WORTH THE DRIVE

When my wife and I jumped into the car on Saturday morning we were facing a nine hour drive. That evening we would be attending a baseball game and the next morning we would make the same drive in reverse. Well, not actually driving in reverse, but you know what I mean.

How many people do you suppose would do this? Particularly when the game itself was not that important. For Anita and I it made perfect sense and it would be a drive well worth it. Let’s see how this weekend venture came about.

Our daughter Ashley began her career in minor league baseball with the Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats nearly eight years ago. For seven seasons she was the Director of Promotions for the Cleveland Indians High A minor league affiliate. Last November her job was terminated as new ownership made some serious budget cuts. She was not unemployed long as she landed a similar job with the Charlotte Stone Crabs in Port Charlotte, Florida.

Though her ending in Lynchburg was unanticipated, she was grateful for the people she met while working for the Hillcats. She developed friendships with staff members as well as fans. Since we made one or two trips a year to visit her, we also befriended many of these same people. It was one person in particular that made us make this trek. The Hillcats were going to honor General Manager Ronnie Roberts on this night as he will be retiring at the end of the season.

Roberts was one of the people we couldn’t wait to see when we went to Lynchburg. A good man who loved the game of baseball, we could talk to him for hours – if we could pin him down long enough. He has been with the Hillcats for 28 years starting out as the groundskeeper before moving to the Assistant General Manager’s position. He has been the GM for the last few years.

The Hillcats were going to retire a uniform number in his honor. The #28 seemed appropriate since that’s how many years he had dedicated himself to the team and the city. We wanted to get there in time to hear his nightly pronouncement. He would stand at the top of the steps to the entrance of Lynchburg City Stadium and authorize the opening of the gates by saying the following: “Let ’em in. Let ’em ALL in. Let the fun begin.”

There are so many Ronnie Roberts stories that I could share with you, but one sticks out. The Hillcats had a player named Sicnarf Loopstock. His unusual first name was his father’s name spelled backwards. One day Ronnie was chatting with Sicnarf and told him that he had played college baseball with a guy who’s name was also his dad’s spelled backwards. Loopstock was intrigued and asked what the fellow’s name was. Ronnie replied with a slight grin – “Bob!” Loopstock may still be laughing.

The pregame ceremony was very nice and was only part of a great evening for us. We managed to talk with former Hillcat employees Andrew Chesser and Zach Willis. Chesser is now the General Manager of the Quad City River Bandits a Houston Astros affiliate and had flown in from Iowa. We shared hugs with current employees Krystal and Kestral. We renewed acquaintances with a guy nicknamed Salad Bar from his days as a batboy with the Cats. We then spent the last four innings talking to season ticket holders and friends Albert and Lynette Sul and Mary Campbell.

The Sul’s have spent the last seven season hosting Hillcat players (53 to be exact) many of whom did not speak English. True baseball fans? You bet. They are currently in Boston taking in an Indians game with a chance to see former Hillcat Greg Allen. Mary had our daughter over to dinner on more than one occasion. Her husband Jerry along with several members of the Hillcats staff helped Anita and I load up Ashley’s belongings to take to Florida in January. For that we will be forever grateful.

We made the trip to see and congratulate Ronnie Roberts. His support of our daughter was never ending and his love for baseball is unparalleled.

The view from my seat suggests that when you meet a quality person like Ronnie Roberts you have to feel happy for them when they achieve a moment like this. Congratulations Ronnie on this award. You are indeed so deserving of the accolade. Anita and I hope you have a great time in retirement.

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