May 17, 2012

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

As a confessed baseball nut, the past couple of weeks I've been in heaven. Regardless of where the district playoffs take our Tigers, it has been an amazing season to be an SCR-I fan. The team has the luxury of going three-deep in its pitching rotation, giving Scotland County a shot at winning every night, something they pretty much did (14-1 regular season mark.)

As if the local level wasn't enough of a baseball fix for this junkie, I was given the opportunity to travel to Kansas City last Friday to watch the Royals take on the Yankees. We had great seats right behind the third base dugout. I suspect that's the one tradeoff of small town life I would be willing to change, having season tickets for a hometown MLB squad.

There's just something about sitting in the stands watching Derek Jeter smack an extra-base hit to keep his batting average above .400, or hearing the sound of C.C. Sabathia popping the catcher's mitt with a 96 mph fastball, you can't get from TV.

I must have still been in dreamland from those seats that made us feel like we were rubbing elbows with the big leaguers, cause on Sunday I unretired from the game, sort of, and got my glove and bat out.

Okay, so it was only slow pitch softball, and it was a game featuring the youth at our church versus the old folks as part of the celebration of the anniversary of the church's founding four years ago. I was doing my best Nolan Ryan impression, as I had a perfect game through like three innings, before my shot at the hall of fame was washed away and replaced with a fall of shame episode.

But with age comes wisdom, so went I hit that meek dribbler back to the pitcher, my instinct to sprint out of the batter's box was replaced with the understanding that I was still going to be required to be able to get out of bed and go to work the next morning. My hamstrings thanked me when I gently sat the bat down and took the appropriate precaution bringing my wheels up to speed as I trotted down the baseline.

I fully expected a few jeers from the crowd about my lack of hustle, but it turns out most of them were in total agreement, especially considering we'd already had two ambulance calls to the park for various geriatric-related injuries.

While I can brag about my sound decision making, my hitting ability still left me humbled by the time the game was concluded. I muscled up a couple times, but don't know that I ever got a ball out of the infield.

Maybe that's why I had some much appreciation for the efforts of Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. The all-star performer had a game for the record books on May 8th. Hamilton belted four home runs in a single game. Simply amazing.

Even if you're not as big a MLB nut as I am, you've probably heard of Hamilton. He is the guy who had all the talent in the world, enough to make him the #1 draft pick back in 1999. But substance abuse derailed his fast track to the majors, and knocked him out of the game totally for several years.

In his first year back in the Majors, 2007, Hamilton was asked how he had resurfaced, seemingly escaping the demons of crack addiction and alcoholism. You have to admire the simplicity of his answer, "It's a God thing."

On Tuesday night, it wasn't a sequel to the Disney hit "Angels in the Outfield", where heavenly bodies help a down-and-out team win the pennant, but obviously there was way more happening than just a record-setting performance. Hamilton was quick to deflect the praise for his big night.

"I think about what God has done in my life, and everything I've done to mess it up," Hamilton told an ESPN reporter later that night.. "What God has allowed me to do, to come back from everything I've been through and still be able to play the game at the level I play it -- it's pretty amazing to think about that."

That mirrors a comment he made back when he was first reestablishing his career. In an ESPN Magazine article he was quoted "My mission is to be the ray of hope, the guy who stands out there on that beautiful field and owns up to his mistakes and lets people know it's never completely hopeless, no matter how bad it seems at the time. I have a platform and a message, and now I go to bed at night, sober and happy, praying I can be a good messenger."

I think His message reached a whole lot of folks on Tuesday night.

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