Michael A. Sawyers
At the beginning of my book, “Native Queen,” there is an author’s note in which I point out that I believe, as did my father, that there are three seasons in a year, not four. They are hunting season, fishing season and baseball season.
I have mentioned in this column a time or three my affinity for baseball and the fact that I coached summer teams in Allegany County for just shy of a quarter of a century.
The combination of having coached at the Little League, Rec League and American Legion levels while working at the newspaper for that amount of time has allowed me to see the names of many of my former players in print. Sometimes that is good, but not always.
I have told people that some of my former players are now police officers and some of the others are getting arrested by them.
One time a former player made the paper because, while being chased by state police, he threw a bag of marijuana out the window and it caught on the radio antenna. I told my wife, “That kid never could throw.”
A few other times I have seen the names of former players on the newspaper’s obituary page. Those were not good days.
About a year ago, Jimmy Staples’ name was in our obits. He was 33 and had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease two years earlier.
Jimmy was one of my favorite players. I coached him in Little League when he played on the Warrior Run Lions team in the Potomac Valley Athletic Association and again on the First United Bank team in the Rec League for ages 16-18.
Jimmy, I know, looked upon the calendar as did I, and introduced his sons Tyler and Sean to the three seasons in the year. Their outdoor experiences were becoming centered in the Town Creek area where the family had leased some land.
Jimmy was a bats-left, throws-right, diminutive player. Any coach would look at his physical stature, hand-eye coordination and quickness and immediately see him as a middle infielder, most likely a second baseman. He was a walking advertisement for the phrase, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
As we prepared for a Rec League game in LaVale, I was giving the lineup and told Jimmy he would be the second sacker that day. He spoke up, saying he felt he was the best infielder and that he should be at shortstop.
I said, “Jimmy, you are the best infielder on the team. Ryan (my son) is pitching today and throws hard. LaVale has a lot of right-handed batters who will swing late and hit groundballs to second base. That's why you are there.”
He cocked his head and didn’t say a word, but had that look that said, “Coach, you actually think about this game, don’t you?”
Seven ground balls were hit to Jimmy that day. None of the batters became a base runner. In fact, two of those grounders turned into double plays.
In another Rec League game, this one at our home field in Bel Air, Jimmy was a baserunner on second when our next batter hit a ground ball single. I made a terrible decision as third-base coach and sent Jimmy home. Two strides before he got there, the catcher was already standing in front of home plate with the ball.
Jimmy did the only thing available to him. At full stride he plowed into the catcher, sending him into the air and onto the ground several feet away.
Greg Fansler was the home plate umpire. He pointed at Jimmy and said, “you’re out” then he pointed up the hill toward the stands and said, “and you’re out.”
Jimmy had to miss the next game as well because of my bad decision.
In Jimmy’s last year for First United, we patched together a team that started the season 0-5. Then we picked up a good pitcher. Then some kind of baseball chemistry that nobody can understand took place and we began to win just about every game.
Eventually, we found ourselves in the playoffs and were one game from moving into the championship round. They say bad calls by umpires are part of the game. Such a call was a part of that day’s game and our season was over.
We had come so far, from nothing to something, and almost got there.
Jimmy was so infuriated that he ripped his hat apart with his bare hands. I tried doing that later at home with an old hat and couldn’t accomplish it.
In talking with the players after the game the emotion got to me and I cried unashamedly. I didn’t know it would be only the first time that I cried about something involving Jimmy Staples.
The Staples family is dealing with lingering funeral costs and on May 11, a Saturday, a Sportsman’s Benefit, open to the public, will take place at the Cresaptown Eagles beginning at 5 p.m. There will be music by Grand Ole Ditch and numerous opportunities to win outdoor gear.
See you there.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at email@example.com.