Together again!

For an entire year, Coronavirus was winning the battle, raging its way across the United States like a blanket covering its young at night. “My wife and I pretty much stayed home and didn’t do much the whole year,” said Marty Messar of Luck, WI.

Byron Higgin

Folks like Marty and I, both past 70 and well into what’s been dubbed, “The Golden Years,” did exactly what we were told to do — “Stay Home.”

Now, like caterpillars emerging from their cocoons, the two old-timers stepped back into the world Thursday, were re-united and said “Hello World” for the first time since the long struggle began. Messar is a retired Luck teacher and Hall of Fame girls’ basketball coach. It was during that time we meet.

I was covering his Cardinal team as an editor for the Burnett County Sentinel of Grantsburg. At the time we didn’t think much of it, just a reporter and a coach doing their jobs as their paths crossed.

It wasn’t hard to recognize the two ancient warriors at the Luck baseball field on Thursday. They were the only two still wearing their masks.

This was Marty’s first time out, venturing back into the world as a play-by-play announcer for the Luck-Frederic baseball team.

Marty Messar

After an illustrious career in Luck, it wasn’t easy for him to call the game without calling his team, “The Cardinals.” He can be forgiven, even though the two-school combined team is simply, “Luck-Frederic.”

As for me, I’d done one previous game for the Webster Tigers and still find wandering into the real world with all those unmasked people a bit daunting. But Marty and I put our fears aside long enough to enter the booth together and “call” the Luck-Frederic vs. Webster baseball game. Far above the Luck field, and with only two others alongside, we put our fears aside and re-entered the real world.

“I’m a little nervous,” Marty said, but you wouldn’t know it by the preparation he put into the game.

“Here’s the Luck-Frederic statistics so far and here’s Webster’s,” he said, laying out the papers in front of me like an architect showing the drawings of his latest project to a client.

The game itself would turn out to be a one-sided 17-0 Webster victory, not unexpected, but without the glitter and shine of a fine-tuned, thriller. But that’s baseball.

Aaron Arjes

Finally in the booth together, Marty and I were freed to let our minds roam as Luck Director of Technology Aaron Arjes handled all the controls.

“He’s a master at this,” Marty said. Launching into the world of calling balls and strikes is not exactly a science. But when told guys come together for the first time, there’s a bit of “feeling each other out,” that makes the announcing interesting.

The key is not to talk over each other, to give each other space and to understand when to speak and when to shut up. For the most part, that happened. Then, as the game began to drag into a one-sided affair with Webster’s South Carolina Gamecocks-bound Owen Washburn striking out 14 Luck-Frederic batters in five innings and socking a three-run home run among his three hits, the booth suddenly turned into a vaudeville sideshow.

“Today is the 90th Birthday of the great major leaguer Willie Mays,” said Marty. He went on to talk about the career of the great Mays, how he patented the “basket catch” in centerfield and amazed fans of the New York Giants and later the San Francisco Giants. “Did you know Willie played for the Minneapolis Millers minor league team?” Messar asked.

All that did was open a long-closed door to the past. “Yes, in fact, I saw him play an exhibition game against the Millers when he was playing for San Francisco,” I said.

Marty opened the door, so I kept pressing my way through. “Willie came up to bat as a pinch hitter, socked a home run over the fence and the announcer said, “And a box of Wheaties goes to Willie Mays.” In those days the cereal company did that for everyone who hit a home run.

That moment changed the announcing booth from the high school broadcast to a reflection of old-timer memories. After that, oh, we kept up with the high schoolers, as Webster rolled to its fourth straight win, but there was no going back.

Launching into the past forced me to say, “I remember batting ninth for my high school team in every game, then decided to ask my coach why I always had to bat ninth. He looked at me and said, “Byron, there is no tenth.” That brought a chuckle from Marty, then another story about baseball names and announcers Marty used to listen to as a kid enjoying Milwaukee Braves baseball.

Marty’s research for the game was impeccable. He’d even researched Owen Washburn’s brother Jack, a pitcher for the Oregon State Beavers. “He’s got a 3.08 earned run average, with a 3-1 record, striking out 37 batters in 26.1 innings of pitching,” Messar said.

Suddenly this was no longer a high school baseball game for me. It wasn’t even an old-timers nostalgia fest. It suddenly became “a moment in time.” Marty and I both seemed to feel it. We’d connected, maybe for the first time since Coronavirus came along and reared its ugly head, taking us out of the world into this place we’d never been before.

We’d emerged.

When two people come together to form a “unit”, it’s a great thing. We looked at each other for a moment, knowing full well something had changed. Maybe we felt free again. Maybe it was a brotherhood of sorts. Then again, maybe it was just shaking off the rust from the year that had isolated us.

Whatever it was, we knew it happened. “I’ve got another game tomorrow, do you want to help me again?” questioned Marty. “Sorry, I’ve got a fish fry to attend,” I told him.

Later that evening Marty sent me an email. “You’ve got my number, and I’ve got yours,” the message said.

I answered, “Touché.”