Schuckman: Prep all-star game reminds us just how beautiful baseball can be


Several players from the Missouri and Illinois all-star teams who played in last Saturday night's all-star game at Veterans Field in Hannibal, Mo., grew up playing for the River City Dirtbags. | Submitted photo

HANNIBAL, Mo. — The beauty of baseball can be its simplicity.

Pitch, catch, swing and hit. That’s the game at its most rudimentary level.

The complexity of it can be just as alluring.

Hit-and-runs, double switches, righty-lefty matchups and squeeze plays. The game makes you think, strategize and second guess, often all at the same time.

But if you really want to see why baseball is romanticized, why it tugs at your heart, why it elicits so much emotion, look at how the ninth annual Missouri vs. Illinois All-Star Game played out last Saturday night at Veterans Field.

From pregame introductions to the time the lights went out, the event gave us reasons to cry and clap, laugh and love, talk smack and discuss strategy, peek forward and look back, and ultimately embrace everything about the game we appreciate.

Missouri won 3-1, getting timely hits in the second and sixth innings. Illinois couldn’t muster as many clutch moments, but it mattered only a little in the end because seeing Dalton Miller make a catch in right field and Brady Kindhart attempt a diving catch in center field mattered more.

Those were the moments being talked about in the parking lot afterward, much the way the reunion of the River City Dirtbags was the chatter beforehand.

From the time these seniors began traveling to play their favorite game, they crossed paths with each other. Many played in the Dirtbags organization regardless of where they were from or which high school they ended up at. Some went to Quincy Notre Dame and Quincy High School. Others ended up at Canton and Knox County.

Somewhere along the way, they played together, forging a baseball bond and memories the parents still share.

As they grew in size, stature and competition, their circle of influence did, too.

They brought in players from Macon and South Shelby and faced off against guys from Rushville and Beardstown as part of the Complete Game Baseball program. They discovered new coaches, new routines and new friendships, but the support never changed and never diminished.

The moms and dads who packed coolers with water and Gatorade and orange slices and brought canopies and tents to their fields on those long, hot summer days were the ones cheering from the bleachers and filling the gaps down each baseline during the all-star festivities.

They also were the ones gathering the players for pictures afterward, making the reunion complete.

For some, the Missouri vs. Illinois All-Star Game was their last hurrah and their final swings. For others, it was the springboard to new adventures, new teammates and new challenges. They’ll be playing at John Wood Community College, State Fair Community College and throughout the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

But no matter where they roam, they’ll always be part of the Complete Game family and they’ll always be Dirtbags.

And baseball will be the bond they share forever.

It’s simple. It can be complex. It’s always entertaining. And it makes you nostalgic and hopeful at the same time.

It’s a beautiful game. One Saturday night in America’s hometown reminded us how beautiful it can be.

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