This is a story that can't conclude with anything but a happy ending.
On June 5, a tornado touched down on the south side of Streator, Ill., a city of 14,000 some 90 miles southwest of Chicago. But no one was seriously injured. Some homes got ripped up and a lot of debris fell on Streator's Little League fields. The light standards, pressbox, equipment shed and fences were knocked down. The dugouts were trashed. The roof of the concession stand was torn off. Estimated damage was $250,000, which insurance only partially covered. The kids could not use the fields the remainder of the summer.
Life should have tragedies that great. In the case of Streator's kids, not being able to play for months on end was frustrating, not crippling. In this case, they learned a lesson that bad times don't last, but good people do.
Other Little League programs came to Streator's aid. So did the White Sox with a $5,000 donation. A total of $25,000 was raised from all sources. The most high-profile assistance, though, came from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, which set up tables along Clark Street Saturday to collect used equipment and cash donations for the kids. Bob Brenly promoted the collection tables on the Cubs telecast the previous day. And Cubs setup man Sean Marshall lent his name to the recovery effort, meeting Streator representatives on the field prior to the game with the New York Mets.
The fields should be up and running by next spring. The kids will have a place to play. But why not bring some glamour and glitz to the re-opening of Streator Little League baseball?
A certain columnist decided to stir things up by suggesting the Streator folks invite Marshall, one of the Cubs' true good guys, out to the Little League complex to officiate at the grand re-opening next year. The odds are still a bit long. Scheduling is more of a problem than distance -- the Cubs only have so many off-days at home each year.
But Jason Telford, head of Streator's youth baseball operation, is going to try. Just like Marshall's got to try to get out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in a tie game on the road in the bottom of the ninth. It isn't easy, but it can be done.
"It would be tremendous for the community," Telford said of a Marshall visit to Streator, where Cubs fans are in the majority. "It would be a shot in the arm. It would really stimulate the entire population."
Telford will have to go through the usual channels. But he won't find a deaf ear at all in Marshall, whose own baseball childhood had to be put on hold for a few months in a smiilar situation.
"It's tough," he said. "We had some things like that when I played Little League back in Virginia, where the fields were too damaged to play one year. There was bad flooding that covered up four fields for almost the whole summer. It's a bummer for the kids. It's tough."
Even in a downer of a season and its aftermath, a Cubs endorsement of a project can get things moving.
"I know the Cubs are popular not only in the city of Chicago, but all over the Midwest and all over the country," Marshall said. "Cubs players are famous and prestigious. If we can use our names, or my name, or any other player's name, to promote something, raise money for some kind of good, re-doing the field, donating equipment, helping the homeless, I'm very happy to do it.
"I love kids. I know when I was a kid, I looked up to role models like baseball players. If I was lucky enough to meet them and get an autograph, I was happy. Now if I take some time out of my day, sign a few autographs for some young kids, it goes a long way. I would love to see the field put back together."
Previously, the biggest baseball name in Streator was Clay Zavada, a lefty reliever for the Diamondbacks who tried to grow a Rollie Fingers-style handlebar moustache. But I think Marshall's long, lanky, 6-foot-7 frame would tower over the homeboy.
Let's have a meeting of minds here and get the big guy to Streator to symbolize the game is never really over 'till you purposely give up.