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I suspect that it will come as a surprise to some who know him that Sam Simmermaker’s No. 1 bucket list priority has been to ride and doze off in an Amtrak sleeper.
He checked that off a while back when he and his wife, Fran, did just that on a round trip between Chicago and New Orleans.
His No. 2 bucket list item will come as a surprise only to those who would have figured it was No. 1. He wants to throw out the first pitch at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.
The veteran radio broadcaster and lifelong Cardinals fan will get to check that one off next spring at the Cardinals spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla.
Sam has been broadcasting news and sports (mostly sports) in Columbus for the past 53-plus years. He’s been a Cardinal fan far longer than that.
“Oh goodness, I can’t remember when it all began,” he said this week from his Columbus home, where he still receives calls from area coaches with scores and individual statistics that he usually airs the next day. “I’ve been a fan since childhood.”
Not just any fan, mind you. For at least 40 years he and Fran have headed south each spring for a family vacation. The vacation centers on the Cardinals as the team prepares for the regular season.
In one sense the Simmermakers are creatures of habit. They stay at the same hotel and eat in the same restaurants. For the past 13 years they’ve spent their vacation in Jupiter. Previous to that, they were familiar faces in St. Petersburg, the spring training home for the team prior to Jupiter.
The Simmermakers aren’t alone in their dedication to tradition. The Cardinals have several of their own. One of them involves giving plain, everyday fans the opportunity to throw out the first pitch before spring training games.
“I’ve watched all kinds throw out that first pitch,” Sam said. “From toddlers to octogenarians. Some of them weren’t able to get the ball to the plate. Others had to bounce it there. Over the years I watched them and came to the conclusion that I could not only do that, but I wanted to.”
The spring training first pitch ritual is something of an assembly line operation, or as Sam described it, “a parade” of hurlers who for a brief moment stood on the mound of the field of their dreams.
Although he entertained his own dream for several years, Sam never acted on it. Fortunately someone else did.
Sam is a member of many years standing of the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. He’s a regular attendee at the group’s annual meetings in Salisbury, N.C.
So is Mike May, a Florida businessman who for several years worked in the sporting goods industry and made it a point to attend the sportswriters and sportscasters convention.
The two often crossed paths in Salisbury and established a bond because of their central Indiana connections. Mike grew up in Seymour and attended Seymour High School in the late 1970s. His family left the Jackson County town in 1977 for a move to England, where he graduated from high school.
His Seymour roots remain strong even today. He has written an essay about his childhood and his devotion to the 1970 Seymour Owls coached by Barney Scott, a team that made it all the way to the Evansville semistate tournament, where they were eliminated by Loogootee.
At this year’s annual meeting the two met again, but their conversation turned out to be much more than an exchange of pleasantries and memories of Hoosier basketball teams.
“I happened to mention my dream of throwing out a first pitch at a Cardinals game,” Sam said. “Mike immediately piped up and said, ‘Hey, I know some people in the organization. Let me see what I can do.’”
It turns out that one of the people he knew was Mike Bauer, general manager for the club.
“I got in touch with him, told Sam’s story and asked if there was any possibility that he could arrange for Sam to throw out a first pitch when he and Fran are in Florida for the 2014 spring training,” Mike said. “He just said, ‘Sure, we can do that.’”
Some of the details remain to be worked out, such as the exact date. Sam also has to make a $100 donation to a charity promoted by the Cardinals organization, a requirement that the broadcaster was more than happy to meet.
Although we are still in the 2013 season, Sam already has begun to prepare for his moment on the mound. “I’ve been playing catch, and I’m pretty sure I can get that pitch to the catcher in the air,” he said. “I’m not ready to guarantee that it’ll be in the strike zone.”
Strike, ball or wild pitch, Sam will be living a dream and checking another item off his bucket list.
I wonder what’s No 3?
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.
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