Major League Baseball handed out its most valuable player awards this past week, accompanied by great fanfare and lengthy news stories.
I heard a better story a few weeks ago, a beauty about baseball and life’s most precious bonds.
Which is why, for my money, nobody on a diamond this year had a thing on the kids, coaches and parents from the Lincoln Heat and the Grand Island Riverdogs — the 11-year-olds known last summer in the traveling baseball team universe as Team Bachle.
As usual, value is a matter of perspective, never an easy lesson when you’re 11, playing baseball with your pals and absolutely sure summer will never end.
“We were in Lincoln at a tournament in June. It was really hot,” said Brian Kort, whose son Peyton is a Riverdog.
Across the field were the Lincoln Heat, coached by Anthony Galvan, whose father, Doug, along with Terry Fredrickson, coached the Riverdogs. Adding to the teams’ connection — they had already played several times and shared a cookout in Grand Island — were Galvan’s assistants, Kirby and Casey Killion, also from Grand Island.
In the Riverdog dugout was Tim Bachle, watching his son Jason play.
Tim was there on purpose, Kort said, out of the stifling heat, with other parents bringing him cold compresses for a miserable headache. His condition was serious enough that, after the game and some team and Father’s Day photos, Bachle’s wife, Becky, took him to the hospital in Omaha.
To be a part of Jason’s baseball season, Tim Bachle was navigating around brain cancer.
Bachle’s courage made perfect sense to Heat coach Galvan.
“Baseball is very much about a father and a son, that connection,” he said.
Last summer, that bond enveloped many more. Kort said the Riverdogs had rallied around their teammate. “They became ‘Team Bachle.’ They had shirts that said that, and we had a banner made,” Kort said.
The Heat coaches and some of the parents had noticed Bachle’s determination to see all of his son’s games.
Word spread, too. In Papillion, tournament officials, inspired by the Team Bachle story, asked Bachle to come out and help them award medals.
Still, that blistering day in June fuels this story.
Kort told Galvan that it would take them some time to get to the next field for the photos. Kort and others were helping the weakened Bachle get there.
Galvan knew exactly what to do while they waited.
“We had just won a big tournament and beaten the Riverdogs,” Galvan said. “I told the kids what was going on, that we should show our support (for the Bachles). We try to teach the kids life lessons, that there are bigger things than baseball. I asked them what they wanted to do. They said they wanted to donate to the family.”
The Heat coaches gave them some conditions, too. “We told them ... if they put in a buck or five bucks, they didn’t get to tell anybody about it. You don’t go bragging. It’s about being humble.”
Afterward, Galvan emailed all of the Heat parents. “I just told them the story, to let them know.” While Galvan filled in some details, the parents already knew the general idea of Team Bachle.
Later that summer, the Heat sent a check to the Bachles for $5,000 — no fundraisers, no press releases, no television cameras. Just fathers and sons and family and friends and bonds and baseball. Beautiful.
Tim Bachle died on Aug. 22. Despite the brain cancer, he had made 39 out of 40 Team Bachle games.
Five days later, their season well over, the team assembled once again, in uniform, to sit behind their teammate Jason and his family at his father’s funeral.
In a sense, the Heat were there, too.
Galvan said after that June day his kids were dedicated “to play for them, for Team Bachle.”
The Heat parents also knew the games were only a pretext to life’s lessons. They told Galvan that the Heat’s efforts to support the Bachle family will be “what the kids will remember.”
I’m sure they’ll remember some games, too, maybe even a home run or a great catch.
I’m guessing, however, that they’ll never forget Tim Bachle and Team Bachle and that most valuable of summers.
Brian Kort has it right: “Anthony taught his kids that this was more than baseball.”