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Sports

Quill the umpire: Marmion's state trip triggers fond baseball memories for scribe

Since Chaucer inked “All good things must come to an end” well before baseball was created, maybe I just didn’t believe it.

My alma mater, Providence, recently won three straight Class 4A titles (2015, 2015 and 2016), which I still have a difficult time believing. The scary thing is that I think the 2011 team, led by Sam Travis, who is now playing for the Boston Red Sox, may be the best Celtics team I ever saw and they didn’t even win a state title. That 2011 season was special locally, too, as Kaneland brought the 3A championship back to the Elburn, Maple Park and Sugar Grove areas. Ah, memories.

Since I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing my former school at the state finals every year it felt strange to not see them there last weekend. It also felt odd to finally see Marmion there, but the Cadets certainly earned their way to Joliet so good for them.

Thinking of Marmion’s spectacular run also got me thinking about some of my experiences over the years of umpiring ballgames there, and actually playing some too as well as covering countless ones for the newspaper.

One of my most infamous moments of playing the game occurred at Marmion. It was during my sophomore year of high school in the 80s, back when Wang Chung was considered cool. By the way, I still think they’re cool. The drive from New Lenox to Aurora is a lengthy one. If you can picture me much skinnier and listening to cassettes on a Walkman you can pretty much grasp what I was like during that era. I also could hit, or at least I thought I could and my knees weren’t barking daily like they are now. What you need to know is that I forgot to bring my shoes so I was forced to wear dress shoes, which were penny loafers. Thankfully I wasn’t in the lineup but we ended up blowing out the Cadets so I was sent in to pinch hit. I blasted what should have been an inside-the-park homer over the center fielder’s head, but I wiped out hard between first and second base. Looking back, I probably was concussed, and by the time I got my bearings straight I had to crawl into second base with blood pouring out of both nostrils. My teammates were hysterical; my coach was not. He made me run sprints after the game as punishment for forgetting to bring my baseball shoes. I don’t think I forgot them ever again. Lesson learned, right?

Then there’s the time I should have brought a hard hat to Marmion. I’m guessing this was about four years ago. I was working a tournament in July the day after we were clobbered by thunderstorms pretty badly. It was extremely humid and we were working on the sophomore field. In between innings I escaped for the shade of the big tree down the right field line and a chunk of a branch fell down on the top of my head. Now I know what it feels like to get hit by Graham Glasgow.

I still wonder how it felt, though, for that coach in the summer tournament game in 2004 that charged at my base partner to argue a double play call and slipped and fell. He sprinted across the infield from third base. It had been raining so the field was wet and he totally lost his footing as he charged toward him. It was almost like the baseball God’s had put an invisible banana peel under his feet. He got ejected and his team lost. Based on how hard he fell I’m guessing he probably reeked of Ben-Gay for days.

What about 2010 and Mark Peters during the Class 3A DeKalb sectional semifinals? Has there ever been a better play to end a game than that? The 6-foot-6 Peters made a game-saving catch to rob a potential game-tying home run off the bat of Burlington Central’s Nick Hahn to secure a 7-6 win. He leaped to make the catch, landed on the top of the fence and tumbled over it in center field. You think you’ve seen it all and then you see something like this. Burlington Central coach Kyle Nelson had never seen such a play. He told the Kane County Chronicle seven years ago, “It’s something that I’ve certainly never seen at the high school level. It’s just a phenomenal play at the biggest part of the game for that kid.”

I remember covering a game on St. Patrick’s Day at Marmion about five or six years ago that one of my pals, Ben Williams, who was just named the athletic director at East Aurora, was also umpiring. We had surprisingly good weather for so early in the year and the baseball was pretty good too. The results weren’t great for the Cadets as they lost a tough nonconference game to to Lincoln-Way Central. Current Aurora Central Catholic baseball coach and athletic director Sean Bieterman was at the helm for the Knights back then and his designated hitter Kevin DeMatteo failed to lay down a bunt, ended up swinging away and launched a two-run home run that proved to be the difference in a 2-1victory. Baseball isn’t fair sometimes.

Even last year I recall Marmion's Brandon McPherson being seemingly unhittable against Kaneland in the Class 3A Kaneland regional title game against the host Knights. His slider was downright filthy as he only allowed four hits in six innings while whiffing five batters in a 6-1 victory.

It’s pretty wild to digest that Marmion had lost 40 games in the past two years but also had a great deal of success during the past two postseasons.

While I might have my own unique personal stories involving Marmion or simply umpiring on their grounds, nothing will top this spring. The Cadets made history. In fact, when I talked to coach Frank Chapman about the experience he repeatedly talked about history being made and sending off the seniors the right way.

They certainly did.

• Sugar Grove resident Chris Rollin Walker is a baseball umpire with an eye for strikes, balls, gerunds and participles. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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