Indelible images and frozen memories

I was 15…coaching in the Edgemont Little league alone since the day my dad had refused to continue coaching over a slight by the league president.  When he “resigned” it left me without the transportation necessary to pick up the kids for practice or take them home. And so my mother had agreed to taxi me, and a few of the boys after practices over the six weeks of our 12 game schedule.  I was so excited for the 1970 games to start.  I had a veteran team, meaning mostly 10 year olds…and a couple of them were the kind of kids that just knew how to win.  Our third baseman from the summer of 69, had a good arm and had become our catcher. Our pitchers were not the greatest but everyone on the team could HIT and our defense seemed like it was going to be the best in the league.  Mostly we had a feeling on that team, that grew out of the attitude of our best players…I say the best because of their intense desire to win.  They simply would not quit.  The team leader was a spunky little guy named Mike…Our catcher.   So I had called our sixth practice at 12 Noon on a Saturday just before school got out in May.  We had had a GREAT practice on the north field, and Mom was scheduled to come pick us up at 2 pm…I pulled the guys in after practice and the mandatory two laps around the backstops, and sat them in the dug-out, to give them the pep talk and teach them a little bit more about the game.  

OK guys, I shouted, so do you want to WIN?… There was a pause and Carlyle Curtis said…My mom says it doesn’t matter if we win or lose, but how we play the game…  WRONG Carlyle,  I said with a certain amount of authority, ON THIS TEAM, we Play to have fun, and its NO FUN TO LOSE. (I fully intended on telling them its no fun to be a bad sport when you do…but I decided to give that lesson some other time.)   LOOK, I want to teach you the signs so listen up… Now when you’rer at bat, I will be in the 3rd base coaches box…We will have signs that tell you when I want you to steal a base…take a pitch …(that means LET IT GO BY without swinging, I explained)…when to bunt…and when to take a good swing at the ball….lets see…If I rub the brim on my hat like this, It means I want you to lead off. If I brush my hair like this, I want you to break for the next base like you’re being chased by an ugly girl who wants to kiss ya…I paused…If I adjust my hat, and clap then rub my chin…it means take the pitch. I don’t care if its a perfect strike,  do not swing.  I then I sighed and pretended to be in deep thot…now, if I pick my nose, iIt means I want you to bunt… (they all laughed)…and if I eat it…it means HIT AWAY… Murder the ball, knock it over the center field fence!!!  The entire team went bonkers…

I pulled one kid out into the sun to demonstrate the hows of bunting, laying down a drag bunt to the two southpaws, and told them my favorite baseball stories to just pump them up. We waited and waited but my mom didn’t come…Well actually she did come but not seeing us, thru the back wall of the concrete dugout, she she honked, but the sound must have gone over our heads or been drowned out by laughter….so she turned around and went home wondering who had been kind enough to deliver us back home.  After half an hour the kids were getting kinda restless so I decided to walk down the tracks just west of University Ave and we started the trek to my house. As we got to where the old road intersected with the main Highway, two of the kids, Chris Goodwill, and Mike Bateman who lived just up over the hill, through Three Fountains, and across the Canyon Road decided that they didn’t want to walk clear down to 3700 N for a ride, and would just return via the trail up over the hill…just the way they had come to practice.

I was about 50 feet down the tracks when Mike ran to the road and started pretending he was an umpire and calling strikes as the cars passed.  He looked north, NOTHING….There were Three coming from the south and he yelled STEEEERIKE ONE…as the first car passed. He then waited a minute and yelled STEEEERIKE  TWO…as another whizzed by toward the canyon…The third was close behind it and he called STEEEERIKE THREE…Then without looking north again, he darted into the southbound lane. I saw that little ten year old as he took three steps…then he froze. I can see that image in my mind as if it were yesterday. In the split second it took him to take those three steps, I saw what he must have seen. A huge white Cadillac that had come out of the mouth of the canyon like a bat out of hell….breaking, skidding, then sliding sideways as he backpedaled one step…then I heard the THUD, and watched his little body struck by the rear fin of the Caddy like a tennis ball coming off a racket…he was lifted up and spun about as he flew about thirty feet and landed on his head on the gray asphalt shoulder just a foot from the dirt. I ran around the fence that separated the tracks from the highway…screaming….NO NO NO…and knelt down beside him…I was certain he was dead… The blood pooled up beneath his head as I yelled his name…MIKE MIKE…OH GOD OH GOD What have I done…I am responsible for him…MIKE MIKE…OH NO OH NO …DON’T DIE YOU CANT DIE…

It was then that he opened his eyes, Did I do good at practice? DO GOOD? YOU DID GREAT!!! …MIKE stay with me bud…You’re gonna be ok… You’re gonna be ok…I stayed there talking to him Pleading with him…to keep his eyes open, as I watched Jack and Taylor get out of their car which had spun nearly back to the north and completely off the road on the east side of the two lane highway in a cloud of dust…and and as they ran back up to the road, they watched for the slowly passing cars, and ran across to our side.  Jim Kimmel, our soon to be bishop, came running from his house two houses away with a blanket and someone called the ambulance…that was at about 2:35…Minutes seemed like hours….we waited and waited…Mike, going in and out of consciousness, kept asking…did I catch good? …yes you were great!…Can I pitch this year?…YOU WANT TO PITCH?…of course, sure, who else can throw a split fingered fast ball like you?… oh it hurts…oh it hurts… he cried…but at least his eyes were back open…and I feared that he would close them forever at any minute…by now the hour seemed like days…I just kept talking to him…pleading with him, promising him ANYTHING…praying that God would not take his hand out from under him…. When is the ambulance coming I yelled? …Did ANYONE call an ambulance?… the Police arrived, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to anything but Mike.  A woman brought a bandage for his head to stop the bleeding from the gash on his forehead.  His little leg was bent backward at mid thigh and I knew his femur was broken…FINALLY at about 4 pm the Ambulance arrived and they loaded him into the Cadillac Station Wagon and I got in to ride with him to Utah Valley Hospital…that he still had one shoe on was like a sign that he just might make it…I fidgeted with the other one as we traveled and I just kept asking him questions so he would keep his eyes open.

