When Baseball Matters Most

When Baseball Matters Most

I’ve sat down to write this several times and at each point where I put my fingers on the keyboard I have to step back and re-compose myself. It’s early in the morning and I am about to leave for the hospital. Approximately three weeks ago I visited with the latest doctor and was told that I have some sort of unknown mass on or near my pancreas that has doubled in size in the past year.

It was uncovered a couple of years ago during a normal exam and at the time the doctors decided to just watch it. Suddenly though things have changed and I have found myself meeting with multiple specialists and teams of doctors who all seem to be baffled by what they are seeing. Given a long history of cancer in my family the doctors feel it would be best to remove it as soon as possible. I attempted to negotiate a surgery at the end of the season but was told they did not wait until the end of the home stand.

Jeff & Trina at the ballparkThe past three weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for my family and me. One day you try to remain positive and think nothing but the best then the next day you start to dwell on the inevitable fact that there are dangers with every surgery; even more so when the doctors are not sure what they are dealing with.

The one source of relief I have had has been the Arizona Diamondbacks and games at Chase Field. For a few short hours each night I have an opportunity to go to the ballpark and be surrounded by others who share a love of baseball. Sure it’s great when your team is winning and the hopes of post-season baseball look achievable but I’ve come to appreciate that any baseball is better than thinking of what might happen.

I recently watched an episode of the Tenth Inning on Fox Sports Arizona where Todd Walsh did another outstanding job bringing the fans into the game. This segment was with former Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman and broadcaster Mark Grace. In it he talked about his trials and struggles after being arrested for DUI. During this discussion he told Todd Walsh, “In times of adversity you find out who your friends really are and I found out I have a lot of acquaintances”

I’ve thought a lot about that this past couple of weeks and I’ve realized that I have lived a very blessed life because I have an abundance of friends and most of them are the result of baseball. It’s funny, if you would have told me 16 years ago that my closest friends would be the result of having Diamondbacks season tickets I would have thought you crazy.

You wouldn’t know it but throughout my life I have been a fairly reserved and quiet person who knew a lot of people but rarely would open up. But through my experiences with the Arizona Diamondbacks they have pulled me out of my shell to the point where I am very open about everything (especially baseball), some times too open. That openness though seemed arms length. I still consider myself just a guy from Section 132 who happens to go to a lot of games and occasionally says something that someone might find funny.

I’m just one of countless thousands who have season tickets and come through the Chase Field turnstiles each night. I definitely wouldn’t classify myself as someone special. But during this ordeal I’ve realized that each and every one of us makes a difference and people truly care.

One special person through this has been Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall who has sent me emails and encouragement and has offered his own time to talk whenever I needed a shoulder. Even last night he sent me an email telling me things would be ok and to remain strong. I challenge you to think of another time in your life where the president of a company would personally reach out to an individual customer with the love and caring that Derrick shows. And while he will be out of town while I am going through this, he asked that my wife let him know the results as soon as I am out of surgery.

There are so many other employees and members of the Diamondbacks family who have likewise taken time to reach out to me and check on my health or offer thoughts and prayers. Being a Season Ticket Holder has many benefits but one that the Diamondbacks never mention is that you become part of their family. The love these people show to their fans is overwhelming and I can never express the gratitude I have for them. They are the best.

It’s not just the Diamondbacks employees though; it’s the fans too. I have met several of the faithful “Dbacks Nation” who cheer on this team through the good times and the bad times. They not only care for the team but for each other. Whether it is helping someone find a long forgotten giveaway that you promised your wife, or banding together to vote for all-stars these fans stick together. Some of these fans I have had the pleasure of meeting in person and some I have gotten to know through social media. Each of them has helped me to focus on the positive instead of dwell on the negative. That has been some of the best medicine I could have received.

There are two special people who I’ve met during my time at Chase Field that I owe an undying debt of gratitude. They are two of the most special people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know and I am humbled to even be in their presence.

The first is Cindy McBride or who I affectionately refer to as “Rally Sally”. I first owe her an apology. I think initially I wrote about her without getting to know her and may have painted an inaccurate portrait of her. She is one of the most loyal fans the Diamondbacks have. You will find her carrying her flags to the upper deck before nearly every game and cheering on the team dancing wildly between innings. I erroneously thought she was doing this for the attention and that could not be further from the truth.

She loves the Diamondbacks probably more than I do. Each of those flags she waves is made with loving hands as a tribute to the player. She spends countless hours every off-season making those flags. She meets each player and takes time to learn about him as a person before creating her flags. That alone should be enough but there is another side to Cindy that very few know. She makes it a point to learn about the fans too and will go out of her way to help them in any way she can.

