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!”
“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!”
“You can do it!”
“It’s not over. It’s never over.”
**I was on the umpire crew for the state tournament.**