|©2002 www.nebraskapen.org||Last Updated: 08/01/02|
Prison softball takes on a whole new level of intensity when those who play the game have little else but the pride of competition to urge them onto the field and play the game that calls boys of all ages.
Every year at the state penitentiary the inmate clubs and self betterment groups sponsor teams in a softball league. In 2002 the team sponsored by the Veterans Post was playing in the championship game of the league tournament against the Iron Bar Group sponsored by the AA group.
The game was close and with two runners on base and no outs, Vets pitcher Leo McManus was facing his counter-part at the plate, pitcher John Hawk. The pitch was thrown and Hawk swung as hard as anyone could ever remember him swinging the bat. The ball reacted like an artillery shell, exploding off the bat in a line drive that screamed toward Leo in less than a second. Leo never had a chance to move or try and field the shot. It connected directly with his left eyeball, knocking Leo to the ground, but not out.
The sight of Leo on the ground bleeding, momentarily froze everyone. The Vets first baseman picked up the bloodied ball and called for time. The attending Activities and Recreation Staff of Ray Manske and Kevin Oliver quickly jumped into action, coming to Leo's side and immediately calling for a stretcher. Leo never moved as members of the team assisted the staff in placing Leo on the stretcher, silently praying he would be all right.
Recreation Specialist Kevin Oliver rode in the ambulance with Leo to the hospital downtown, since NSP no longer has the staff to maintain a hospital of its own. Kevin stayed with Leo until 2:00 AM. Everyone cared about this man who has been a friend to all.
Oh, the Vets all came together on the mound, dedicating the remaining two innings to Leo. Not that the game really mattered when a comrade had fallen. But somehow American determination fired up the team, and the next time at bat they went through their whole order and won the coveted Club League championship for the fourth year in a row.
But the real game was with Leo. The Doctors said the softball had crushed his eyeball like a grape. There was no hope that there would ever again be any sight from that eye. An eye that had seen more than one tour of duty in Vietnam. With that severe of an injury it was feared that Leo would not return to NSP.
After only a few days in the hospital, Leo did return to NSP, just in time for the final Varsity Tournament of the year which included four teams from outside the walls. Many of the same players on the Vets team had also made the varsity team this year, so Leo was there to cheer them on in the Championship game against team Phatties. The members of the Vets team, led by Captain David Jacob, had a special award created for Leo's honor. A softball with a purple heart drawn on it and the signatures of all the Vets players. In this prison there still is such a thing as respect and honor, just as there was in the rice paddies of Vietnam, and the sands of the desert in the gulf war.
The Varsity men went undefeated in this tournament and played as well as a team can play. Upon their own inspiration the Varsity had made the decision to award the MVP trophy to Leo, no matter who the A&R staff awarded it to based on play upon the field. Such a selfless idea and act is the action of men who care and who have surpassed the selfishness and vanity of the world outside.
The tournament organizers named David Jacob as the tournament MVP, playing in all seven victories and hitting five home runs. But David's biggest hit was when he stood on the field and announced to the crowd that, "We play for Leo, and I want him to have this trophy."
At least there were plenty of tears in the eyes of the men you might not think could ever cry. But men do cry, men who still care, who still feel, who still deserve to be a part of the world. In fact these are the kind of people the world is in desperate need of. People who know what is the right thing to do and then follow through and do it. You might say this is no big deal. It was just a trophy, nothing important at all. But this was the prison equal of Sammy Sosa declining the League MVP award and giving it to someone else. Imagine the Israelies and Palestinians being that selfless, and the world following this prison example.