Archived Opinion

Finding an antidote in baseball

Finding an antidote in baseball

Aside from the global darkness of a pandemic, political strife, natural disasters and the impending anniversary of 9/11, there is grief on a local and personal level as well. 

Last Friday I learned about the passing of Steve Ledford, longtime teacher and basketball coach at Canton Middle School. Many years before I came to The Smoky Mountain News, I was employed by the Haywood County school system, first as a school psychologist, then a classroom teacher then a lead teacher/instructional coach. 

My first position as a school psychologist was split between Pisgah High School and Canton Middle School. I only held this position for two years at which point I decided teaching in the classroom was where I wanted to be, but during that short stint, I became attached to the genuineness and altruism of the Canton community. 

Steve was on staff during that time at Canton Middle and even though he and I didn’t work in the same department, he always had a smile and friendly word when I passed him in the halls or saw him at a ballgame. I’ve been on the Waynesville/Tuscola side of things for many years now, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Pisgah Nation. 

Just when I was processing Steve’s death and thinking of his sweet family, we received the awful news that my boyfriend’s grandmother unexpectedly passed. She was 83-years old and was as spritely as a person could be. A couple days before her death, she called my boyfriend, Matthew, to wish him a happy birthday. She was an integral part of his life, and I felt grateful to have known her for the past four years. She was smart, witty, unique and creative. She was a model matriarch who put her family first and ensured they knew how much they were adored. 

As I spent time with the family this week, my heart kept going to Matthew’s dad and uncle. They lost their mom. From losing my mom, I know what an awful feeling that is. It’s a combination of deep sadness and abandonment. It feels strange to be walking the earth without your mom. No matter what age you are when it happens, you’re transported back to childhood at the loss of a parent. You feel little and vulnerable but at the same time you have to be brave and strong for the young people in your own life. 

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When the world begins to feel extremely heavy, like it’s felt lately, I have to intentionally focus on small everyday joys. In fact, before writing this column, I set a timer for three minutes and wrote down anything that’s made me smile or feel happy in the past several weeks. 

The number one item on my list was baseball. Over the past several months, baseball has emerged as a favorite family hobby. Matthew played in college and initially he was only working with two of our three boys because both of them are interested in the sport. Over time, the entire family got involved, even to the point where I bought my own baseball glove. We ventured to the D-Bat batting cage in Asheville last weekend, but mostly we enjoy backyard ball or visiting one of the local fields to hit, throw and field. 

There is something comforting about this all-American sport. Maybe it’s because it’s so engrained in our collective psyche and spun into the fabric of our ancestral DNA. Whatever the reasons, I love the sound of a bat hitting a ball, the sight of dirt flying in the air, the quiet spans of time between plays, the intense expression on a pitcher’s face and the unexpected turn of events that can happen in a split second. My younger son, Case, started Little League this year. I’m secretly hoping he’ll get hooked. I’d love to be spitting sunflower seeds and scrubbing baseball pants for many years to come. 

When we were visiting Matthew’s family this week in the wake of his grandmother’s passing, the kids were outside throwing. One of the balls hit Case on the head and he entered the living room with tearful eyes and an ice pack on his face. When Case told everyone what happened, Matthew’s grandpa said, “You’ll be OK. It’ll teach ya to put your glove up.” I saw a little smile turn up at the corner of Case’s mouth. Getting hurt always feels better when you learn a good lesson from it. 

In that moment, when a brief bit of advice was passed from old to young, I thought about the circle of life and the beautiful gifts that are woven into human connection. No one can stop bad things from happening. Sometimes all we can do is lean into a circumstance and find any amount of good that comes from it. My hope is that there are better days ahead. But no matter what the future holds, I’ll continue to look for happiness in the day-to-day and I’ll be sure that, when necessary, I’ll keep my glove up. 

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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1 comment

  • Baseball was the National Pastime until it was surpassed by football and basketball and the ghetto culture that permeated those sports. Baseball eventually suffered the same fate. Not to mention the political correctness nonsense that has overtaken those once great American institutions. Sad

    posted by Harold

    Wednesday, 09/08/2021

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