THE YOUNG AT HEART

By:  Kurt Snyder

Baseball is a kid’s game. You know it. I know it. Everyone who loves the sport. They all know it.

My brother, Kent, has a photo in his basement. It’s a little boy, with his back to you, sitting in the centerfield bleachers of an old baseball stadium. It’s just the boy, there are no other people. There isn’t even a game going on. He is sitting the farthest distance from the plate. Waiting. With his glove. It’s perfect.

It screams baseball. And yet, it’s just a simple photograph. But it’s a powerful message. Baseball is about that little boy who comes to the game to see his favorite player or, if he’s really lucky, to take home that ball he hopes comes his way and finds his glove. That’s it. Baseball is a simple game. Baseball is about the young at heart.

So this week, what’s the hot story? It’s Adam LaRoche, the first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. LaRoche has abruptly retired as a result of the team’s desire to cut back on his son’s presence in the clubhouse.

I won’t comment on the club’s decision. But a lot can be said about what drives LaRoche to play in the final years of his career. As a 36-year-old veteran, in the final year of a contract that would pay him $13 million, it was probably going to be the end of the line for LaRoche anyway, especially after such a poor season in 2015.

Adam LaRoche appears looking for a reason. It can’t be easy for a player to perform poorly in front of fans who expected so much of him. Some players care, some don’t. But Adam doesn’t have much time left in this game, and if there is anything he is playing the game for, it’s probably his son. His 14-year-old son is living a dream, being up close and personal watching his father play a kid’s game. It would be a dream come true for any kid to be in a major league clubhouse for even 1 day, much less every day. The White Sox management has a problem with that and so be it.

But this could have been the final straw for LaRoche, knowing this was probably his final year, regardless of the results. And in the end, if he can’t play for his son, then what’s left? Money? Obviously not. He’s leaving $13 million on the table. And you have to admire him for that.

In the end, you do the right thing. LaRoche is not just a professional baseball player. He is a man. He is a father. And when the end is near in baseball, you are still a man and still a father. It says a lot about him. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing.

After Holly’s visit to Florida to watch the Tigers, I went to Las Vegas. Eight guys, all graduates of Central Michigan University. A lot of people go to Vegas to celebrate. But not many go for the reason we did.

You see, one of my college friends has liver cancer. He’s not yet reached 50 years old. But the list of heroes in my life has grown by one person. When originally diagnosed, the doctors gave him 18 months to live, that was 5 years ago. In December of 2014, the doctors gave him 12 months. That was almost 15 months ago. He’s not giving up, but the man is tired.

It’s often said that life is what you make it. This trip was a celebration of life. We are not all gamblers. Las Vegas is not for all of us. But we are like brothers. And one needed the rest of us. Many of our wives, when told what my friend Greg wanted us to do, understood that we had to go. We had to drop everything. It’s a real test of friendship. I could not imagine not doing this for him. This is life. And a friend fighting for his. And if we could give him 1 minute, 1 hour, 1 day of joy during a trip to Vegas, we were going to do it.

It all comes back to the little boy and Adam LaRoche. That little boy, all he wants is to watch a game. And for Adam, at the tail end of his career, all he wants is for his son to spend as much time with him as he can before he retires.

And my friend Greg? He doesn’t know how his story all ends; he just wants to enjoy himself with the people he loves. His friends, his family. And who are we to deny him?

None of us thought for even a moment that we wouldn’t go to Las Vegas with him. Not one of us. There was no question. I hope that says a lot about us as people. We told the Concierge about Greg. We told a Black Jack dealer. They all had that look in their eyes afterwards. Clearly, we were doing a great thing. They gave us their seal of approval without hardly saying a word. People were touched by our story.

So after 3 very long days of relentless fun in Vegas, 7 of us, in reasonably good health, dragged ourselves onto the airplane Wednesday morning. Getting back to normal would be merciful.

But Greg? Well, he jumped on a plane to Florida the very next day, getting ready to watch the Tigers in Lakeland. Someone once said, there is no rest for the weary. Ain’t that the truth? The man stricken with cancer has more work to do.

Greg has always been just a kid, young at heart. And all he wants to do this weekend is watch the Tigers. I hope he gets a ball.

4 thoughts on “THE YOUNG AT HEART

  1. With the distractions going on in the White Sox clubhouse it’s a safe bet it will carry over into the regular season. It’s also a safe bet that we won’t finish in last now because of this. I will take minor ailments to Upton, Sanchez, Maybin as opposed to the Sox distractions any day. This should’ve never been an issue.

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  2. Maybe it’s admirable for LaRoche to stand on principle, and of course it’s entirely his decision, but it’s kinda hard for me to empathize since so few people can afford to retire at 36 to spend time with their kids. I wonder if he consulted the kid to see if that’s what he wanted though. Like you said, having your dad play major league baseball must be a heckuva thrill.

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  3. Add me to the “touched” list Kurt. Home run blog. I grew up bouncing a tennis ball off a wall 100’s of hours. The “World Series” was ALWAYS spinning in my head. A boy, a ball, a game! So simple- so beautiful. I hope I get to say farewell to my friends also. I’m sure we’ll talk baseball.

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