Despite the things I might have written about her in the past, she has been amazingly nice to me always greeting me with a smile and asking how I am doing. A few days ago she learned about the health problems I was having and made a few phone calls on my behalf.

On Sunday before the game I was sitting in my seats just before first pitch. I’ll admit it was one of those times that I was struggling knowing that I had only a few more days before my life could change. As I sat there staring out at the field I looked up to see D.Baxter the Bobcat standing at my seat. He shook my hand and gave me a hug then gave me a thumbs up. At that moment I got very emotional. It was unexpected but the timing could not be more perfect. After the game, I found out it was Cindy who scheduled that visit from Baxter. I’ll never be able to fully thank her for what she did and what it meant.

The other person I have to thank is Tom Springer. Tom is a regular at every Diamondbacks game. If the Diamondbacks had a Wizard of Oz, Tom would be the man behind the curtain. I’ve gotten to know him over the past few years. He sits a section over from me during the regular season and has seats right behind me at Spring Training. He is the most amazing fan I have ever met.

A lot of fans collect things and Tom is no exception. While most of us collect bobble heads, or jerseys, or dirt, Tom collects knowledge. Each spring he will collect information about each and every player in the Diamondbacks system and produce the most comprehensive Spring Training guide I have ever seen. It is filled with facts, figures, and personal items that is a godsend for a diehard fan like me. That alone makes Tom amazing but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I have watched game after game as Tom makes the rounds meeting with everyone and anyone. He is the most connected person in Chase Field. If there were a governor of Chase, it would be Tom. The thing is, he never does anything for himself. His actions are always directed to the benefit of others. Whether it’s making sure a guy who forgot his wife’s anniversary is featured on KissCam or producing a Dancing Cameraman Bobble Head to show his support for a Chase Field icon, Tom always does something special.

During this time of my life he has been the lifeline I have clung to. He makes sure I’m ok and that my mind is focused on the positive side of things. He is the truest friend a guy has ever had and I owe him everything. He warns me when I cross the line on social media and then helps me mend the fences without ever reminding me he told me so. He reads all my writing when I think that only my mom would ever notice a new blog entry. He does all of this without an ounce of credit. In fact, I’m sure I am going to get a lecture about this blog entry and how he doesn’t want any accolades but he deserves it.

I’m going to miss the next two Diamondbacks games. It will be the first time in a decade that I will be in town and will miss two consecutive games and it breaks my heart. I feel as though I am letting the team and the fans down and I really want to be there.

Tonight my youngest daughter and my son are going. They felt it was their duty to make sure the seats will be filled with Diamondbacks fans. My daughter has been practicing keeping score so she can do it just like dad. It brings tears to my eyes to think that I’ve raised a new generation of baseball fans who are capable of keeping score and can talk intelligently about the game. I could not be more proud of the two of them.

On Wednesday my seats will be empty. In 16 seasons those seats have never gone unused. Even on those rare occasions when I could not make a game due to some catastrophe I made sure I had a designated fan that promised to cheer in my absence. This time there will not be one and for that I am sorry.

It is my hope and my prayer that things will go well and that I will be able to be recovered enough to be back at the ballgame when the Diamondbacks return on August 26th. I don’t know if that’s possible but that is what is pushing me to get better. Whether I am there in person or not I’ll be cheering and thanking the Lord for the abundance of friends I have all because of baseball.

5 Comments

  1. Thoughts are with you and your family Jeff! You always give us that smile & chuckle when we most need it & divert our thoughts when losing – long enough to continue to cheer until that walk off win! Please reach out & let us know if there is anything we can do for you & your family! Dback Nation is here for you!!

  2. Sorry to hear this, Jeff – we’ll be sending good thoughts your way, and hope to see you back, strong and healthy, in due course.

  3. Only positive thoughts heading your way. its been great to finally put a face w/the name this past yr. take care of yourself for the dbacks and us dbacknation fans need you cheering like crazy for the post season. if you need anything give us a shout.. you back the dbacks and we will back you

  4. Jeff,

    You are an amazing man and I am sending lots of thoughts, prayers, & positive vibes to you and your family. Your sense of humor has brightened many days of mine and I am glad I met you in person last season. I enjoy reading your blog entries and feel like I am on a journey with you in a sense, if that even makes any sense.

    Keep the faith my friend…and always keep the smile on your face! Take care and God Bless!

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