Straight Paths

This is part two of a series about Michael, who enrolled in hospice services with terminal cancer when he was 62 years old. Michael was admitted directly into our hospice center for acute care – symptom management, pursued by droves of visitors, especially girls’ softball players and entire teams. I wondered, “Who in the world is this guy?” I soon discovered that Michael was somewhat of a local legend in baseball and softball circles.

Michael’s father, Bill, who happens to be one of our most active hospice volunteers, reflected on his son’s baseball career. “Mike wanted to be a pitcher ever since he was five years old, so I taught him what he wanted to know. When he was 12 years old he pitched for New Boston in the 1960 Little League World Series. We placed fifth in the world. A team like that only comes along once in a lifetime. But the thing that stands out more than anything else was that when Mike was only 14 years old they took him on as a starting pitcher for the American Legion team. They never played someone that young before. Some of those guys were 19- and 20-year-old men.

“Al Oliver, Larry Hisle and Gene Tennace were on his team. (All three became outstanding Major League Baseball players). And when Mike was a senior at Clay High School, two professional teams were talking with Mike, the Minnesota Twins and the Cincinnati Reds, but Mike took a full scholarship at Ohio University instead. We thought his education was more important. Mike played three years there, got married and took a job as a chemist at the chemical plant.”

Bill continued: “Mike had two little girls, and he wanted to make softball pitchers out of them. He never played softball before, but he studied pitching like you would a college class. If there was a meeting somewhere on pitching, he went to it. He corresponded with big schools like Arizona and UCLA. He took videos of his daughter Mindy in the back yard and sent them to the coach of the University of South Carolina, and the coach would send them back with suggestions. Mindy won 67 games as a high school pitcher, which I think is a state record. And her sister Cindy caught her. They were the battery for Clay High School. And Mike started teaching other girls in the the area to windmill pitch. He would take on six to eight girls at a time. He did it for 10 to 12 years. A lot of time he would skip dinner and not get home until eight o’clock at night. I told him, ‘You should charge for it; other people do,’ but Michael said, ‘No, I enjoy it. I enjoy watching the girls develop. That’s my reward.’ People still come up to me today and thank me for what Michael did for their daughters.”

The first and only time I visited Michael I could tell that he shared his father’s sentiments. He wondered how far he could have gone in baseball if he had accepted the offer to go to the major leagues instead of going to college. I suggested, “You know, if you would have played in the major leagues you might have entertained thousands of people, but you may not have changed one life for the better. Your life reminds me of, ‘The Unknown Confederate Soldiers Prayer’”. Michael exclaimed, “I have that poem. It’s one of my favorites.” Therefore I made a feeble attempt to recite it:

“I asked for strength that I might achieve;

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for

but everything that I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered,

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”

Michael reflected momentarily and then responded, “That really makes sense.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at lorenhardin53@gmail.com . You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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