First I would like to thank all those that came before us so that we can live with liberty and freedom. Those men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice should be forever remembered.
I would also like to take a few words and remember some very important people in my life that are no longer with us. My grandfather George Herman Akers, a farmer from central Illinois that worked hard day and night to scrape out a living and raise four children. Born in 1904, he worked in the Colorado wheat fields, as a cowboy out west and finally settled down in Illinois where he always had some of the best looking corn and soy beans in the county. His kids also showed prize winning cattle and pigs every year and his eye for spotting quality livestock was amazing to a 9 year old kid. My Duroc Red pig that looked like every other pig took Reserve Grand Champion at the fair and I remember the smile on his face when I got the ribbon. He was a kind man, always there to help the neighbors when they needed it. He also took in teenage nephews that were having a hard time relating to their parents helping to turn their life around. He died when I was 10 years old, but I still have a lot of memories as we lived only a few miles away. My granddad died of a stroke in 1976 just a few months after we moved away from Iroquois County. My son’s middle name is George, in honor of him and I wonder to today how my life might be different today had he lived longer. Some of the decisions I made as a teenager might have been different had he still been around to advise me. Still to this day my mom reminds me when I am faced with a tough decision to ask myself what would Granddad do.
Bobby Short of Flower Mound was like an angel to our family, maybe sent by my grandfather. My son was having a very difficult time in his life, his parents had just went through a very bitter divorce and he was currently in the middle of a custody battle that wasn’t any nicer. He was 12 years old and confused and his only release was baseball. His luck even in baseball wasn’t going his way as he had a bad experience with a coach the previous year and he didn’t know if he wanted to play anymore. Bobby coached a select baseball team in Flower Mound and took my son under his arm and brought back his love for the game. Bobby played college baseball and wore the number 22, a number that is special to us to this day. He was a very soft spoken guy, always with a big smile on his face. He could let a player know he was disappointed by looking at him and the boys played hard for Bobby. My son played for Bobby for just two years before he gave up Select Baseball to concentrate on his family. Over the next couple of years, we stayed in contact with him, but we weren’t nearly as close as we were during those two years when the boys played 100 games a year. Bobby died of cancer in his mid fourties a few years back. His funeral was attended by nearly a thousand people most of whom Bobby had touched through the game he so loved. The Flower Mound High Baseball Team honored Bobby by wearing a special patch on their uniforms that season, my son honored him by wearing wrist bands with the number 22 on them, something he continued to do until his playing days ended. When my son attended the Stanford All Star Camp after his Junior year, they gave him a Jersey at check-in….number 22. It was at this camp that he ran his fastest 60 yard time ever, on a sore hamstring. It’s hard to sum up in writing how much Bobby meant to our family. It was more than baseball, it was helping us to heal. Allowing my son to smile again.
Rich Keel was a hard working guy, blue collar to the bone and wasn’t ashamed about it. He worked for the City of Lewisville in their water department and worked hard rain or shine. His son Josh played on that Bobby Short team the year my son joined and the two boys became fast friends. So much so that they played together every summer season together and when they went off to college, they went together. Not only teammates, but roommates, just as Rich and I had always talked about. He is another guy that took my son under his wing, he would drive miles out of his way to pick my son up from my ex-wifes house so he would make practice and games. When my son and I would have problems understanding each other, Rich would invite Nicholas over to spend a few days as a cooling off period. We spent summer vacations together watching our son’s play ball and would make High School games at the others parks when our sons weren’t playing. The culmination of their High School Careers came when both boys played on the All Area All Star Game at LaGrave Field their senior season and then went on to play in the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington New Mexico together. Rich died of a heart attack during the boys Christmas Break their freshman year. We had made the trip out to Lubbock to see the boys play a tournament in the fall, so we got to see the boys play college baseball before he passed away. Rich’s city truck led the funeral procession and on the side was his unit number, 22. A number the city has since retired from use. Rich was my son’s second father in a lot of ways. His loss was a huge shock to us all and I still catch myself picking up the phone to call him when the Rangers win to talk about the game.
Last but not least I wish to remember my son-in-law Josh Atkison and his daughter Maddie. Josh was in the Navy and proud of his service and wore his uniform with pride. He married my daughter and they had Madison Kaye, a little girl who had just of big of a smile as her daddy. Josh was everything that you could ask for in a son-in-law, he was a great husband, great father and a good provider. He was an never ending optomist and nothing pleased him more than just laying on the floor and playing with his daughter. They both lived a very short life before they were taken from us only one month after we lost Rich by a drunk driver in Roanoke on 377. Our family still isn’t the same after this tragic affair, and it will probably never really heal.
I hope that you take the time today to remember those that have come before us, and those that we have lost that were important to us in our lives.