When we FINALLY arrive at the ER, I noticed the clock said 4:35…I heard a doctor ask if his parents were there?…We cant do much without their OK, he sighed……we need to get him into surgery stat, lets prep him…Were are his PARENTS?…I stood there holding his hand, talking to him while someone tried to track them down….frantic efforts were made to reach his parents…they were in Salt Lake City…I was so upset I nearly threw up…FINALLY at 5:20, His Dad and Mom showed up…Merrill looked at me and yelled WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? I didn’t know what to say…I just stared at him…After he had given them permission to operate, I sat in the corner waiting…I phoned home. My father, was so angry that I had just disappeared without a trace, that he yelled WHERE ARE YOU?…I’m at the Hospital I whispered…Mike Bateman got hit by a car…He might die… WELL RUSS, YOU GET HOME and I MEAN NOW!!  Then he hung up. I sat back down, dazed,  as the Batemans came out of the ER, into the lobby…I was so afraid he wouldn’t make it…I said to them, I am so so sorry…their reply…WELL YOU SHOULD BE! I just looked at the floor until they went back into the ER, and I left for home… I walked home from 800 N in Provo,  up through Carterville then down across the river bridge. When I got home I really caught hell.  I finally just walked outside, got the mower and started mowing the lawn at dusk.   The noise seemed to block out the many thots and fears…and I prayed again..over and over…What else could I do?  I phoned the hospital at 10 and he was in recovery.  When can I see him I asked?…Tuesday they told me.

That Sunday I phoned to make sure he was still OK three times. I went to church and felt so morose… so depressed.  I think now that I was in a state of shock, and only Jim Kimmel had the sense to see how distressed I was. We had a good long talk after church and I cried for the first time… and by Tuesday I was starting to get a grip on reality.   I rode my bike down to the hospital…when I walked into his room his leg was in traction. The nurse told me he had three broken ribs, a fractured skull,  two cracked bones in his lower leg and a broken femur that had to be kept in traction until it could be set.   I went almost every day to the hospital for 2 months…to visit, or to report on how bad we lost our games… I would go down to Jimba’s where I worked and buy him a Weird Harold, or a Fat Albert, or a Tin Lizzie, and take it to his room and talk…They said when he got out he would be in a body cast for another 2 months…and sure enough just before the season ended he came to our last two games…on crutches in his body cast nearly up to his chest.  He wanted to coach first base, so I put him out there crutches, cast and all.  When one of the kids swung at a High pitch, he raised his crutch, waved it and yelled what I had often yelled at him…OH MAN THAT WAS UP IN HEAVEN…YOU CANT HIT A BALL THAT’S CLEAR UP IN HEAVEN…

We only WON two games that year…the two when he was there helping me coach…the kids were just inspired by his will to win….really, to live.   It was so strange… after that year, he moved away and I didn’t see him again…until he was a Junior in High School, playing football for Provo. I bumped into him while he was jogging on the street right in front of Prove High, and we talked….he told me he still had a slight limp even after 6 years, and that his gate was uneven when he ran but his leg was really strong…and his smile was as big and contagious as ever… Time had made the horrors of that day indelible images, and memories frozen permanently in my mind. I can still see Taylor and Jack…standing there staring down at him…talking to the police, milling about.  I can still see that car sliding toward that little body frozen at the realization of its oncoming presence. I can still see the blood stained asphalt which I watched and watched until the snow and water washed it away over that next  year.  I still calculate the exact location based on two trees and the bike path which has replaced the RR tracks….the road is much wider now.
I think about that day more often than I should. I have chosen to believe that there was a reason for that near tragedy.  I think God must have made a very deliberate choice to keep him here.  Maybe for our sakes…maybe because of Mike, or something he needs to do…or it might have had something to do with his Mother and her love.  I will always believe, however, that it was a time in my life when God was very very close.  
I got a note from Taylor over 41 years later asking me If I would mind talking about it… Apparently I am not the only one who has indelible images and memories of a little 10 year old baseball player, frozen…in my mind…

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5 Responses to Indelible images and frozen memories

  1. cindy (one_big_pain) says:

    You’re stories/memories are always so poignant and provoke much thought. Thanks for posting again, I miss my blogging friends. -c

  2. Wonderful to see another blog post. Facebook is fine in its way, but sometimes real stories or memories need to be spoken.

  3. Cynth says:

    Why did I have it in my head that the kid had died? Well I’m so glad he didn’t and as always it is fun to read stories that I have heard before but obviously forgotten. :) miss you…

  4. Janet says:

    Glad he was ok and you were ok. You know good things always come out of bad things.

  5. Jeanette Wimpee says:

    Russ, please tell me you still have a blog somewhere. I’ve been “lurking” you for years and can’t find anything you’ve blogged since this. I’ve ferreted out how someone took over your Thotman persona so maybe you have a new blogging name?? I really miss your “thots” and have pointed several wannabe bloggers to your site to see what a great blog should look like.

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