News & Features

For the Love of the Game & A Good Cause

posted 5/22/2008

St Louis Sports Magazine

November 2007

by Kevin Wheeler

On Saturday, October 13, 40 men gathered at T.R. Hughes Ballpark to play a baseball game. Not just any game, mind you, but the World’s Longest Baseball Game.

I was one of them.

We suited up in replica uniforms from the 1944 St. Louis Browns and the 1928 Negro League St. Louis Stars and had at it for 32 hours, 29 minutes and 25 seconds.

Admittedly, it sounds a bit gimmicky. A bunch of guys with an average age of 40-something trying to get through 30-plus hours of baseball over two days doesn’t seem all that earth-shattering at first glance.

Until you saw the looks in their eyes when that record was broken.

Many of us expected to have a good time, laugh a lot, hurt a lot and then at the end of the day have a place in the Guinness Book of World Records right next to the guy who could squirt milk out of his eyeballs.

It turned out to be much more than that.

“I see a lot of bad things in this world as a police officer and what is most disturbing is seeing family members, I mean “blood-line” family members not appreciate each other or look out for each other,” said Jeff Lange, who played for the Browns. “I say this because for 33-plus hours, 40 men, most of us strangers to each other, came together as a family. The humanity I saw on that field was incredible. Every man looked out for his fellow man and we all made it through together as a ‘baseball family.’ I was very proud to be a part of that.”

What began as a fun event that would also raise money for a worthy cause (Gene Slay’s Boys Club of St. Louis) became something considerably more as the hours passed and as the aches got worse.

Bonds were forged through the pain and beyond all else there was one thing that drew everyone together: the love of the game.

“I had several students (I am a middle school principal) ask me if we did it,” said Phil Ragusky, a member of the Stars. “That together with my own children calling in the middle of the night to check the score made it even more special. I was overwhelmed with the camaraderie we shared and am honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of something so special.”

Steve Pona and Chuck Williams organized the event with Pona work-shopping the project as part of the Fontbonne University Sports and Entertainment Management Bachelors Degree program. These two men – along with their wives and families – sacrificed a great deal just to get this event off the ground.

“This game was a full-time job for about nine months,” Pona said. “While Chuck and I were still developing the idea for the World’s Longest Baseball Game, I used the event as a class project to beta test some of our thoughts and to develop some of the organizational tools that we ended up using.” Pona in particular also had a strong connection to the Boys Club.

“I was a member of the Boys Club of St. Louis for almost 15 years,” he said. “The Boys Club was my fraternity. We all bonded together regardless of our backgrounds, where we lived or our socio-economic status. The staff at the Boys Club represented the only symbol of the stable male role model to so many kids.”

A World Record has been set and it belongs to St. Louis. This event was deemed significant enough that the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., requested some signed memorabilia from the game to put on display.

“For some reason, this one weekend, this one 32-hour period, I felt more joy and satisfaction than I ever have playing this game,” Williams wrote in an e-mail to those that played.

We raised many thousands of dollars for the Boys Club and we also proved to ourselves that we are all capable of great things when we’re willing to work together towards a common goal.

That’s a lesson that goes well beyond what happened on the diamond.

Kevin Wheeler is the host of Sports Open Line (6:30pm-8:00pm) Monday-Friday on KMOX. Kevin also contributes to The Sporting News Fantasy Source and writes a regular baseball column at www.sportsreviewmagazine.com.

With permission, copyright (2007), St. Louis Sports Magazine