All the Way Up In Illinois

Rural Illinois. It’s been a hard year for 10-year-old Greg. It’s not just global pandemics, scary events in Washington D.C., nor the fact that it’s colder than eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death outside. It’s more than that. Greg’s mother has breast cancer. So everything stinks.

Greg decided it was time to make his own fun. The problem is, of course, all the conditions were against him. The winter sky looked like pewter. And it was so cold you had to open the fridge to heat the house.

But then, nothing is impossible for a dedicated child. Greg decided he was going to get up a baseball game.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking the same thing. What an unfitting season to have a ballgame. Especially when your region is experiencing lows of 20 to 30 degrees.

But it’s been a weird year for Greg, completely devoid of fun. He and his brother have watched his mother fight with her own body. And they have watched Greg’s father learn to do laundry, cook suppers, and become a caregiver. They needed fun.

First, Greg approached Jason (age 9) and Andrew (10), who said they were all in for a ballgame. Next, the boys talked to Jon (10) and his brother Van (13). Everyone said, yeah, a baseball game was totally doable.

Whereupon they all biked to Martin’s (11) house, and pitched the idea. Martin was immediately onboard. But there was a snag. Martin’s sister, Laura (7), wanted to play too.

At which point Martin’s mother (42) said the boys had better include Martin’s sister or else they would have to clean the gutters for their Granny (74).

“Laura plays too rough,” explains her brother. “But we said she could play if she didn’t punch anybody.”

Laura crossed her heart. So things were working out.

Then Jon’s mother got involved. Mainly, because Jon’s mother is one of those type-A people who actually enjoys organizing things. You know the kind of individual I’m referring to. Give them a free afternoon and their idea of “fun” is reorganizing the guest closet with a slide ruler and tape measure.

During my phone interview with Jon’s mother she indeed admitted that during the pandemic she has cleaned every closet in her house multiple times.

But hey, the fact is you need strict people like Jon’s mother if you’re ever going to accomplish something like Greg’s community game. Which is exactly what she did. With Jon’s mom at the helm, things were really cooking.

The first thing Jon’s mother did was call her church. Because as it happens, Jon’s mother has a lot of church friends. Plus, the church was the perfect place to hold a get-together. Although some work needed to be done to the church pasture. For starters, it had to be mowed.

So the church ladies called Albert, the church maintenance man, and asked him to mow. He said sure, he would do that, and even better, he said he’d serve as the game’s umpire.

This was shaping up to be a great day for Greg.

But the ladies were just getting started. Because there remained the unresolved issue of food. You can’t have a big todo without mayonnaise-based foods and at least five dishes featuring melted cheese. Jon’s mother organized a casserole assembly line.

The menu resembled any church supper you’ve ever seen, except each plate was premade and plastic-covered to prevent the spread of germs.

The menu included: potato casserole, cheesy potato casserole, cream of potato casserole, scalloped potatoes, potatoes au gratin, twice baked potato casserole, bacon potato casserole, hashed brown casserole, baked potatoes, new potatoes, and not surprisingly, potato salad.

“We aren’t afraid of potatoes in the Midwest,” said Jon’s mother.

Soon, the event had taken on a life of its own. Greg was elated. More mothers were called. More children were invited. News of the big game eventually reached people’s dads too. And this is when things got good.

Everyone’s father was very excited to be on the baseball wagon. One father explains why:

“I have no life. My job is working from home, so I never leave. I basically sit in the basement all day, buying stuff online.”

On Saturday afternoon, people began to gather in the old pasture, socially distanced. The maintenance man spray-painted baselines on the scalped grass and nailed basebags into the ground.

“Greg’s family has had a hard year,” said the old janitor. “It was the least I could do for Greg.”

Most people brought blankets or lawn chairs, and everyone was dressed in thermal wear and multiple layers. There were outdoor propane heaters, and plenty of thermoses containing hot beverages.

I asked Jon’s mother if alcohol had been allowed on church premises. Jon’s mother paused for a moment. Then she said, “Are you gonna print my answer?”

On the edge of the field sat Greg’s mother in her wheelchair. She was bundled so tightly that only her eyes showed. Greg sat in her lap until gametime, his head pressed against her chest.

The game was a war. There were six players on Team Dad, 14 players on Team Kid. And for a few glorious but cold hours people did what humans were designed to do. Smile.

Everybody agreed it was a success. And although it was a small gathering of about 39, there were big cheers. The applause was muffled with gloves and mittens. And the score was non-existent. But you should have seen the looks on the faces. You would have forgotten all about the current state of our world.

I think, however, young Greg described the day best in an email he sent:

“I was happy to see my mom having fun. I hope God makes her better.”


  1. Betty - January 17, 2021 7:01 am

    Thank you, I wait for your post every night. Positive words help me sleep better 😴

  2. Christina - January 17, 2021 7:17 am

    I hope God makes Greg’s mother better too! Love the way people came together to have fun (and the food!) We sure can use more of this now.

  3. Sandi. - January 17, 2021 7:35 am

    Let’s all agree to pray for complete healing for Greg’s mother. None of us can get prayed for too much.

