Is it any wonder why I love my job? Not only does it keep me in constant contact with the lovable goofballs I work with in The Times sports department and the games, the sports, the action that I love, but it also keeps me hanging around with quality young people in our area.
Young people like Carter Spears.
At Marquette Academy’s annual all-sports banquet, Spears was presented with a “Sport A Winning Attitude” certificate for an incident he was involved in during the Crusaders’ frosh-soph baseball game with Prophetstown High School, in particular his interaction with Prophets freshman Damon Wiemken.
The situation occurred late in the Cru’s third game of the season at Prophetstown back on March 21.The diminutive Wiemken, who was described by umpire Jack Wescott as being about 4-foot, 11 inches tall and weighing about 90 pounds, stepped up to the plate in what was surely one of his very first high school appearances.
Spears noticed immediately that the batter seemed somewhat overwhelmed, but after he swung and missed badly at the first pitch, Wiemken stepped back out of the box and broke into tears.
“I knew right away that it was going to be a struggle for how small he was,” Spears said. “I could hear him talking to himself, saying ‘OK, I got this, I got this,’ and after that first pitch, he broke down and was shaking, his eyes were tearing up and he said, ‘I can’t do this.’
“Before the next pitch, I told him, ‘It’s all right, you can do this. Just take your time, we’ll go when you’re ready. Look for your pitch, get a good swing at it and make contact.’ I hoped maybe if I helped him a little, maybe he’d do better on the next one or in his next at bat.”
Wiemken got back in the box and swung and missed at the next pitch and eventually he struck out, then walked back to the dugout dejected. However, he admitted he felt better about the experience than he might have simply because of Spears’ compassion.
“The catcher, he just told me to relax, that nothing bad was going to happen,” said Wiemken, who’d played Little League and some travel ball out in western Illinois, “to just take my time and I’d be fine. That calmed me down because I was really nervous. It helped me and it’s given me more confidence.
“If I could say anything to (Spears) now, I’d say thank you. He helped give me the more confidence now than what I had and to keep trying every day through high school.”
The entire exchange was witnessed by Wescott, who was so impressed by the incident that he not only thanked Spears at the time and after the game for such a caring gesture, he also sent a letter to the IHSA detailing the whole thing.
The IHSA must have been equally impressed because it eventually sent the certificate to Marquette. School officials chose to save it for the banquet and, despite the cat nearly slipping out of the bag a few times, the surprise was a success.
It even drew a standing ovation from his MA peers and all those assembled there at the Knights of Columbus.
“I really don’t think I deserve any kind of award for doing this,” Spears said, “because it was just the right thing to do … I remember being intimidated when I was just out of Little League and was starting Junior League ball against kids up to three years older than I. It’s scary … I just hope what I did helped (Wiemken) and that he keeps going and getting better.
“We’re all out there doing the same thing, just trying to play a ballgame and I would do that again anytime it’s needed.”
That's what we need more of, people, and I hope all athletes, coaches and fans take notice that the intensity of competition combined with the compassion of the heart makes for true sportsmanship. For that, I will be a Carter Spears fan always.