One sunny Saturday afternoon in November of 1992, I was driving up Harrison Avenue and flipping to the radio stations.
As I passed the Civic Center and headed to the bend where it turns to into Front Street, I heard the name of my cousin Danny Foley come over my speakers.
Then I heard Jeff Raimundo, Brodie Kelly, Mike McLaughlin, Brian Doherty and a few more former teammates.
Butte Central was playing Sidney in the Class A state championship football game in Sidney, and I was suddenly overcome by an enormous sense of regret.
Three years earlier, those guys were my teammates on the Butte Central froshmore team. The two years before that, we played football together at Central Junior High School.
From the time I watched my first high school football game, I was sure that someday I would be playing for the Maroons in a game like that. I was absolutely sure of it.
After my freshman season, though, I decided I was done playing football because I didn’t like some of the coaches. After my sophomore year, I decided to transfer to Butte High School.
As I listened to the rest of the championship game that day, I almost felt like crying.
I’ll never say that I would have made the difference in BC’s 41-22 loss to the Eagles in Sidney (though I guess we’ll never know). I’m not even saying I would have been a starter on that team. I might not have even played.
I knew, however, that I would have been in uniform for the Maroons that day, and the chance to play even one play in a state championship game is something that almost every boy dreams of but never gets the chance to do.
I had that chance, but I walked away.
Field of Dreams is the best movie ever made. If you don’t agree that it is at least in the top 10 greatest films of all time, we can never be friends.
In that movie, there’s a scene when Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) talked to old Dr. “Moonlight” Graham (Bert Lancaster) about regret.
“I never got to bat in the major leagues,” Dr. Graham said. “I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t.”
That’s how I felt that day.
If someday a guy shows up and tells me that he can make my wish come true and I can play in a state championship game in a magical corn field, I will jump at it in a second. When I line up across from my opponent, I’ll make sure to give him a quick wink.
I often think about the regret I felt that afternoon when I hear about a young athlete deciding to no longer play football.
I think about it when I hear of a boy — of Little League or American Legion age — decide to walk away from baseball. Really, I am reminded of that day whenever I see a player, for whatever reason, decide to quit playing any sport he or she is good at.
The chance to play a sport at the varsity level in high school is such a cherished opportunity that it is hard to see anybody pass that up.
You just know that there is going to be a day when they, too, regret the decision — no matter the reason they made it.
“We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening,” Dr. Graham said. “Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”
Luckily, my life hasn’t been completely dominated with this regret because going to Butte High turned out to be a very good decision. Because of that move, I have good friends on each side of the Bulldog-Maroon rivalry, and I got to play on the golf team coached by Ed Yeo.
Most days I would take that over a deep run in the football playoffs. But not every day. Sometimes that regret still seeps back in.
Later in Ray’s conversation with Moonlight Graham, Ray was shocked to hear that the doctor would not go with him to his magical field so he could ease his pain of regret and play in a game with big leaguers.
Dr. Graham was standing by his career and family choice to walk away from baseball after playing one inning in the big leagues.
“Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within … y-you came this close,” Ray said. “It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy.”
That’s when Lancaster uttered the greatest words in cinematography history.
“Son,” he said, ‘if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes … now that would have been a tragedy.”
That’s how I feel now. Not having the chance to play for Yeo would have been my personal tragedy.
While I would have loved to play in that championship game, the fun I had and the friends I made playing golf for the Bulldogs usually overrides the guilt of not playing football at Butte Central.
Not everyone is so lucky, however.
So, before you decided to walk away from the football team or before you decide not to sign up for baseball, I urge you to just give it one more thought.
Think about the former football players who were in the student section — instead of in uniform — the night Butte High beat Bozeman in the 2012 Class AA state championship game at Naranche Stadium.
Do you think there is a day that goes by when they don’t wish at least once that they never would have quit football? Not a chance.
In sports, and in life, we regret the things we didn’t do and the chances we didn’t take. Nobody regrets the time they mustered up the courage to jump off the high dive. They sure do feel remorse about the time when they were too chicken to try it, though.
You don’t regret asking out the pretty girl or studying all night for that important test.
In 25 years, you will never regret the one more season you gave it a shot.
And if you do get the chance to stare down a big league pitcher — or even a Little League pitcher — don’t forget to wink.
— Bill Foley, whose top five favorite movies are Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, the original Bad News Bears, Bang The Drum Slowly and Major League, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74