I tell you what, it is damn hard to make up for a 4-hour drive that includes slogging through I-94 after battling through 100 miles or so of your fellow Hoosier drivers, none of whom seemed phased by the new Move Over Law. But by the time I was pulling away from Foss Park District in North Chicago with my kids after attending a baseball clinic there, my outlook had been completely changed.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about baseball setting me at ease and I certainly hope it’s not the last. Lord knows I screed often enough to make such immersions in the purer waters of the game not only welcome, but very necessary (right Salt-n-Pepa?). Apprehension about the drive, the weather (the forecast showed a good chance for thunderstorms throughout the afternoon), and the content of the clinic had put me on edge for a bulk of the morning.
No sooner had I taken a few steps toward the gathered assembly by a series of folding table, however, that those accumulate anxieties were melted away like a lemon ice cup in the July sun. That’s when I was greeted by the equally warming smile of Angela Smith (green shirt, front-middle in the picture above), FPD’s Recreation Superintendent. She had recognized my Cubs Insider t-shirt and came over to shake my hand and give me a quick rundown of the festivities.
Then I was finally able to meet the inimitable John Lorek, along with his wife Monica and their kids, Samantha and Ryne. I must say, it was a bit odd to have two little boys named Ryne running around, something that was particularly odd for both boys. I don’t think either was used to hearing “Ryno!” from anyone other than his own parents, so they both ended up rubbernecking for much of the afternoon.
I was introduced to former Cub and National Micah Bowie, the man who would serve as the de facto organizer of the actual baseball activities, and he talked with my son briefly. My kids and I split off for a bit to play a quick game of catch, but the children were quickly drawn like iron filings by the magnetic pull of the miniature therapy horses trotting in from the parking lot. All around the clot of petting hands stood former major leaguers, rotary clubbers, cops, firefighters, and parents.
As a parent and a baseball fan, it was pretty cool to see my kids interacting with some of the guys I grew up watching. While on the way up, I explained that I remembered several of the former players we’d be meeting from seeing them when I was my kids’ age. My 6-year-old son, who believes me ancient at 30 years his senior, replied, “And they’re still alive?!” Yes, in point of fact, they were still alive. I’m sure they could have been doing any number of other things that day, but it said a lot that they were out there working with those children, some of whom had clearly never played before.
I should also mention that this was an inclusion clinic, which meant that kids with mental and/or physical handicaps were right out there with the rest of the group. Lorek commented that there’s no way his daughter, Samantha, would ever do something like that with some adults she didn’t know. But surrounded by other kids, she was right and home and enjoying herself. My daughter can be somewhat withdrawn as well, often feeling far too anxious to participate early on. Seeing her smiling the whole time was great.
Kids learned fielding from John Martin (and got to hold his 1982 Cardinals World Series ring), then ran bases with former Cub Gene Hiser and Mariners/Sox alum Jack Perconte. They got to play catch with Bowie, former Cub Steve Trout (more on that in a bit), and former Negro League standout Dennis Biddle, who is a good friend of Cubs alum — and my long-lost uncle — Big George Altman. Then it was on to hitting with former Philly Von Hayes and Dan Pasqua, who has maintained his massive forearms long after his White Sox days ended.
For me, nothing was better than seeing Addison at the throwing station, where she and Ryne were paired up to work with Trout. I’ve tried for years to work with my daughter on her throws, which are really just glorified shot-puts that typically don’t make it too far. But she’s hard-headed like me and doesn’t take well to my instruction. Upon seeing this, Trout showed her a few things and had her firing the ball well past her brother in no time. And he couldn’t have been more excited over Ryne’s snow-cone grab and Addison’s subsequent “look what I found” snag.
Before and after the baseball, Angela had arranged for a spread that included burgers and dogs, which the kids wolfed down before climbing into the bounce house. I just stood and marveled at the beautiful day as I talked with various folks who had made the trip to the park for the clinic. Lorek told me that when he first started a similar deal down in Texas, they had around 50 kids. Now, 5 years later, they draw well in excess of 200. I’d love to see FPD continue along that path and continue to hold these events.
Check out the gallery below for a few more pictures I was able to take. If you’re interested in more information, feel free to let me know in the comments below. You can also reach Angela Smith directly at 847-689-7480 ext. 220 or 224-336-6566.[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”1″ gal_title=”Foss Park District/MLBPAA Inclusion Baseball Clinic”]