By DAVE BARTLETT
Special to the Keizertimes
Alex Simpson, some like to call him Big Al, is 10 years old. He loves baseball, been around the ball park for years, usually dressed in catcher’s gear. Throws right, hits left, never gets cheated when he swings the bat. I call him Reggie when he takes a cut. He has one of those kinds of swings.
Alex plays on the Keizer Celts Midget American baseball team and the team’s home field is Field 8 over at the Keizer Little League Park. The team consists of boys that are 10 years old and younger. Alex plays a little catcher, second base and does triple-duty as a pretty effective pitcher.
I was out at the ball park one evening to watch my son Drew play baseball. I saw Alex’s grandpa, Rick, as Alex had a game that night, too. Rick and I had coached together one season a few years before, and I had coached Alex the last couple of years prior to this season.
As Rick and I talked, he let me know that Alex’s father had passed away just a couple days before. How heartbreaking for Alex, I thought. Rick told me that although Alex was taking it hard and had many mixed emotions, he was still going to play ball that night, his passion. The kind of passion that gets us through times like these.
While taking Alex back and forth to see his father in the hospital, Alex told his Grandpa that he was going to hit a home run for his dad. Rick thought to himself that would be quite a feat and told Alex that his dad would be just as proud if he just got one good, solid hit for him. The thing is, Alex has never hit a home run over the fence before and hitting a home run over the high fence surrounding Field 8 is an incredibly difficult task even for a big 10-year-old.
A couple weeks later, I was again out at the ball park to watch my son play ball, Alex’s team had a game at the same time. It was a perfect night for baseball. Weather-wise it was one of those great Oregon evenings that we rarely see. The sun was shining, it was warm, about 68 degrees by then and calm winds, a perfect night to watch a son or grandson play baseball. No need for a blanket or jacket, or even an umbrella for that matter.
As all the games began that evening, pitchers started pitching and hitters started hitting, I was going about my business mingling with parents and friends as we were rooting on the A’s, my son’s team. At the same time, I was keeping an eye on the game next to us on Field 8, Alex’s team. I coached several of the boys on that team the season before and naturally took an interest.
I was standing, propped up on the back of the bleachers between fields 5 and 8 watching Drew when I heard a crack of the bat and people erupting from Field 8 behind me. As I turned to see what all the commotion was, I saw that Reggie, uh, Alex, with his blistering speed was headed to first base like a shot. Just as fast as the parents and fans erupted, there was silence. Then everyone erupted again! The ball was hit to left field and from where I was standing my view of the batted ball was obstructed by the score box. I looked back over at Alex as he went from a full on sprint–rounding first base heading to second for a double–to a trot. Alex slowed not because the fly ball was caught for an out, but because he launched that ball well past the the left-field fence. A homerun!
Are you kidding me, I thought to myself. It took some time to process what Alex had just done and put it together with the story that I had recently heard from Rick. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. I went nuts! I immediately ran over to Rick as he was sitting in the stands, slapped him hard on the shoulder and we high-fived. Then I darted over to congratulate Alex, who had just come into the dugout. I yelled at him and he came over and we pounded knuckles really hard! I told him that he was “da man,” great job and all of those things you tell a developing young man. What a moment for him. What a moment for his entire family, and well, what a baseball moment. A moment in life Alex will never forget, nor will I.
After congratulating Alex, I made my way back to see Rick and as we started talking about the whole thing, he left me with one last solemn moment. Rick informed me that earlier that day was Alex’s father’s memorial service. Most certainly, an incredibly emotional day, start to finish for that young man, “Big Al.”
Alex made good on his gift that day, a home run for his dad given with all of his heart. And I’m certain that his father was close by.
Dave Bartlett is a coach and volunteer with the Keizer Youth Sport Association.