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President’s Message: It’s A Beautiful day for baseball

“It’s a beautiful day for baseball.” - Coach Randy Hein, Lincoln Little League

The score was Millville 4, MIfflinville 3. To this point in the season, Mifflinville had posted an impressive 11-3 record compared to Millville’s 3-11. This game was supposed to be an easy win for Mifflinville and an all-too-familiar loss for Millville. Yet here was Millville, just three outs away from upsetting the first-place team.

To start the last inning, Millville brought in ten-year-old “Harry”, a new pitcher. After a rocky start where he’d hit a batter with a pitch, allowed an infield single, and thrown two passed balls, (allowing the runners to advance to second and third base), he settled down and struck out the next two batters. One more out to go, and he’d escape with the win. “Pop!” The ball rocketed off the bat, sky-high above the pitcher’s mound, right at Harry. Against the backdrop of a bright blue sky, it was a beautiful day for baseball.

Let’s pause there.

Little League Coach Randy Hein loved the game of baseball and in 1999, despite a chronic leg injury, Randy had a pep in his step – seemingly immune to the woes that can so easily wreck a ball game. With two days of stubble on his face and a duck-billed baseball cap that seemed better suited to a fishing expedition than a dugout, Coach Randy would greet each player daily and say, “It’s a beautiful day for baseball.”

In 100-degree heat, when the sun boiled the sweat from our young brows, Randy asked, “Do you know what today is, Chris? It’s a beautiful day for baseball!” When the rains poured down and the game was delayed for hours or practices moved inside, Randy's jovial reminder would ring out: "It’s a b-e-a-utiful day for baseball, gang!” With all the hardships of a tough loss or the excitement of a good win, the message that most resonated with all of Randy’s kids was that it was always a beautiful day for baseball. The power of this positivity and his contagious romance with the game was not just a silly saying – there was something more powerful at work. It got to the point that all Randy would do was ask, “What’s today, Chris?” and the response would come from my lips. “It’s a beautiful day for baseball, Coach.”

To Randy, “baseball” wasn’t just “baseball”. Baseball was heart, attitude, teamwork, communication, comradery through failure, the joy of working hard, and occasionally, triumph. When winning, the game was about celebrating humility and the joy of getting dirty. When losing, it was about trying, failing, growing, playing, and keeping our chins up. At practice, baseball was about repeating small and simple things over and over again, learning from mistakes. It was about friendship and joy and having stories to tell. When baseball was these things, it was always a beautiful day, so it was always a beautiful day for baseball.

A few years after my last game with Randy, I got a call from my dad. On his way home from work, Randy had stopped to aid a stranded motorist and to adjust something in his truck. A passing vehicle didn’t see him, and he was struck and killed.

Randy’s death hit my hometown hard, but for the kids who had played for him, the mantra became even more powerful. Life is far too short, and every day is a beautiful day to play baseball.

Randy’s simple saying is easy to pass along on the baseball field to young children as they learn these things for the first time, but in my work with the Chamber, I’m convinced there’s a message here for all of us. As we meet with members to learn about the opportunities and barriers to success in our communities, some of the biggest challenges are reminiscent of the lessons learned on the ballfield.

Community development fails when we prefer personal victories over team wins. It fails when we operate in silos and fail to communicate with all the players on the team. It fails when our attitudes and our approach project future failure rather than hope. As I say this, Columbia and Montour Counties are poised for some big wins, and our attitudes matter.

We’re poised to have a game-changing, affordable regional transit solution that can help all walks of life get where they need to go – including the grocery store, the doctor, childcare, and to and from work.

We’re poised to see positive changes across the flagship institutions of our region – in banking, healthcare, and education. We’re poised to see recreation and tourism grow dramatically with the influx of frisbee golf and pickleball, and increased access to great mountain biking, boating, fishing, and hiking trails. We’re poised for economic growth across several projects at various stages of development, from solar projects to warehousing and manufacturing to the promise of another Blueprint Community program in Berwick, and a growing arts base, thanks to work by countless non-profits, the generosity of local business, and the hard work of volunteers.

Your Chamber is committed to advocating for vibrant and sustainable communities, and to do this we’re committed to doing what we’ve always done. We’re working in committees to improve and strengthen communication across our communities. We’re encouraging business connections both one-on-one and across community events. We’re encouraging non-profits to learn about each other and to prevent duplication of effort and the tendency to work in silos. We’re taking what we’ve practiced, and we’re playing our position, advocating with local leaders, state officials, and more.

Let’s go back to Harry, shall we?

If Harry had had some help from his shortstop, or if his coach had helped him practice tracking balls hit over his head – if he had noticed that nobody yelled, “I’ve got it!”, then perhaps that sky-high pop-up wouldn’t have hit the ground, allowing Mifflinville to score the game-tying, and then game-winning runs. Perhaps. When he hung his head in a tough loss, the reminder I gave him was simple. “Harry, do you know what today is? Today is a beautiful day for baseball.” I didn’t need to tell him anything else. He’d heard me echo Coach Randy enough, that it elicited a smile, and a determined look for next time.

May we approach our community like Harry, with determination to learn from our mistakes, and may the consequences of the mistakes we make be no more significant than losing a little league baseball game. And when the going gets tough, and we need our community to rally, may we remember that it’s a beautiful day for baseball.

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