Busch Stadium becomes a Field of Dreams for area dads

News-DemocratJune 15, 2013 

As new fathers, they may have slipped a small ball into their baby's hand and immediately let their minds wander a bit.

Suddenly their thoughts were transported to the lush green grass at Busch Stadium. Their baby was fully grown, wearing a shiny new uniform while jogging out onto the field for pregame introductions.

For a special group of metro-east dads, Friday night helped them realize those dreams for a few hours at the fourth annual PNC Bank High School Baseball Showcase.

In the last game Belleville West coach Lee Meyer watched son Aaron Meyer play in before Friday, the Maroons were knocked out of the regional playoffs on a walk-off homer by rival Belleville East.

Both Meyers took that loss hard, but the look on Lee Meyer's face said it all. He knew his son's high school career was over and the tears and emotions got the best of him for a while.

Fortunately for the Meyers, Friday night left them with a far happier memory. Aaron Meyer was the starting shortstop for the Illinois team that ended a three-year losing streak against Missouri with a 9-7 victory.

Both Meyers were smiling throughout the day and into the night, the sting of that regional loss forgotten with the news that Aaron had earned a scholarship from Division I Missouri State a few days earlier.

Throughout the game, a loose Illinois squad laughed and joked and cheered each other on in the dugout during the win. New friends were made, old teammates revisited and another baseball scrapbook or Facebook and Twitter moment was created.

And for one more time before heading off to college, the players made their fathers proud once again on the same field those dads may have pictured their sons playing on so many years before.

Seated behind the Cardinals dugout in the stands were those dads who helped start their sons' baseball careers about the time they entered kindergarten.

The dads that took the time to show them how to hit, how to throw and the right way to field a ground ball or catch a fly.

The dads who spent long hours either coaching their sons' teams or driving them to games throughout the area and the Midwest.

Like generations of dads before them, these were the dads that forked over money for bats and gloves and spikes and endless meals at Subway. They paid the tournament entry fees and hotel room bills without concern, heading up caravans of families traveling to another ballfield for another game, another tournament.

One of those proud dads was Bob Bassett, a Belleville attorney who was watching the youngest of his three sons pitching against the top players in St. Louis at Busch Stadium.

The Missouri team featured 19 Division I players and three players that had been drafted by major league teams. Illinois had six Division I players and no draft picks, but still won the game.

"Sam is the youngest of three boys and has been around baseball his entire life," Bob Bassett said. "When I was coaching his older brothers in baseball, Sam constantly wanted to play catch and never seemed to tire. To this day, we discuss life's issues over a game of catch."

Ironically, that's the same moment that turns grown men into emotional wrecks trying to hide tears near the end of the movie "Field of Dreams." The one when Kevin Costner's character gets to play catch with his departed father one more time.

As father and son and coach and player, the Bassetts forged their own permanent link through baseball. Except this wasn't a movie, it was real life.

"We developed a bond where, just by looking at each other, he knew the pitch or placement that was right for that encounter," Bob Bassett explained.

Each pitcher worked one inning and Sam Bassett made short work of the opposition during a 1-2-3 fourth. He struck out the final two hitters, catching J.C. DeMuri looking with a pitch Bassett later described as a knuckle curve.

That was his contribution to the victory and each Illinois player did something to help with the win.

Short of winning a state title, Bob Bassett couldn't have pictured a more perfect ending to his son's high school baseball career. Sam Bassett hopes to play baseball at Murray State, but more importantly earned an academic scholarship and plans to pursue a career in medicine.

"I want you to know that as proud as I am of Sam as a baseball player, I am exponentially more proud of the fine young man he has become," said Bob Bassett, who like the other dads at Busch Stadium got his Father's Day present two days early this year.

Norm Sanders has been a sportswriter at the News-Democrat since 1985. He can be reached at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders.

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