It is so easy to find a reason to not do something. And what you feel you “need” to do always takes precedence over what someone else would like you to do. We often get caught up in the shortest, quickest way to get somewhere and the easiest, fastest path to git ‘r done. Just human nature, I reckon. Heck, how many “apps” and devices are out there specifically designed to replace mental effort and creative thought with instant gratification. This, presumably, to free up our time for more “important” endeavors. It is tragically funny how, with so much time saving technology, we still routinely come up short on time. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and make time.
One day every year a group of dedicated souls takes time, out of very busy schedules, to put together an event that offers all of us a chance to escape the controlled chaos of the firehouse, the out of control world we serve and protect and, for some, to enjoy a welcome recess from the tugs of the home front. On May 13, 2015, the annual Lane Kemper Softball Classic took place. We all had a chance to set aside the shift rivalries and departmental buffoonery and partake in true fire family fun. 20 teams registered to play. Almost enough players, for that many teams, showed up. In past years we have had more than twice that many. Aside from those gracious enough or greedy enough to work and those who had truly pressing health or home concerns, is there any reason there weren’t more members involved?
Lane Kemper was special, though he would be the first to downplay that fact. Lane embodied what it meant to be a good fireman. Know your job. Do your job. Love your job. Share what you know. Outside the job, Lane embodied what it meant to be a good man. He was always there for his family, friends and co-workers. His infectious personality and high standards drew people in. His ability to motivate and inspire got a lot of us to reach a higher potential. Lane’s passion was to get as many people as he could to gather in fun and friendly competition to strengthen camaraderie. Camaraderie is almost cliche’ nowadays in many firehouses. It is certainly watered down. That is tragic. Lane hasn’t been with us for some time now but his legacy still stands and still inspires some. Whoever would be inspired must be prepared to help carry the torch. Sorry, Lane, for the sermon. Just trying to rally a little more interest.
PLAY BALL! The day started cool and overcast. Perfect conditions. No extreme weather deployments. No big department drills. No tactical alerts. Just another big traffic day in the big city. About 260 registered players and more than 100 supporters and spectators gathered for the fun and friendly competition. The logistics played out nicely even without the gold badges and white radios. Mark Curry and his cast of camp cookies circled the wagons and lit off the Q’s. E-Z ups, tables and the sound system went up without difficulty. Raffle prizes (lots of nice ones) were displayed. Refreshments were cooled. Fields were prepped nicely. A wonderful rendition of the National Anthem was given. Only thing left was for Bill Bringas to concoct some equitable method of pairing the teams and tracking the competition. It doesn’t matter if nobody but Bill understands it. It actually worked out as games were assigned and started on time.
For a change we had more than enough umpires. Many games had multiple field umpires to minimize controversy. There seemed to be no blatant disregard of the rules and no reported game changing missed calls. Of course, that statement is subject to one’s opinion. The newly added “five run up” rule of scoring kept the games moving and competition a little more equitable. Most seem to agree it’s a little more fun to play in a game where there are at least more chances for the underdog to score in a lopsided game. Every team got to play at least three games. That was more than enough for some. For others, you would never know the first two games were just for fun. Speaking of fun, the Fire HOGs, with the costumes (oops, colors) and great attitudes, epitomized what the whole thing is about. Camaraderie, fun and charity. Thanks guys.
The competition ranged from casual to intense, as expected. The perennial powerhouse teams from down south were there to win. The semi-final games were more intense than the scores indicated with 33’s beating 46’s 13-0 and 64’s beating 98’s 12-3. This set up the exciting rematch of last year’s final between 64’s and 33’s. Lots of hits and lots of fine defense ensued and 64’s took the lead early looking strong against the somewhat younger and arguably stronger 33‘s. Late in the game, a rally with the bats and some fine base running allowed 33’s to come back for the repeat win, and still champs, with all the bragging rights and accolades for another year. Nice win guys and classy shirts with the Kemper touch. Thanks.
Are there no sleepers hiding out in the Valley? You Crazy Dogs from 98”s gave great effort to make it into the final four. And 88’s and 91’s showed support . . . but is that all the Valley’s got? It is a fact that your side of the hill gets an ever increasing number of big incidents, and workload in general, but where’s the old “any time, any place” mantra you guys had “back in the day?” Come on, we need you. No certs needed. No stripes, horns or Bill of Rights. No CTS! Just a “can do” attitude.
To all those who did participate in the competition and raffle, thank you. We had a ball. Hope you did, too. And we raised over $15,000 for the Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen’s Fund. Thank you, all who offered sponsorship. Thanks, Mark Curry, Greg Pascola, and Eric and Rebecca Stevens for your equipment and efforts. Thank you, Valerie Lawrence for your passion and tireless contribution. Thank you Jim Vels for your talent and generosity. Thank you, Juliet and all the staffers and helpers from LAFRA. Thank you, umpires for risking life and limb. Thank you, Hoy Talbott for your selfless contribution. Thank you Steve and Mona Romas for being first to arrive and last to leave. Thank you Bill Bringas for keeping the dream alive. Thank you, Keith Bandy for accepting the torch. Thank you, Lane for the inspiration.
By Jim Stiglich
Photos by Juan Carlos Sanchez, Terry Miranda and Eric Santiago