More Than Just a Game
“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”—William Shakespeare (Act II, Scene V of Twelfth Night)
And some seize greatness at the most opportune time, like 10-year-old Alex Orr, who etched a memory on a small town in Southwest Washington state that won’t soon be forgotten by the people who witnessed it. We’re often reminded that baseball, like any sport, is just a game and not a matter of life and death. But sometimes it is. Friday, June 24 was a typical early summer day in the Pacific Northwest—partly sunny, partly cloudy, lucky to reach 70 degrees—but when an ambulance pulled up to a little league baseball diamond at Prune Hill Elementary School in Camas, Washington it was anything but ordinary. Usually an ambulance showing up anywhere is cause for concern, but this time it wasn’t about picking someone up, but dropping someone off.
EMT Della Bornman and paramedic Dan Carlton opened the doors and hoisted their patient and his gurney out of the emergency vehicle and onto the field. The game was stopped so the kids could come over and wish the man well and see how he was doing. It was a reception fit for a president, or a king, or more appropriately a sultan. But the man is none of those things; he’s just a loving husband, father and coach of a Junior Organization Baseball team who absolutely had to be at his son Alex’s baseball game, come hell or high water, even though he’s waging a valiant battle for his life. The man’s name is Jim Orr. He’s 42 and he has cancer. Stage 4 melanoma, to be exact. Physically he had no business being at that baseball diamond, but he couldn’t stay away. Not when his son Alex or the boys he coaches were playing. “He’s battling,” our mutual good friend Troy McCleary recently told me, “and we’re battling for him.”
“My son Joey is on Jim’s team and we Love and Adore Jim and his Family,” Chrissy Dearey wrote to me earlier today. “Through baseball we have found an Incredible Family that we have became close Friends with.” You can tell how loved Jim is by the emphasis Chrissy put on the words “Love,” “Adore,” “Family,” “Incredible” and “Friends,” each one capitalized. Jim also loves his boys and baseball—he’s the one most likely to put his arm around a player’s shoulder and offer encouragement instead of criticism—which is why he half-jokingly coaxed Carlton and Bornman to take him to his son’s game on that seemingly uneventful Friday in late June.
He met the two on a trip to the hospital for radiation treatment that has become a normal but integral part of his life. When Carlton asked if there was anything they could do to make Jim more comfortable, the baseball coach responded that they could take him to his son’s baseball game later that evening. The baseball gods were smiling down on Jim; Bornman and Carlton got permission from the appropriate authorities and loaded Jim and his wife Blanca into the emergency vehicle and headed for the ballgame.
If the story ended there it would be inspirational enough, but something magical happened soon after Jim and Blanca arrived. Alex, 10 years old and the middle of three Orr children, stepped to the plate, his uniform jersey adorned with the number 3, and he did what number threes have been doing since George Herman “Babe” Ruth first made it famous—he homered. But when he crossed home plate he didn’t doff his cap to the crowd, or point to the sky, or engage in high fives, hand slaps, fist bumps, forearm bashes or rib punches with his teammates; he did what any 10-year-old boy would do in that situation—he kept running until he reached his dad and gave him a hug. And in typical Jim Orr fashion, the father congratulated the son for a job well done.
I can only imagine what Jim must be going through. I can imagine there are moments of frustration when he wants to shout at the top of his lungs, except that he can’t because, like the rest of his body, his voice has been whittled away to a shadow of its former self. Alex’s home run won’t cure Jim’s illness, but in the time it took Alex to round the bases, Jim had more life than he’d had in a while. And for the rest of his life, Alex can hold his head high, knowing that he seized greatness at a time when he needed to, and gave his father one of the best gifts a man could ever want.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that baseball is just a game and not a matter of life and death, tell them the story of the Orrs and Della Bornman and Dan Carlton, and how while Jim Orr stared his own mortality in the face, a boy of 10 gave life to his father’s spirit and etched a memory on a small town in Southwest Washington state that will resonate as long as boys hit balls with bats.
That’s baseball’s legacy and that’s how this moment will be remembered; as the proud father who could speak only in whispers and the little boy who roared with one mighty swing of his bat and shouted for both of them.
It was a shout that will never be reduced to a whisper.
Author’s Note: Jim Orr is a former classmate and a very good friend of a very good friend. According to an article written by Matt Calkins of The Columbian newspaper, “disability is bringing in just $355 a month, and come August, Jim will have to go on COBRA while his family applies for state medical benefits.” A Columbia Credit Union account has been opened under “Christina Dearey/Jim Orr Contribution Account,” and the account number to donate is 478931. Anything you can give would be greatly appreciated. If you’d prefer to donate to the Orr family through Seamheads, please go to the Jim Orr Contribution Account widget on the right-hand sidebar and follow the link.