There have been worse things a team has gone through in one season, I'm sure of it. And there are U.S. soldiers, some of whom are very close in age to these baseball players, presently risking their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I can't help getting all warm and fuzzy about the Oak Park and River Forest baseball team right now. The Huskies went through a somewhat bitter divorce before the season began, were inflicted with another separation when a comrade suffered a serious and supposedly season and/or career ending injury, and they also, to put it bluntly, saw a man die right before their eyes.
Every one of these so-called setbacks has only seemed to energize this club.
? Who would have thought the departure of leading slugger Ruairi O'Connor wouldn't have much of an impact on the Huskies? O'Connor left school early to attend and play ball at Florida State University. OPRF has responded with a 32-7 season, which includes a West Suburban (Silver) Conference title and more recently a trip to the Class AA State tournament. O'Connor was on the team last year when the Huskies fell to eventual State champ Notre Dame in the super-sectional. But he wasn't on the team when it defeated that same team 5-1 Monday night at Alexian Field in Schaumburg.
? A tree in Breckinridge, Colo., just before the start of the season turned Eric Lisle's leg into a Snake Light. The senior utility player, who OPRF head coach Chris Ledbetter said he was counting on for a great many things this season, mistakenly took a speedy slope while skiing with a school club. He crashed hard, and wasn't expected back this season. Lisle's devotion to his team was uplifting. He declared after the incident that he'd do whatever was possible to help his team have a successful season.
"I'll be there cheering them on," he said.
He cheered when he wasn't rehabbing. The tough and resilient ballplayer has appeared as a designated hitter in three games this postseason. He's greeted with applause every time he puts on a helmet and grabs a bat.
? Despite being without O'Connor and Lisle, the Huskies were ranked No. 1 in preseason polls. The early pressure may have caused a bit of anxiety as the team struggled to get out of the gates, losing two games. But the nerves settled and the team rattled off five consecutive WSC wins and 15 straight overall.
? The entire team had a hands-on lesson in life when umpire Scott Marengi collapsed of a heart-attack during a game against Willowbrook on April 14. The players watched helplessly from a hill behind the dugout as Ledbetter and others tried desperately to resuscitate the 47-year-old Marengi. He died en route to the hospital.
Stepping into a batter's box would never again be the same for the Huskies. I wonder if that's what it is. This team has it all in perspective. It's a ballgame. It's fun. It's something we'll remember forever.
Ledbetter said back in April after the umpire's death, "I thought our forever moment would be something like a State title, but now it will be the death of an umpire. It's a moment that can't be changed."
Win or lose at the Class AA State tournament this weekend, OPRF's forever moment will be this memorable season.
And I sure hope that's not too warm and fuzzy for you.