Twenty-four years ago, I went to the doctors and had my physical during the first week of March. Before the day was over, I received a phone call and he sent me for another test to determine if I had cancer. It wasn’t one stop shopping, but in one day, it was confirmed I had a fight on my hands.
This past Monday, during the same first week of March 24 years later, I went to the dentist. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. I had been there for less than a minute and a man about to battle cancer came walking through the door.
He started our conversation by saying he had a scoop for me. Next, he said he wouldn’t be coaching baseball this spring. He sometimes jokes, so I wasn’t sure where he or I was going next. I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Rich Saypack will not be coaching the Springfield High School baseball team this spring. He found out late last week that he has a large tumor that appears to have started in his kidney. They believe it may also be affecting his liver. As I am typing this Tuesday afternoon, Rich is having further studies done and new information delivered. Needless to say, this is one of the toughest days of Rich’s life.
Those words, “You have cancer,” are hard hitting. Saypack has met challenges in Springfield with both the baseball and the football program. Both have been a struggle, but both have shown growth. Putting programs like that together take time and sometimes it seems like an eternity. Obviously, the battle against cancer is at a much higher level. Some of the patience and discipline needed to combat both can be similar. Saypack knows that part of the battle well.
Rich and I spoke for a short time at the dentist and then had a longer conversation later on the phone. He lives and dies with all his baseball and football players every season with their trials and tribulations. He clearly didn’t want to give up baseball this spring. Maybe he thought, he could sit a lot and still be the coach. He conferred with both his doctor and some trusted friends. They guided him, but he made the smart decision himself. “I must concentrate on my battle ahead.”
When we last spoke, he had convinced himself that he could fight his fight and be ready to come back for football this fall. Maybe that will be possible. Maybe it won’t. However, no one knows better than Rich, if you haven’t seen your next opponent, the game plan has a lot of information to still be put together before the game plan is set. Rich also knows, it is important to stick to the game plan.
Twenty-four years ago, I was out of the game for six months. I consider myself lucky. Coming back wasn’t easy. The first 18 months were really a challenge. Family and friends were there to help in anyway they could. Coaching certainly was secondary for a while. There were certain days, I planned to sit around and help, but my body wouldn’t let me. All you can do is follow the game plan and pray and hope.
Rich will have a game plan soon, and I’ll be on his bandwagon to help. I know he will have plenty of sports fans on his side too wishing him the best.
Rich showed me one of his playing hands before we finished our conversation on the phone. He asked me if I had any extra drilling done at the dentist. He said he wanted me to know that was compliments of him. At a time like this, he still had that Saypack sense of humor. That assures me he has his game face on.