Archive for cancer

In memory of a teammate

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2020 by macmystery
1981Padres

The Lithonia Youth Athletic Association 1981 Minor League Padres. I am at far left in the second row. Pledger Fretwell, and that beautiful smile, is center in the third row.

The baseball world lost Whitey Ford this week, just a couple weeks shy of his 92nd birthday. He was just the latest Hall of Famer to pass in the last month or two, joining Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson.

Ordinarily, I would have penned something, even brief, for this space or social media about these legends, stories of whom filled my childhood. But I didn’t seem to find the time (yet).

But there was a passing this week I can not let go by.

Rest in peace, Pledger Fretwell.

Pledger graduated a year before me from Lithonia High School in 1988. He was ridiculously intelligent — a member of the National Honor Society and the Math and Science clubs. He would go on to his beloved Duke University and graduate in 1993.

Pledger was also a talented guitarist. But we were really only acquaintances in the halls. We would chat occasionally.

PledgerFretwell

Pledger Fretwell, shown here in the 1988 Bulldog (the Lithonia High School annual), shows off his air guitar skills while wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt.

But for me, I would always have a bond with Pledger for something that happened several years earlier.

Despite my love of baseball, I was afraid of the ball and didn’t play organized baseball until I was 9 years old.

During that first year in 1981, Pledger was my teammate on the Lithonia Dixie Youth Baseball minor league Padres.

Pledger, like me, wasn’t very good. He was among ha handful of us who rotated in right field, along with Tony, this tiny Black kid to whom no pitcher could throw a strike, and maybe a couple others.

Pledger, quite heavy-set, was slow, but there was nobody on the team who had more fun. He was always, … ALWAYS, smiling.

My mother loved Pledger and his smile. I think if she had gotten to choose which kid she took home from a practice, it may have been Pledger over me.

I only remember one time Pledger wasn’t smiling.

It was late in the afternoon, and the setting sun was blazing, making it impossible to see if you were looking in its direction. The outfielders were warming up in the outfield. There were a half dozen of us, though I specifically remember Pledger, Tony, Chris Guy and myself.

I had ridden to the game with the mother of a teammate and neighbor. Supposedly, however, my dad was going to make this game, which was not always the case.

So in between warm-up throws, I would turn and peer behind the fence, hoping to see my mom and dad’s presence. As I was scanning the rickety wooden and metal bleachers for my parents, I heard a familiar voice say, “No, this is how you hum the ball!”

I turned in the direction from which the voice had come and all I saw was the brightness of the sun. I never saw the baseball, not even when it crashed into my face with enough velocity to break my nose, causing it to explode.

I screamed. And there was blood everywhere. I wasn’t actually seriously hurt, but tell that to a 9-year-old kid covered in his own blood.

I’m not sure if my mom was there and got me, or if my friend’s mom drove me home and we went from there. But I remember getting a brief glimpse at Pledger’s face during the commotion, and though I hadn’t seen it, I knew he had thrown the ball.

For the only instance in the time I knew him, Pledger looked unhappy. Sad. Hurt. Pained. I heard a coach yell at him for throwing the ball when I wasn’t looking. I wouldn’t have known how to describe it then, but I felt for him.

I obviously survived, and we played the year out together. I wasn’t on his team again, and because we didn’t go to the same elementary school, I really didn’t see him again until high school.

We talked and joked about him destroying my nose numerous times in the years afterward, and had discussions about music and other things.

And then, down the line, I reconnected with him on Facebook. We weren’t close, though compared to many of my high school acquaintances, I had a lot more in common with him.

But we were always connected, at least for me, by that one afternoon in the spring of 1981.

I got the news this week from my sister, who had seen someone post his passing on Facebook. I had to ask around before another Facebook friend closer to him told me it was colon cancer.

I pray he suffered as little as possible, My thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.

I know that the world is a worse place today without him in it.

Jimmy V

Posted in Sports, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 9, 2009 by macmystery

If you watch ESPN at all, you would have had to have been under a rock the past week and a half to miss the replay of this speech. Every year at this time, it becomes a nightly ritual on the network during the Jimmy V Classic.

On March 3, 1993, former N.C. State basketball coach and ESPN basketball analyst Jim Valvano gave this speech at the ESPYs after receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. His body was riddled with cancer and he knew his time was short.

And his speech was magnificent. It’s one of those television moments I never grow tired of seeing. I’m sure the people I work with don’t feel the same way.  I’m sure they get tired of me turning the TV up every night to hear the speech when ESPN plays it. I don’t care.

In the speech, Valvano said he hoped to survive long enough to present the Ashe award the next year, but it didn’t happen. He fell victim to his cancer April 28, 1993.

Though he didn’t live much longer, there are two themes in his speech that have endured.

First, he very poignantly suggested how one could ensure they live each day to the fullest:

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Then he closed the speech with this:

“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever. I thank you and God bless you all.”

(Many mistakenly believe that his famous quote, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” came in this speech. It did not. It came two weeks earlier, February 21, 1993, at N.C. State’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of Valvano’s 1983 NCAA Championship squad.)

Valvano’s entire speech can be found in a text version here.

I hope that should I ever be unfortunate enough to face an unforgiving disease like cancer, that I might have the grace and class that Valvano did.

Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award