Evanson Column: Living and thriving, with help from the game of softball
How are you doing today?
Tough day at work? Maybe tired from the weekend? Homework got you down? Well, before you get too far down the road of self-pity and towards the land of "woe is me," let me tell you a story about a man named Michael Lambert.
Mike is 44 years old and lives near Harleman Park in Cornelius. He breathes like you and me, eats and drinks like you and me, and sleeps like you and me, despite suffering from a disorder commonly known as cerebral palsy.
But it's not Mike's disability that makes him special — it's his love for the games of baseball and softball, along with the local connection that love has allowed him to make, that sets him apart.
When I say Mike loves baseball and softball, I mean he really loves baseball and softball. Ask him and he'll tell you.
"Oh, yeah!" he'll say, with the type of wide-eyed look usually reserved for kids on Christmas morning, at an ice cream parlor or as the final buzzer sounds on the last day of school.
He likes other sports too — sports like basketball, football and especially wrestling (don't mention soccer though, he's not a fan) — but it's baseball and softball that really move him. He'll happily watch it on television, but it's what goes on across the street from his assisted living facility on South Heather Street in Cornelius that's had his attention since his arrival at the facility late last spring.
Mike requires a fair amount of care and does most everything from his wheelchair. So when his mother passed away this past June and his father's health deteriorated, the former Tigard resident was placed in the facility just yards from the baseball and softball fields at Harleman Park. This summer, Mike would often make his way across the street and watch games. Alicia Wright, secretary of Forest Grove Little League Softball (FGLLS) and mother, noticed Mike, and after a period of time, she and other parents and volunteers befriended him. Not long after, the Little League girls did as well.
They took to Mike, not out of pity or empathy as a result of his plight, but because of his infectious attitude towards the game and those who play it.
"Everyone just fell in love with him," Wright said. "And since he's at every game, the kids got to get to know him, parents got to get to know him, and now he's part of the Little League family."
When Mike can't get to the game, he watches from his home. When I talked to Mike, he was sitting in the living room at the facility on Heather Street, watching the girls practice from his chair. At the time, his chair was broken, so he wasn't capable of getting to the field. He was sad about that, but he was still happy to — at least from a distance — watch his new "family" play the game he so desperately loves. And that's inspiring.
You see, Mike doesn't want pity. At least, he didn't seem to want it from me. And when you talk to the 8- to 10-year-old girls he cheers on from the sidelines, they don't seem to think he needs it, either. They don't see Mike as a man with a disability, but as someone who offers them friendship and support — something they're happy to give him in return.
"If there's a simple mistake and we start getting down about it, he's always there to pick us up and say it's all OK and we're doing great," Oregon Reign team member Brylee Davis said. "I don't see him as disabled. I see him as a regular person. I like being around positive people, and Mike is very positive, so I try to be the same way for him."
How's that for a lesson?
Mike's passion doesn't end with watching, either. He loves to umpire as well. While he's not able to technically officiate games, he likes to do so from the sidelines, and when the tee-ballers play, the coaches allow Mike to sit behind home plate and make the calls from his chair. It may not be official, but it couldn't be more real to him.
He also likes to play, and Wright and the rest of the administrators at FGLLS are trying to make that happen, working with the president of the Challenge League (Little League's adaptive baseball program for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges) in an effort to allow Mike an opportunity to participate.
"It didn't happen this year, because we were so busy going from five teams to 12, but we plan to get it going again next year," Wright said. "We host it and our girls team up with the players. We did it and fell in love with everyone. He'd be perfect for it."
Mike is excited about the prospect of swinging the bat, and he has even gotten a few pointers from Brylee Davis.
"She gave me a bat for my birthday," he said. "She's become a good friend of mine, and when I play next year, she's going to help me."
When Wright initially contacted me about Mike, it was in an effort to raise money for repairs to his wheelchair. But since then, his chair was fixed with help from his Medicare provider, and the group — led by Wright — is now working to raise money for Bethesda, a company with a goal of enhancing the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
A noble cause, with a noble guy in mind.
So maybe you had a rough day. Maybe work is getting to you, or finances are tight. But while life has a way of getting us all down, people and stories like Mike's, along with all the kids and adults that are working on his behalf, have a way of picking us up.
Things can always be worse, but they don't get much better than that.
If you'd like to donate to Forest Grove Little League Girls Softball's effort to raise money for Bethesda, check their Facebook page for details to their GoFundMe account.
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