josh Engler’s arm (who had already pitched five brilliant innings) and the glove of Gerad Fox (whose baseball skills I’ve admired from opposing benches for the last three seasons).
I want to tell you about Scott Wilson’s timely and crucial single to left field after two missed bunt attempts, putting Tyler in scoring position. In the bottom of the eighth inning. In an elimination game that was tied.
I want to tell you about the miles Jared Braschler covered in center field catching long fly balls off the bats of the Republic Locos.
And the sliding catch Shane Hurrelbrink made in right field on Harrison Waters’ laced line drive.
And the play Mark made at third base and the scoop Austin made at first to secure the out.
I want to tell you about watching Chris Matlock keep hitters off balance for five innings, a magnificently superb outing, his best outing of the season.
And about the inning King Owens pitched bridging Chris to Nick, facing the top of the Locos lineup, facing the minimum number of hitters.
I probably wouldn’t tell you about Nick Young’s incident in the dugout in the middle of an inning, running off the field and introducing himself to a trash can. But, he completed the inning in fine fashion after the introduction and incident.
I want to tell you about GRBL Hall of Famer Caleb Cole and what it’s like being his teammate, watching him prevent 99% of ground balls hit to the left side from ever seeing the outfield.
I want to tell you about the joy of playing with Trevyn and Jacob and T-Lee and Brandyn and Jon the Barber and Coach Mike who throws batting practice but doesn’t want to be called “Coach.”
I want to celebrate all of the Ducks’ All-Stars (the All-Star Game is at 12:00 on Sunday, October 24, before the kids’ home run derby, which precedes the championship game).
But I have discovered the problem of playing in The GRBL.
I have friends on the other team.
No matter which team is the other team, I have friends in the opposing dugout.
Friends whose opinions matter to me. Friends whose advice I’ve sought after. Friends who have been Catch 365 partners and teammates in previous seasons.
In the semi-final game which pitted the Ducks against the Republic Locos, I knew it was a game against friends. Half of the Locos roster is comprised of friends.
The problem, I know, is me. I’ve known it for decades. I’ve just never really known the right word to describe it or written about it until now.
I’m an empath.
The term empath comes from empathy, which is the ability to understand the experiences and feelings of others outside of your own perspective…You actually sense and feel emotions as if they’re part of your own experience. In other words, someone else’s pain and happiness become your pain and happiness.**
Basically, I feel big feelings. All the time. I’ve been this way my whole life.
Is there room for an empath in the dugout?
Is there a place for empathy on a baseball field?
For example, take Daniel England, the Moon City Mavericks manager, the team the Ozark Mountain Ducks will be playing in the championship game on Sunday (which starts at 5 pm at US Baseball Park).
The very first year Springfield Public Schools had a soccer program at the junior high level, Daniel and I were teammates. We wore the green and white stripes of Jarrett Junior High. He was the goalie, I was left midfielder.
I have been a fan of Daniel England for 33 years.
Now, I know Dan has no qualms or hesitation about beating the Ducks on Sunday. He’d probably like a 10-run win to cement the Mavericks name on the Howard Bell Trophy. He’d love nothing more than to enter the off-season with his first championship as a manager (and fifth overall).
But my brain doesn’t work like that. I don’t know why. I’ve tried to turn my feelings off. It doesn’t work. So I’m learning to live (and play ball) as an empath.
Just like there were so many friends on the Locos team, there are so many friends on the Mavericks team.
Jerry Kelley, a utility player for the Mavericks, has been one of the Friday practice partners the last two years. (He was also a one-game sub for the 2020 Mountain Ducks). We’ve played catch and shared stories and laughed and commiserated about sore muscles. Jerry is a friend. I’d love for him to win a championship.
Tyler Jones and Clay Murphy and Brandon Freeman were part of the 2020 Ozark Mountain Ducks championship team. The 2020 best centerfielder in the league and the league MVP and a returning teammate from my first season in the league. It was great to share dugout life with them for a season. I was kinda hoping we’d all be Ducks again this year.
At least half of the Mavericks are friends.
Friend is one of my favorite words.
It’s one of those words that I feel deeply.
This past week, my family moved.
Thankfully, the move was “only” five miles away.
For three days, I loaded up my Honda Pilot and moved boxes and clothes and everything my two hands could carry. On Saturday, friends came over and helped move all the heavy stuff. A piano and refrigerator and freezer and so, so much wooden furniture. As I was returning the U-Haul truck seven hours ahead of schedule, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming gratitude and a forever indebtedness to those who helped my family start a new chapter.
I am lucky to have such good friends.
To me and my mixed-up-backwards-completely-illogical feelings, being a friend is one of life’s highest callings.
To me and my mixed-up feelings, The GRBL is a league of friends.
I want all of my baseball friends to succeed and experience the wonder and joy of the game.
I want all of my baseball friends to go into the off-season with a smile on their faces and incredible memories of the experience.
But, I am also competitive. Highly competitive. I do not like losing.
I didn’t like losing at Candyland to my daughters. I don’t like losing at Spades. And I really don’t like losing baseball games. (One would think, me being a Royals fan, that I’d learn how to cope with losing. Wrong.)
I always, always want to win.
So, with the last game of the season mere days away, my brain is conflicted and my body is still recovering from four days of moving twenty-four years of accrued memories.
This is my dream.
I want to invite 2,000 of my friends across southwest Missouri to come and watch an incredible championship baseball game at US Baseball Park at 5:00. Those 2,000 friends will be thoroughly entertained by the on-field skill and in between innings games. Their cheers will resonate for both teams. Those 2,000 friends will have to pay $5 to enter the stadium, which will raise $2,000 for non-profits across Greene County. And those funds will make a real difference in new friends lives.
That’s a dream my brain can get behind. (And, next week, I want to tell you the Ozark Mountain Ducks are back-to-back champions.)
See you at the ballpark!