Tougher than the rest

From the sports editor

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By BRAD SPENCER

Larkin Beauchet was a short thin blond half-Irish, half-French (I can only guess) kid I went to school with some ? let's just say years ago. Lark was quiet, unassuming, but likable. We pronounced his last name incorrectly but he didn't care. Bo Shay was close enough and harmless.

We towered over Bo Shay. We weighed twice as much. We threw further and faster on the baseball field. We hit harder on the football field. We did just about everything better than little ole Bo Shay, except, that is, play with pain.

It was a Little League game. I was scheduled to pitch the last two innings. I was considered one of the better players on our team, a power-hitting first baseman, who took to the mound to close out games. I made a diving snag on a blistering line drive the inning before, robbing our opponent of two runs, maybe three. I was hailed a hero between innings.

I rocketed my own line drive into center field for two runs that inning, eventually arriving at home plate with cheers of adoration. I was THEE MAN. Tall, firm, proud, but, evidently, marshmallow-like.

The very next inning a ground ball came my way and I botched it, took my eyes off it, lost it in the grass, misplayed a wicked bounce, whatever. A run scored, we were losing with just two innings to go. I looked down to find drops of blood on my shimmering white cleats. The blood was coming from the tip of my middle finger on my right hand. The grounder had smashed into the finger and lifted the nail up. As soon as I saw the blood I turned as white as those shimmering white cleats and wailed in agony. I wailed from the bench when the coach wrapped my finger in gauze. I wailed. I wailed some more. I was in pain, I tell you. It was searing, intense, extreme pain!

"The nail, the nail, Oh dear God, the nail! Why me, why me? Can somebody call my folks?"

The game resumed in the midst of my blubbering wails.

At the end of the inning, the coach had but one option for a closer and that was little ole Bo Shay. The kid was up for it, although he simply nodded when the coach told him to warm up.

I muzzled my cries of pain to see Bo Shay's first pitch come zipping back at him, ricocheting off his throwing hand. The little guy picked up the pesky ball and threw the runner out. He then motioned for the coach to come out to the mound. The umpire joined them. And then all three came over to the bench where the coach took some of the gauze he had wrapped my finger with and began the process on Bo Shay's middle finger. The blood nearly made me resume my wails.

Little ole Bo Shay had endured the same exact injury that brought the team's power hitter to his knees, and there he stood, unfettered, unbothered, maybe even a little annoyed by all the attention he was getting.

And there Bo Shay went, back out onto the mound, finger wrapped in blood-stained gauze, and not a snickle of pain emanating from his body.

And there it was, a two-inning shutout by a 5-foot nothing kid with a busted up finger on his throwing hand.

I felt small.

I was reminded of Bo Shay's story when I began to see how tough and resilient our young athletes in Oak Park and River Forest are today. In a time when former professional athletes are coming clean about using performance-enhancing drugs, I'm encouraged to see that good old-fashioned toughness isn't petering out in sports. That's why I dedicate this column to all of those who have endured and played through pain this season. To name a few: OPRF girls' basketball players Kate Corkle (two ACL tears in the past), Brittney Marshall (two sprained ankles this season), Jonah Foster (shoulder), Sara Bunch (shoulder); Fenwick girls' basketball players Maggie Kloak (ACL) and Brittanny Johnson (knee); OPRF boys' basketball player Evan Hilton (ankle); Trinity basketball player Tony Carter (back); Fenwick boys' basketball player Peter Flowers (concussion).

You're all tough Bo Shays in my book.

E-mail: Bspencer@wjinc.com

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