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04/09/11 - 05/11/11
"From A Simple Gesture, An Amazing Tribute"

   The beginnings started shortly after the passing of my sister (Amy) when my best friend/sudo brother, Mark Milroy suggest that we pay tribute to my sister by using pink bats in our upcoming baseball season. I thought that was a cool idea and thought it was a perfect way to honor her strength and her fighting spirit which she was known for. I also thought that this would be a fitting tribute because my sister, Amy was a very good softball player and had a way better arm than I ever had. So, we agreed to get the bats as the season approached and really didn’t talk about it much after our initial conversation. Little did I know that this small gesture to honor my sisters life would become so much more and effect total strangers as much as it would.

   As our season approached me and Mark began searching for a company that would make the bats that we wanted. We both agreed that we would use Viper Bats , which we both like and have. So we got the money together and also decided to give my dad a bat as well. Yet when we went to place the order we discovered that Viper only offered a pink trophy bat and we wanted a bat that we could actually use. So after looking at a couple of sites and the bats being to expensive or not offered we were beginning to realize that this might not happen. Then as I was doing research I thought that I would post a discussion on CheckSwing (a social networking site for anything baseball).

   So one late night I posted a message about what I wanted to do and asking advice on a bat company that might bring this tribute to fruition. So I got on the computer the next day and to my surprise I got 20- 30 responses from complete strangers telling me what a great tribute I was trying to do. Other people wrote suggestions on other ways to pay tribute, other people gave sites I could go to that offered the bats, and then others (complete strangers mind you) offered to contribute to the purchase of the bats. I was blown away by there compassion and utter kindness that I couldn't stop crying. Like I stated above this has been the hardest thing I have ever had to face. It has turned my beliefs and perception of things on its head. If I have learned anything its never take a minute for granted or never underestimate peoples ability to relate to your problems and renew you faith in the kindness of humanity. To much today we focus on all the bad in the world and not enough on those things that inspire us and show that as a whole we all care for each other. Anyway back to the story. So, after I read every single response, one more heartwarming then the next a couple of responses peaked my interest one in particular was from Chris Corso from Sandlot Stiks.

   His first comment to me was that they produced pink bat and after responding to him he asked me if I had an issue with white ash. I responded no and then began an amazing set of events that I never thought would happen from this simple post. We began corresponding back and forth and began to form a friendship that I think will remain for many years to come. Also he was so inspired by my story that he decided to give us three pink bats so that we could really have an amazing tribute. I also found out that from his original correspondents he didn’t make pink bats and actually created one for this particular request and completely personalized above and beyond my original idea.

   From this simple request we began corresponding back and forth and began talking like two old friends and as I was dealing with my sisters passing he was trying to find a way to honor his father who died shortly before he got his bat company off the ground (which they started together). He felt that by doing this he was honoring his father. After hearing this I thought that it would be cool if somehow I could help him deal with his grieving by honoring his dads name. When I suggested my idea Chris came up with the idea of putting his fathers initials inconspicuously on the knob of the bat. So to say I was overwhelmed by this generosity is an understatement. I felt like this total stranger somehow had the ability to see that my intentions were truly honorable (because lets face it the internet is not known for always being in the up and up) and then took time out from his busy schedule to listen to my plight and just be there to listen to me try and deal with some of my pain. I will never forget this complete act of kindness. The more shocking part of all this is I was able to help him heal and honor his dad through by sisters passing. You see Sandlot Stiks and Chris Corso not only provided us with 3 amazing bats but they decided to actually include the pink bats in there product line and part of whatever they make on the pink bat line would be donated to Sloan Kettering Hospital (the hospital my sister was at) in my sisters name. They also decided to design a red bat in honor of his father and all proceeds would go toward the Heart Association. Even as I write this months later I still can�t believe that this simple post for information would lead to such a major impact to my life and would pay it forward to help complete stranger deal with there pain and sense of loss. It made me feel good that even after my sister passed that her memory and life could inspire and help heal strangers.

   So after receiving the bats we then had to plan how me and Mark were going to unveil the bats as well as present the bat to my father. We decided that the last game my sister saw me play was a couple of days before she entered the hospital. At the time I was playing for the Dutchess County Knights and I was playing a night game at Robinson Lane. My sister was very weak and had trouble even walking from her car to the field without grasping for breath. Yet even though she was struggling she managed to to stay for most of the game and my other teammates where very accommodating and knew that she was gravely ill. We decided it would be fitting to unveil the bats on our opening game for the Knights and I told my coach (Anthony Ambrosio) what we were planning and he was very accommodating to are plans to pay tribute to my sister. We decided to have my dad throw the first pitch (surprising him at the game) and have a moment of silence for her and then present my dad with his pink bat. The story that follows is just how amazing and beyond my expectations the night we unveiled the bats was, but to make you understand how perfect the night was I have to give you a little back story of me and my sisters relationship.

