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Stories from the Ballpark: The Time when Jim Valvano's Speech Came to Life

This is taken from a thought-piece I wrote back in 2015, as two very different scenes played out in the space of about five minutes while at the ballpark. Some of the original has been edited without affecting the content or context.

Sometimes, you go about your day and the joys and sorrows of life hit you in the face, unexpectedly. On a Tuesday afternoon back in the summer of 2015, both experiences occured literally five minutes apart.

Working in baseball, you become familiar with some of the names and faces that come to the park once or twice a year. It’s always fun to catch up and talk about the teams and players and whatever else about life comes up.

Just a few short years ago, most teams had radio broadcasters that traveled with the teams. Honestly, it's a shame so few teams have their play-by-play guys travel anymore. (I think the hometown fans miss following their teams away from home.)

In July 2015, the Greenville (SC) Drive came to town, which at the time meant I would see Ed, their radio voice. A prince of a guy,  he was a older fellow – not many of those in this league, where most of the radio guys were green and young and looking to move up to the next, best gig – who had done the team’s games on radio since the team began in 2005. For the first game of a series, I'd try to get to the ballpark early and catch up. With Greenville, I always looked forward to talking with Ed.

When I stuck my head into the visiting radio booth to say hello to Ed, I asked the benign, “How are Coyou doing?” He turned around, and well, he was a shadow of himself. And, in so many words, he tells me he’s dying. He proceeds to tell me of his funeral plans and the disposal of his ashes that will occur at the ballpark in Greenville.

I was stunned and I wondered if it would be the last time I’ll see Ed. He lived another 3+ years, but he was never the same and his trips became fewer and then stopped. We talked a bit longer and then, I got a phone call.

Back then, my full-time job was as a church music director. I often joked that I was the only scorekeeper in America that carried a hymnbook and a scorebook in the same bag.

At that time, I had an intern from a local college that completed two years with me. Lauren, who had left our church two days prior, was on the call. We had scheduled a quick meeting at the ballpark at which time I was to give her a check from our church. The sum was collected from our members as a love offering to thank her for the two years at the church.

I knew the amount that was given and I knew that she – a “starving college music student” – would be blown away by the generosity of those who gave.

It was better than I had even imagined. The look of joy and amazement on her face for what folks had done for her was the best part of my day, exacerbated by a sad moment that I took in just five minutes before.

As I pondered the scenes that were laid out before me in the preceding few minutes, I thought of the quote by the late Jim Valvano.

In his speech at the ESPYs in 1993 before he died, Valvano said there were three things each person should do every day:

“Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day.” Jim Valvano

Twenty-two years after that memorable speech, in the midst of seeing full joy in the parking lot, after experiencing sadness in the radio booth, Jimmy V's quote screamed loud and clear. I’d heard it before and nodded my head in agreement, but at that moment, I got it.

The quote is not about solely living our lives, but it's about living lives with others.

So often we live in an Elysian-thought world that too often passes by without much notice. The joys of life are ignored, or treated cynically. The sorrows of life are treated with indifference.

When we turn a blind eye to the world around us, when we ignore the laughter and its tears, we become a people more and more selfishly focused on our wants, rather than engaging others.

When we laugh, it is almost always with someone and the hearts are magically joined amidst the staccato-aspirated breath that fills the space.

When we cry, it is almost always with someone, or even if alone, about someone. The saline-filled eyes show a burden is willingly carried. When we think, it’s often about others and how to make their lives better.

Sometimes, the sorrows and joys of life hit you in the face. Both can be utterly shocking, but it’s all a part of engaging each other-- those who make up the human race.

What would our world be like if we cried, laughed and thought more? Certainly, it would be a better one. In fact, it would be "a heck of a day."

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