Uncle Don sat in his Side by Side above Jim Scown Field in Butte watching the Little League All-Star tournament.
His parking spot gave him a great view, right down the first base line. As a way to make himself feel personally invested in the game, he clicked a pitch counter to keep track of every pitch thrown by a Butte pitcher.
Don Davis was a former president of the Northwest Little League in Butte, and he truly loved that job.
He was not the best president a Little League ever saw, but he was far from the worst. He cared about the game and about the players as much or more than anyone who ever held the title.
That is why the former D.A.R.E. police officer took on the job that consumed almost all of his time.
There is probably not a job in the world more thankless than that of the Little League president. Even though they may try, they never seem to be able to please most of the people.
We are lucky to have people like Uncle Don take it on.
I leaned on the Side by Side and talked to the man who married my aunt Michelle when I was 12 years old. As we watched the game on that July 2017 afternoon, we talked about baseball and we talked about life.
That afternoon was picture perfect; just how Little League Baseball was meant to be.
As each inning went by, Uncle Don and I both did our best to pretend his recent cancer diagnosis never happened.
Uncle Don was just happy to be sitting there, soaking in the game he loved being played on a field he poured so much into. I did not want to say anything that could take away from that.
For Uncle Don, only one place could rival Jim Scown Field, and that is Howard J. Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the site of the Little League World Series. That was the No. 1 item on Uncle Don’s bucket list.
Last August, Uncle Don was finally going to get that chance to check that one off. He had the room reserved and the plane tickets purchased. The trip of a lifetime was all booked up.
He knew it would be a trip at the very end of his lifetime, too. A few months earlier, doctors told Uncle Don he only had six months to live. Unfortunately, they were right.
So, Uncle Don was going to make the most out of the time he had left.
Just before he was ready to fly to the Little League World Series, however, complications from his cancer flared up. He traded in his plane ticket for a room in the hospital.
He watched his last Little League World Series on television.
My thoughts were with Uncle Don Thursday as Little League International announced it has canceled the 2020 Little League World Series. The damn coronavirus is taking away yet another thing we love so much.
The news would have been hard for Uncle Don to take. For him, it would have been a million times worse than him missing the trip because of his illness.
So many young baseball players are missing out on chasing their dream, and that would have crushed Uncle Don. It crushes all of us.
There just might be a silver lining to this unfortunate situation, however.
Little League Baseball’s calendar revolves around the Little League World Series, and that is not always a good thing for players in cold-weather states.
In Montana, especially in the mile-high mountains of Butte, we do not typically have what you would describe as “baseball weather” until late May or early June.
Yet, we are on the same calendar as Little Leaguers who play in California, Florida and Texas, where they can and do play baseball year-round.
In order for Montana to get on the same schedule, we have to have our seasons over by the time we hit the summer solstice. A handful of players get to play All-Stars in July, and then the season is over.
Then, when our weather is at its best, our fields are their emptiest.
That is just one of those problems that comes from living in the Rocky Mountains. It is why Butte has not been a big producer of Little League World Series teams and Major League players.
We will not have that problem this summer. While we are losing the Little League World Series, this might not be a lost season of baseball after all.
Little League International gave each state and each community the flexibility to conduct their own regular seasons, as long as local health officials deem it safe to play.
Practices could possibly resume as early as May 11, though it will be tricky to figure out how to hold practices for groups of 10 or less when teams generally have more than that.
Many hurdles must be cleared before we figure out a way to hold a season. A Nobel Prize awaits the person who figures out a way to follow social distancing standards in a T-ball dugout.
Hopefully, though, we can begin playing games sometime in June.
Since we will not have to follow the strict schedule dictated by the Little League World Series, we will not be forced to end the regular seasons before summer officially begins.
If we have to wait a little longer to make sure the games will be safe, we can do that. Little League has given us the time.
That could mean we might see baseball fields full of laughing, cheering boys and girls during those beautiful days in July and August.
It will mean for more picture-perfect Little League days like the one when Uncle Don sat in his Side by Side and counted pitches.
Playing in warm weather will make for better play. It will make for more fun.
If we are able to play — and we certainly should not try unless we know for sure it is safe — this has the makings of the greatest Little League summer of all time.
Even with the pain of losing the Little League World Series, I think Uncle Don would be pretty happy about that.
Unfortunately, we will never get the chance to know for sure.
Uncle Don passed away last Nov. 15. He had just watched two of his nephews help Butte High beat Billings West in the semifinals of the Class AA football playoffs.
He left Naranche Stadium with a smile, went home and died.
I did not get the chance to see Uncle Don at the football stadium that night. I did not get the chance to say goodbye and see the happiness in his eyes.
Thanks to that one great afternoon at Jim Scown Field, however, I know exactly what it looked like.
— Bill Foley writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He plans to write more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 1 comment