   Me and my sister were three years apart and for most of our lives we were your typical siblings and being so close in age we didn't want to hangout with each other (because it wasn't cool to hang with your big brother or your younger sister). Rather than being as close as we should've been we constantly annoyed and irritating each other. My sister was a master at this and knew how to get my goat more than I did hers. I also think she resented me a little and thought I was the good one and she was the one who struggled for everything (which I sort of agree with now seeing what she went through this past year). I have many story of us annoying each other but the best one I have is when she was in the hospital. She was on a ventilator and not able to speak and was also on pain medication. This made her go in and out sleep of consciousness and not very lucite. I happened to come and visit during this time and happened to use the restroom and after using the restroom forgot to zip up my fly. My sister without hesitation and half conscious made it a point to use her hands and communicate in anyway she could that I had my fly down and made sure everyone visiting that day knew about it. It was pretty funny and it's one of the last good memories I have of her. I will always regret that we never got the time to grow closer, but I have great memories of us annoying each other.

So I was not surprised when our game got cancelled twice due to rain. And I'm positive that my sister had something to do with it and was laughing her ass off getting the last laugh. The day we got to finally play the game was no different. The whole day was a perfect spring day, until I made the hour drive to the field. It was completely overcast with little drizzles here and there, so I was sure something was going to happen again and delay this once again. Yet when I arrived at the field it had cleared up so at least I had passed one hurdle. So, as I arrive people were already at the field and my nerves started to get the best of me. I just want this to be a special day for me, Mark and my parents who are still trying to deal with this huge loss. So I warmed up and prepared for the game as more people began to trickle in. My dad arrived early and was nervous about throwing out the first pitch, so I got the opportunity to have a catch with him (which is the first time in I don't know how many years, but it brought to mind Field of Dreams and I will always cherish that moment). By game time we got between 20-30 people there for Amy (which in our league is like 40,000 people).

Then as we were ready to start the game we realized that the other team only had seven guys. Again I had to look at the sky and laugh a little and say a few choice words to my sister for her hijinks. We then found out the 8th guy (so we could at least get the game in) was on his way and waiting for his arrival delayed the game 15 minutes or so. This only added to my anxiety and anxiousness. So finally we were underway and began the ceremonies both teams lineup along the baselines and I explained that we were going to have a moment of silence and dedicate this game to my sister as well as unveil our (as my father put it, "works of art") pink bats. I also explained that the last time I saw Amy before she entered the hospital (never to be released) was at a Knights baseball game and even though she was frail and had trouble breathing she stayed for most of the game. I then presented the bat to my dad he was holding back tears was speechless on how good the bats looked. I then handed him the game ball and he proceeded to one hop a ball into the catchers glove.
 

   So then it was game time. On the Knights Mark and me usually bat first and second. So after this emotional moment we were thrown into the fire and my nerves had never been more rattled. I took my practice swings and I absolutely loved the feel of the pink bat (I hadn't swung it prior to the game). So Mark had a tough night and struck out, so as I approached the batters box I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and bat. I've never been a lot for the hitter that gets up and do a lot of flare or pre-batting rituals, but this time I felt it was appropriate to pay a little homage to my sister and gave a kiss to the sky. I them settled in and awaited the first pitch. The first pitch was outside, ball one. I step in for the next pitch and it was a fastball right down the middle. I swung and hit the ball right on the sweet spot hitting a hard grounder right up the middle for a single. You would've thought I hit the winning homerun because I was cheering and pumping my fist as I rounded first. I was so happy that I got a hit in honor of my sister and I ended up scoring our first run. It's like Chris Corso said in our correspondence, “it was going to be a magical night.


So, from there I played first and in between innings talked to some of the people that came. My little league coach (who was not only my coach, but a mentor and friend who hasn't seen me play since little league) was there so not only was I excited to get a hit my first at bat but for him to see me play again was a special honor. Then I was up again this time I was more relaxed and confident and felt like anything else that I accomplished was just icing on the cake. I stepped in and took the pitch for strike one. I then swung on a outside pitch for strike two. Being behind in the count I did my usual ritual which is to bite my shirt which helps me keep my head in and the pitcher delivered a fastball just inside but to close to take so I swung and got jammed but was able to get enough of the bat on the ball to hit another hard grounder up the middle and leg out my second hit of the night. I was so excited, but was quickly sent back to the dugout as I was forced out on the next play. As I came to the dugout Mark approached me and said, “I jinxed myself” and I knew exactly what he meant. You see I was so upset last week when we got postponed I was talking to Mark and I said, “at this rate and knowing my luck when we finally do play this game, I will get up my first at bat foul off a pitch and break my bat.” I had broken my bat, and all I could do was laugh, I wasn't upset I was actually laughing knowing that again my sister was there taunting me and getting the last laugh at my expense. At that moment I really felt her presence and it made the night just that much more magical. I got up one more time and used my old bat and as luck would have it I got caught on three straight sliders and ended up striking out, which again was apropos getting my only hits of the night with the pink bat. We ended up winning the game 5-4 and players on the other team (the Bulls) actually came up to me after the game offering there condolences and saying how glad they were that we won.

   I've had many memorable games and memories of this great game and this will go down as one of them. Not only because I played good and because of the pink bats, but because the outpouring of generosity and support from, checkswing sandlot stiks, my team, my friends, family and even the graciousness of the the Bulls just made this night life altering. I also felt I got to fulfill one of my other baseball bucket list of sorts, and I got to play a game with my sister. I know that I never got to play with her physically, but she was there right by side the whole night cheering me on.

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