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Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • LEVI PAYTON: A dream that came true

  • My arms hurt. My legs hurt. My feet hurt. My back hurt. My pride hurt. My ego was sent to the disabled list. Still yet, when I drove home on Friday I couldn’t have felt any happier.
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  • My arms hurt. My legs hurt. My feet hurt. My back hurt. My pride hurt. My ego was sent to the disabled list. Still yet, when I drove home on Friday I couldn’t have felt any happier.
    You see, on Friday I had the privilege to do something that I thought I’d never experience again when I put on Neosho Wildcats baseball gear, walked onto the field in my spikes and played in one more game donning the unmistakable “N” on my hat.
    Having played high school baseball for the Wildcats from 2001-2004 under head coaches Mike Godfrey and Eddie Crupper, I was thrilled when I heard that Neosho baseball coach Donny Pennington was organizing the 1st Annual Neosho Baseball Alumni Game. It had been 10 years since I’d picked up a ball or bat, so I knew I’d probably embarrass myself, but it was one of those rare opportunities I simply couldn’t pass up.
    After much excitement and anticipation, I pulled up to the field house the same way I would have if it were 2004 again. Almost immediately I began seeing familiar faces pulling in beside me. The only difference was that many of us weren’t just grabbing our gear out of the car, but also grabbing our children from the back seat. Whoa. This definitely wasn’t 2004.
    After signing a release waiver and hitting the field, it didn’t take long to realize Father Time is not a kind soul. We couldn’t be certain the popping and cracking noises we heard were the sounds of gloves and bats, because our joints were making the same racket. We groaned and moaned about how bad Saturday was going to feel.
    There were other notable differences. Instead of talking nonstop about girls like we used to, we talked about our families, our jobs and other grown up things. Some of us didn’t fill out our uniforms quite the way we used to back in the day while others were … well … overflowing.  
    One thing that time couldn’t change was our love of the game. We laughed, goofed off and showed that the competitive streak inside us still remains.
    It meant a lot for me personally to lace ’em up again with a handful of good friends that I played with back in the day. It was also great to see and get acquainted with the guys that wore the jersey before and after me. Several of us had never met, but now we’ll forever be bonded by the fact that we’re all Wildcats.
    For many of us “old-timers” it was a chance for our children and spouses to see us play for the first time, albeit poorly, and for our parents to reminisce along with us on our glory days. We shared a lot of laughs. Most of us did something to embarrass ourselves (I did this three times). A few of us showed we don’t have IT anymore (see: Payton, Levi). A few others looked like they hadn't missed a beat.
    Page 2 of 2 - At the end of the day, no one cared about the stats or the score. We’ll no doubt boast and brag a little, but that’s part of soaking up the memories we’d made together on such a perfect night for baseball. Most of us were just grateful to put the gear on and experience one more day on the diamond. One thing is certain — we’ll all be forever thankful for Coach Pennington and everyone else who had a hand in putting on this event for the alumni. They’re the ones who truly knocked it out of the park. Their selection of Joe Fowler, Ronnie Quintana and Scott Berry for the inaugural class of the NHS Hall of Fame was yet another home run.
    Remember that reference to Father Time? Well, after I’d heaved a throw into right field, balked, served up a home run and whiffed on a fly ball, it was time to face my three-year-old daughter following the game. As we met near the dugout she squinted and uttered the words of a babe: “Daddy, are you mad because you didn’t do well?”
    All I could do was laugh. Truth is, I couldn’t have been happier. I fulfilled a dream and it was a day that meant so much to the alumni for so many reasons. Many are already asking if we’re going to do it again next year. If it happens, you can go ahead and sign this bad baseball player up. Until then, I’ll stick to writing.
    A good friend and former baseball teammate posted something on Facebook Friday night following the game that couldn’t have summed up my feelings about the day any better. He wrote, “Every man that has ever played ball wants ‘one more game.’ I was very happy to get it tonight.”
    As soon as I read that statement my arm hurt a little less, my legs felt better, my feet no longer needed a massage, my back quit screaming, I was full of pride and my ego went out the door. His words were few and yet so true. For myself and the 22 other alumni, it was a day we were all so thankful for. There’s no question that at one point or another each of us experienced a moment in our lives where all we ever wanted was to pull on that uniform one more time. That dream came true for 23 men on Friday.
    In the words of longtime NHS coach Jim Stuart, it was a great day to be a Wildcat.

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