Baseball: It’s just a game

Too many times parents, fans, players, coaches and officials get so wrapped up in a sports contest the idea that “it’s just a game” is lost. The players get yelled at or frustrated with one another. Fans yell obscene things when they disagree with the judgement of an official. And sometimes parents try to get more out of their kids than the kids want to give. Anyone who attended the Nebraska Class B Juniors Legion state baseball tournament was reminded that sometimes there is more to the game. 

Shelton/Gibbon entered the tournament after winning their area tournament. Just before the teams first game there was a moment of silence for a player on the team. One of the players on roster, Dylan Foster, had been in a car accident the night before the tournament was scheduled to start and was fighting for his life in the hospital. The moment of silence forces you to think about many different things. The moment of silence happened before all of the games this team played in, but none of them were more touching than what would end up being their final game.

As the team was announced on Day 4 of a five-day tournament they formed a line to run through. At the end of the line stood a coach holding  number 11 jersey on a hanger. Dylan’s jersey. As a player was announced they gave the jersey a high-five before lining the baseline. After all the players were announced there stood a young man in gym shorts, the “SG” undershirt and a team cap. The young man, Dylan’s brother, took the No. 11 jersey and stood on the pitchers mound as everyone rose for a moment of silence. The thought of what it must have taken for him to be at the game and support this team while his brother was unable to play brought a tear to the eye of many.

During the game the tournament held a split-the-pot raffle as they had done all tournament long. But this time, it was different. The money raised would go to the Foster family. When the ticket winner was announced the dollar amount was $470. The winner of the raffle generously donated the winnings back to the Foster family. The tournament director presented the money to Dylan’s brother, Eben, on the field. Another touching moment on this evening.

As the game progressed I spoke to the shortstop, Lance, about his dear friend. He told me with as much of a smile as he could that family was allowed to go in the room finally because he was stable. As I talked with Lance tears began to swell up. He told me he has thought about his friend more than the tournament. Baseball was secondary. All of the sudden this game that they have worked so hard at to become good at, was only a game. Shelton/Gibbon hung in as well as they could for six innings against Hickman, a much more talented team. In the 7th and final inning, the wheels fell off for SG. Hickman scored 10 runs on their way to an 18-0 victory.

During that final inning the stands grew silent. There wasn’t much to cheer for. However, there was one young man that stood tall and yelled loud. Eben stayed behind his brothers’ team.

“Keep your head up!”
“Keep fighting!”
“You can do it!”

All phrases that Eben yelled in support. After the team finally recorded the third out of the top of the seventh inning and SG went in for the final at-bat, Eben yelled these words, “Come on guys we can do this. It’s not over. It’s never over.”

I spoke with Lance after the game before walking off the field and told him to stay strong for his friends and like they never gave up in the state tournament to not let his buddy give up. As I walked off the field there was Eben. I told Eben to give his brother the message that everyone at the state tournament was thinking about him and I shared thoughts and prayers to him and his family. As his eyes filled with tears he thanked me and went to join the team.

Also during the tournament a young man from Beatrice saw his season come to a crashing halt after being hit by a pitch. The injury required him to be taken by ambulance to a hospital. The young man is doing better and will soon be out of the hospital.

With these injuries so real it reminds us all that a game is just a game. The next time you get wrapped up in a sporting event remember that it isn’t the end of the world if your team doesn’t win or the player you support begins to struggle.

And to Dylan: The same words your brother yelled to his team, we yell to you from afar.

“Keep your head up!”
“Keep fighting!”
“You can do it!”
“It’s not over. It’s never over.”

**I was on the umpire crew for the state tournament.**

12 thoughts on “Baseball: It’s just a game

  1. mattevasovic

    I completely agree with you John. I am a Little League coach who was able to coach all-stars this summer. These parents (and some coaches) forget the game is all about the kids. I see some parents even trying to live their dreams through their kids and it is sad. Until a son or daughter get to high school, the game should no matter what sport should be developmental and fun. Great post!

