Today's Positive CJ Thoughts, PCT's, might seem slightly melancholy and you might be right about that. They are also filled with wonderful memories and silent prayers for peace.
Last night, we were supposed to be seeing a Pirates game in Pittsburgh with our best friends, Chris and Kelly.
We've done this many times before and always look forward to it with great anticipation. Together, we've sat through rain delays, suffered sunburns during extra innings, and cheered until we were hoarse. Chris is a sports guru and can spout statistics like nobody's business. His mother swears his first words were "Let's Go Bucs!"
We love to root for the team we've suffered highs and lows with since I was old enough to know what the game of baseball was all about, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I've loved the game of baseball my whole life. Watching it on tv was one of the things I could do with my Grandpa Ervin.
We cheered for the Pirates during the glorious world series hay day in the 70's.
I can remember when Willie Stargell had us all singing, 'We Are A Family'. I would sing it at the top of my lungs after every victory in those days. Don't judge I was ten!
Grandpa bought me my first black and yellow pillbox baseball hat adorned with pinstripes and single "P" on the front.
We still cheered for them even after they became 'the worst team in baseball.' You know the one I'm talking about. The one every other team counted on putting a 'W' in for in their win/loss count. Yeah, that was our beloved Pirates.
As he grew older and into his nineties, spring training became a goal for us as a family. If we could get him through winter and into spring, baseball would be back on TV and we felt sure we would have him another year. Any baseball fanatic knows the three most anticipated words in baseball are- Pitchers and Catchers Report!
We bought him one of those huge satellite dishes that took up a forty-acre field. We did it so he could watch even more baseball than his adjustable antenna on the farm could bring in.
He grew to love the Cubs as his 'other team'. I used to tease him about that. I would tell him if he had to root for someone other than the Pirates, couldn’t it be a winning team? He would just laugh and say "play ball!" He would have loved to see them win the series in 2016. If his Pirates couldn't do it, I know he would have loved watching the Cubs win it all. I do believe that he and Harry Caray would have tipped a few together had we have lived there instead of West Virginia.
Watching ESPN News with him was a kick because it would take Grandpa three hours to watch a cycle of Sports Center.
He would fall asleep about every five minutes. We would tell him that when his backside hit his chair, his eyes went shut. Heaven forbid you would change the channel, and at his place, there was only one TV. I didn't mind, he was still with us. He never made it to see the Pirates turn-around.
He was 99 years old when he passed. He had a dream to cast his vote when he was 100, but it wasn't meant to be. He gave me many things that I remember; the joy of a good book, the word 'thunder' as a curse word- (later to be repeated by my father-in-law), and a love of baseball.
All of that is part of why our baseball adventures with our closest friends have meant so much. Not everything we've done with Chris and Kelly has involved baseball, but sports has frequently been the theme.
We loved trivia night at our local pub. Chris has a vast sports and political knowledge base, Kelly was in the Peace Corps in Africa, I have a weird knack for useless trivia and my wife's encouragement and enthusiastic "Yeah, that sounds right," helped us crushed many a rival team at our favorite watering hole.
We have more beer growlers given as prizes, than any group should have a right to. We toasted our numerous victories with mason jars full of awesome Mountain State Brewery's, Seneca Trail IPA.
We've kayaked on the Allegheny River and watched Bruce Springsteen in concert in our favorite city. Our time with them is magical and always has been.
As I was writing the dedication to my latest work in progress, I thought about it's tentative title, "The Bucket List." This book will be dedicated to our friends Chris and Kelly, who have taught us, that life is more about putting a check mark beside the memories made, in comparison to creating list of things you want to do before you leave this world. We have experienced incredible things with them. In reality, it's been the time spent together that's meant more than anything.
They've called and asked more than once if we wanted to: fill-in-the-blank. Our answer has been yes, more than no. We've raised pints to our friendship and made plans for some future adventure over and over. We've pub crawled through Pittsburgh, tipping back more than one pint or cocktail.
We watched the World Cup finals in an Irish Pub while a woman ran around drinking everyone's beer and cheering for Brazil wearing flag leggings with the Brazilian flag on them. She even stopped to kiss me on the cheek on one lap. At another Irish pub, we watched a bridal party wander in wearing penis headbands that bobbed back and forth. We walked the city streets playing "snipits of conversation" during Pittsburgh Pride Fest and people watched over a plate of nachos and beer. Yes, there has been a lot of beer. My wife and I both owe our expanded beer palate beyond Michelob Light to those two.
That doesn't even touch the year we were in the Burgh when the Furries were there. Google that, I dare you. These, are the memories I will never forget.
Chris is a warrior. He's been battling cancer for over four years now. This was his chemo team for a long time before he had to start traveling to New York for his treatments. They adored Chris and cried when he had to move on. He has been an advocate for early screening and a large group of people gather in Charleston for the Run For Your Life awareness run for colorectal cancer.
You can read about how extraordinary he is at this link. https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/health/honorary-run-for-your-life-chairman-chris-stadelman-says-he/article_839afb63-6671-510d-b518-80f95c76a890.html
I've never known anyone as strong as he is, other than his wonderful wife, Kelly. She's been right by his side- every day, through it all.
He worked as the Governor of West Virginia's Communications Director and later became his Chief of Staff, all while doing weekly chemo treatments.
My wife and I think often about Tim McGraw's song, Live Like You Were Dying. What would you do, if you knew? Well, Chris does and he has. We've been fortunate to go with him occasionally on his 'eight seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.'
It was our plan to be sitting with them last night in the stands at PNC park and stand for the seventh inning stretch to sing out 'take me out to the ball game'.
Those of us who love Chris, are doing our best to come to terms with the fact our time with him is growing short. He's in his final innings of his personal World Series. The sad thing is he survived a bout with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, years ago. As he says 'this ain't my first rodeo.'
It has been and still is, our privilege to spend even a minute with him we can.
We'd hoped to go to 'church' in one of the most beautiful ballparks in the United States and pray to the baseball gods for our beloved Buccos.
Our hope was at the end of nine innings we'd get to hear those four beautiful words every Pirates fan loves to hear, "Raise the Jolly Roger!"
Most people spend the end of their days full of regret for the things they didn't do. Chris will only regret leaving Kelly. They have done most of the things they set out to do. They've traveled, done things they dreamed of, and spent time with those they love. Those of us left behind will be the ones with regret. Regret that we didn't have more time to laugh at his snarky quips, more time to hear his laugh, or see him affectionately pinch Kelly's cheek. Regret that a cure for this wretched disease hadn't been found before it took one of the brightest stars among us.
We didn't get to go the ball game last night like we'd planned. Unfortunately, Chris' mind's willing, but his body isn't able. He's more disappointed than we are about missing the game. For us, it wasn't about the ball game near as much as it was about spending time with Chris and Kelly.
We watched the game at home and texted back and forth with Chris.
He was sad that we weren't sitting in the stands to watch our Pirates on a beautiful spring evening. We could hear the organ play and, though it wasn't televised, the perogie race no doubt entertained the crowd during the seventh inning stretch after the crow sang out "it's one, two, three strikes you're out at the ole ball game."
I drank a beer in Chris' honor and cheered loudly when Polanco crushed the 'pill' and sent it over the wall in last nights extra inning come from behind win against the Cardinals. In my mind, it was all in honor of my friend Chris, an incredible man who's rounding third and headed for home.