When the dust finally settled on Saturday’s Little League Majors District 1 championship game in Lovell, a special visitor was on hand to address the victorious Powell All-Stars.
And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Longtime Little League umpire Calvin Sanders, who wasn’t on the field this season due to his battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, presented the Powell team with their championship medals, shaking hands and hugging each player. The last hugs were reserved for coaches Heath Worstell, Mike Gibson and Brian Orr; after receiving his medal, Worstell gave it right back in a touching display of solidarity, fighting tears as he placed it over Sanders’ head.
“There’s no words for that. No words,” Worstell said of having Sanders at the game in support. “If it wasn’t for Calvin Sanders, these boys might not even be playing baseball. He’s done so much for our baseball program, people have no idea. It’s an honor to have him around, and it’s been an honor to be his friend.”
The championship game was an emotional one.
“I was crying before the last pitch was thrown,” said assistant coach Vikki Brown. “This game means a lot to the kids, of course, as well as the parents and the coaches. But I think it means more to everybody, just because of Calvin [Sanders] ... He’s been around baseball for so long, and been so involved in the program, the team just kind of focused it around Calvin.”
When it comes time to hand out the medals to the winning team, it’s usually the district administrator who has the honor. But as the game ended, Bill Sedlacek hadn’t made it back from a game in Byron, giving Sanders the chance to step in.
“We were actually pretty happy that we were able to have Calvin [Sanders] do it,” said Brown. “I sit in the stands with Calvin, and after the last out, he leans over and says, ‘Well, it doesn’t look like Bill [Sedlacek]’s back yet. I guess I need to go get medals for my team, huh?’ The kids were ecstatic, and they were so happy to have been able to [win] for him. He’s the backbone of that team.”
Before handing out medals, Sanders stood in front of the team as they lined up on the first base side of the infield, congratulating them on their achievement and expressing the pride he felt.
“Baseball is the greatest sport in the world,” he told them. “There’s no other sport out there you can fail seven out of 10 times and still end up in the Hall of Fame. If you hit the ball three out of 10 times, you’re a great baseball player. ... If you’re in the infield and the ball goes through your legs, guess what? That ball’s coming back to you. You gotta turn the page, pick yourself up and make the play. If you’ve figured out baseball, you’ve figured out life. That’s what life is all about. Pick yourself up, dust it off and move on.”
Should Powell win state, Brown said she knows of one fan who will be making the trip to the regional tournament in San Bernadino, California.
“I was sitting with him [Sanders] during the Cody game, and he tells me, ‘I’m supposed to have a chemo treatment on the sixth of August. If these kids make it, I’m not going,’” Brown said. “I asked him if that was something he can make up, and he says, ‘No, I’m just not going until I get back.’”