Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

April 24, 2014

Czachorski: My own field of dreams

Ryan Czachorski
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — A few weeks ago, I sat behind the backstop at Evergreen Park, watching St. Anthony and South Central play baseball and taking photos when I overheard a conversation.

It was a few seven- or eight-year-old kids, just talking about the game in front of them, nearly gushing over some of their favorite players on St. Anthony.

The conversation brought a smile to my face, as you could just tell how excited they were to be there, be watching their team and be watching baseball.

That momentary exchange sounded like a group of kids in love, however briefly, with the game of baseball. For me, while I'm known around here as a diehard Cubs fan, the team that made me fall in love for good was the West Michigan Whitecaps.

That name doesn't mean a lick to about 99 percent of you, and I'd be surprised if most people around here have heard of them.

One reason people might is because Effingham alum Chad Green currently pitches for them, and when I went back home this weekend for Easter, I made it a point to try and set something up with the team and interview him. (Author's note: If my family resided in Tulsa, Omaha, Surprise, Ariz. or any other place an Effingham area player is playing professionally, I would have done the same.)

That joy I described up there -- I don't feel that much anymore. Insert your jokes about the Cubs never winning here.

It's not because I love the game less, it's because I've watched more of it and played more of it than I ever thought I would as a six-year-old when the Whitecaps came to my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1994.

I had a ton of great moments there, like when I threw out the first pitch on my birthday (after an argument with my parents this weekend, which birthday it was is under dispute), or when my dad and I saw Heath Schesser hit a game-winning home run to clinch the 1998 Midwest League championship.

But now, I watch the game differently, looking at it differently and getting different things out of it. When I was a kid, baseball was everything. Now, I have my relationships, my family, and my work. My job is where I experience my most childlike joys when I feel I've done well.

So worlds collided for me Monday when I was assigned a press pass to the team I've been watching for 20 years over hundreds of games, in a stadium which nearly burned to the ground this winter and may have brought a tear to my eye when I saw the video.

It was just cool. So cool. I geeked out and the smile keeps coming back to me when I think about it. I watched batting practice from the press box, then talked to Chad when the Whitecaps finished up.

He seemed like he thought the whole thing was pretty cool as well, the whole playing professional baseball thing, not talking to me. And for good reason, because in the brief 16 months I've known Chad, 90 percent of our conversations have been about his dreams of playing pro ball.

It's a feeling I want to bottle up and keep for a while, but I know it was brief and a matter of consequences and coincidence.

But it reminded me how I fell in love with both the game and my profession. And if I need a hint about it, I'll just try to be reminded by the kids I see and hear at our local ballparks.