    Reply
  2. bboyne2011

    Good article john, thank you for putting this young mans story out there. Im from Shelton and could not attend the tourney, ur updates on twitter were great.

    Reply
  3. Paul Stroh

    John

    Very touching. As the coach of the Shelton/Gibbon you just wrote about I can tell you it has hit the players, his friends, and the two small towns very hard. To come a play baseball in the Class B tournament shows how resilent these men are and they played their hardest for their friend Dylan.
    He will be very proud of how we played and placed.

    Reply
    1. Dustin Larson

      Great job Paul you guys had a great season!! I can only imagine how tough it was on you guys down there. I know Steve and I both were thinking about you guys. And I couldn’t think of a team I could love more then the S/G boys!!

      Reply
  4. Dustin Larson

    this is one of the best articles ive ever read. i was the assistant coach to the shelton/gibbon jrs last season and became great friends with dylan and eban as well. hes a great kid and we couldnt be more proud of the boys for playing as well and as hard as they did with all they were going through. Way to go S/G good job fellas!!

    Reply
  5. S Lynn Schofield-Dahl

    Mr. Thayer. Thank-you for the lovely article. Dylan and Eben Foster are my great nephews. Their grandfather, Bill Schofield, played a lot of baseball as a kid, as did our brothers. Our father was an Umpire. My mother cooked thousands of home-made donuts to sell at concession stands. Just a little girl, I was the mascot. The game is important and good, but a sense perspective is also good. The game is about being together and sharing and supporting each other and building connections with each other. Thank-you. Lynn Schofield-Dahl, SE Nevada.

    Reply
  6. John Thayer Post author

    Thank you all for taking the time to read. Both towns should be pleased with the players and coaches for playing so hard while dealing with this. The fans were a classy bunch as well. I know they thought I was crazy the first day when I stopped the game for lightning and said it would rain. It rained hard for a bit and all of the sudden I wasn’t crazy. Great people in all aspects.

    If any of you have updates in the future you don’t mind sharing please feel free to email me at johnthayer1@gmail.com I would love to hear how his recovery is going. It will be a long road to recovery, but with the right support it can happen. God Bless Dylan, his family, friends and anyone close to him!

    Reply
  7. Debra Stroh

    Thank you Mr. Thayer for your wonderful article and kind words regarding Dylan Foster and his brother Eben. Many thanks to the American Legion in Beatrice, Beatrice Chamber of Commerce, the umpires at the state tournament and players, coaches and great fans from all the teams at the Class B American Legion State Tournament. As a parent, fan and past athlete, we must hold sportsmanship in the highest regard in the field of competition. Your compassion and safety of the players and coaches during the Class B tournament was evident and greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  8. Sandy Stroh

    John:
    Thank you for writing the article about Dylan, his brother Eben, and the Shelton/Gibbon baseball team. They ARE a wonderful group of young men, families, and coaches. It is important to share with people the positive things that are going on with our youth because there is so much good out there, people sometimes forget! I have a nephew on that outstanding baseball team and COULD NOT be more proud of him, as well as the entire team. Thank you to the coaches for setting an example and leading these young men through a difficult time. The memories of this past week will remain in their hearts forever. My husband and I attended the game Sunday evening and we were very impressed with the respect that was displayed from everyone present. God Bless you, John, and your gift of writing. Our prayers and thoughts remain with Dylan, his family, and his Legion Baseball family.

    Reply
  9. Theresa Bubak

    Thank you for the wonderful article and the reminder that it really is, “just a game”. My family is very sports-minded as my husband is the head football coach at Cozad and my youngest son actually had the honor of playing against Dylan at district baseball. It is so important that we all remember that these kids are just that…kids. It breaks my heart to think that this young, gifted athlete is fighting for his life when just a few days ago we may have been aurging a call at home plate! Sure puts things into perspective…appreciate the small things, and every parent out there…go hug your kids! God bless you Dylan and your family, you are all in our prayers.
    Theresa, Nate & Ron Bubak, Cozad

    Reply
  10. Tim Fralin

    Great Article

    I was the announcer for all these games and as hard as it was for me to talk about Dylan, the moment of silence, split the pot and the other stuff. Well it all falls short of what the team had to go through. They played with thier hearts and played for Dylan. I was rooting for them all the way and I can say they have shown me things I have never seen before. And the Beatrice Baseball Community wishes only the best for Dylan and his family and friends.

    Reply
  11. William A. Schofield

    Dear Mr. Thayer:

    Thank you more than words can express for your wonderfully insightful article Baseball: It’s just a game. I agree that baseball is just a game. It’s a wonderful life-guiding exercise disguised as a game. For many kids, its the place they first learn that they can depend on others, and that others can depend on them to do their best. It is where they learn to play by the rules. It is a game that requires each player to stand in the batters box and put it on the line to help the team. When they are in the field, and the ball is hit their way, either they make the play, or they learn to improve. When they make the great play, for that moment, they get to bask in the glory. When they miss a play, they make a promise to themselves that they will “get the next one”. But…it’s just a game, and it stays a game ..if the teams pull together. If they keep their heads up. If they keep fighting. They can do it. Remember..” It’s not over. It’s never over”.
    I missed going to the 2011 Junior Legion State tournament by six hours and fifteen minutes. The team was set to drive to Beatrice at 7:30A.M. At 12:15 A.M. My wife and I received a phone call from our daughter, telling us that our grandson and a friend had been in a terrible car accident on a country road, and that we needed to get to the emergency room at Kearney’s Good Samaritan Hospital. Dylan’s injuries included: a broken right tibia and fibula, a broken pelvis, a collapsed lung, a lacerated kidney , a lacerated liver, a crack in his T5 vertebrae and severe brain trauma. He remained in a coma for 13 days. During his stay in intensive care, he had a constant stream of friends, team mates, and neighbors who came to support Dylan, his family, and each other with many acts of kindness and generosity. For many of the young visitors, they just needed to be there with each other, to find a way to support Dylan & Seth, and for some to face the fact that life is fragile for the first time. After he came out of the coma, Dylan was still heavily sedated and he still had all sorts of tubes attached. As the sedation was reduced, he was continually moving his legs. When the nurse asked him what he was doing, he just said “ I’m trying to steal second base”. Dylan was in the ICU for four weeks, and then went to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln for another three weeks. At the end of the second week at Madonna, his mother (who is a nurse) talked the doctor into letting her take Dylan to support his football team members at their first game. He sat along the sideline in his wheelchair to support the teammates who had been there for him when he needed their support. Dylan was released from Madonna on the morning of the homecoming game. In his absence, his classmates selected him as the Junior Class homecoming attendant. The following week, the Orthopedic surgeon authorized him to walk on his repaired leg. Dylan has been back to school part time for a week. He has Physical, Occupational, and Speech therapies three times a week, and can now jog on a treadmill. His brain surgeon examined him, and says he should be OK. to play football next year. Dylan has set his goals higher. He wants to get in shape to play basketball, track, and baseball first. He and his team have some unfinished business at the 2012 state baseball tournament. He is keeping his head up. He is still fighting. He knows they can do it. It’s not over. It’s never over.
    The friend, who happened to be driving when the accident happened was also fighting for his life. He also had a head injury, was in the ICU for two weeks, and also went to Madonna. He is also making a good recovery. The friend is from a neighboring town, and has been a friendly sports opponent over the years. Its hard to guess how many times they have shaken each others hand after a game. When they were in a contest, they each did their best to win, but after the contest, they were respectful of each other. Seth’s father , who is a talented artist, sat down with Dylan’s little sister Lindsay and they colored together. Seth’s dad drew a picture of the boys respective school mascots facing this tragedy as pals has been a comfort, and is a symbol of sports bringing the two communities together in a time of need. I know it helped Lindsay cope with the tragedy.
    By the way, Dylan’s older brother Eben was a member of the Nebraska little league state tournament umpiring crew. Thank you for your kind words to him, they were a comfort at a difficult time. Your article has given many people an opportunity to put the individual game in perspective, and a second chance to appreciate each other.

    Reply

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