  4. Norma Den - January 17, 2021 7:55 am

    Sean what a lovely story today. Dear God please heal Greg’s Mom. 🙏

  5. Nan - January 17, 2021 8:50 am

    Thank you Sean. Here’s another prayer going up for Greg’s Mom.

  6. Joe Dorough - January 17, 2021 9:34 am

    Precious fun during hard cold times!❤️

  7. Leigh Amiot - January 17, 2021 9:38 am

    Joining Christina, Sandi, Norman and Nan in praying for Greg’s mother’s healing.

  8. Leigh Amiot - January 17, 2021 9:39 am

    Norma, not Norman, oops!

  9. Jan Fincher - January 17, 2021 10:14 am

    I do too, sweetheart. I do, too.

  10. Christopher Smith - January 17, 2021 11:00 am

    Baseball heals !

  11. stephenpe - January 17, 2021 11:06 am

    You’re story about the baseball game and sick mother struck a chord with me.I taught PE for many years (many). In Fla if it gets below fifty people think its dangerous and akin to Admiral Perry’s trek to the pole. So I learned early on I needed something vigorous for my kids in Jan and Feb at times. I remembered RA’s at the local Baptist Church as a kid playing steal the flag (or moss). Basically a game of chase btween two teams. I still have grown men with children say to me, “coach do you still play steal the flag, it was my favorite game?” They begin begging me to play in August when its so hot you can sweat just thinking about it. I always tell them maybe by Nov. if it gets cold enough.
    My point is as I wander through the PE of my mind is this. When kids are moving and having fun joy is soon to follow.I had kiids that would view running a lap as the Bataan Death March but would run for 25 minutes solid during steal the flag. I will never forget one of my last years teaching PE, a little girl was near me while pure joy was dashing all over the field for that flag or to tag those darting after it and she hugged me and said ” I love you coach” I can say this about being the coach for little kids, it was amazing being a rock star all those years. I just wish I could have just a tiny amount of that rock star money but you could not put a price on the love I recieved from so many kids while walking around those playgrounds, big fields and my basketball court.

  12. Leslie in NC - January 17, 2021 11:22 am

    Dear God, please make Greg’s mom better. I am a 3-year breast cancer survivor and I sure would love to have her join me!

  13. missusmux - January 17, 2021 11:30 am

    What a blessing! Great story, from start to finish. It made me laugh when Mom & Granny’s ages were included. Thanks for sharing this heartwarming story, Sean. Joining hearts and prayers with the other readers, for Greg’s mother to fully recover and for the family.

  14. Virginia Russell - January 17, 2021 12:03 pm


  15. SUSAN E JACOBI-JOHNSON - January 17, 2021 12:28 pm

    Great story. The part about Greg sitting in his Mom’s lap before the game dang near melted me (I have 2 ‘boys’, age 27 and 33, and they were both big snugglers). More prayers for Mom’s complete recovery.

  16. Jan-e Thornton - January 17, 2021 12:37 pm

    Best yet, I know. I repeat myself. Keep writing.

  17. Roz - January 17, 2021 12:51 pm

    Yay for it all! And those potatoes!!!

  18. MJ Breaux - January 17, 2021 12:55 pm

    Another grand story, thank you Sean. Prayers for healing for all who face healthcare matters. And a delicious casserole, too! 😉

  19. Chasity Davis Ritter - January 17, 2021 12:58 pm

    Baseball is always good for the soul. I pray God makes Greg’s mom better too 🙏

  20. Phil (Brown Marlin) - January 17, 2021 1:01 pm

    And I know all of your readers and I hope He does, too.

  21. Phil (Brown Marlin) - January 17, 2021 1:08 pm

    Stephenpe, I have been blessed to have known coaches like you. This ol’ world needs more. Keep those kids running!

  22. pdjpop - January 17, 2021 1:10 pm

    Dear God, please heal Greg’s mom.
    And Greg, God used you to make a healing day for mom.
    Blessings on your wonderful community. They are truly a winning team.

  23. Ron - January 17, 2021 1:30 pm

    Father God, my prayer request for Greg’s Mom’s complete remission join all these others. We each and all ask You to heal her completely and restore their family life fully. Amen

  24. Teresa Miller - January 17, 2021 1:33 pm

    Please, God…help Greg’s mama and the family.
    And Sean, I didn’t see your post immediately in my inbox, and my heart skipped a beat…I was afraid you’d been prevented from writing a new post. I guess I’m getting a bit dependent…

  25. Melanie - January 17, 2021 1:47 pm

    I say best of seven games wins the “Rural Illinois World Series”! Brought to you by the good members of the ‘Annual Winter Potato Celebration’.

  26. Chasity Davis Ritter. Sarah’s mom #25 - January 17, 2021 1:48 pm

    Stephenpe…. thank you for your years as a coach and PE teacher. My daughter is special needs and through high school it was coaches who always encouraged her and that she loves and remembers best. They’ve come out to watch her play Dream League baseball which is something special and wonderful in our town kinda like special olympics for kids that always wanted to be part of the team and play but just never got to. She’s been graduated four years this year and still plays and they still come see her. Without those loving coaches that care her life would have been so much more lonely. God bless you!!

  27. Susan Forte - January 17, 2021 1:50 pm

    Love this story! Praying for Greg’s mom🙏.

  28. Bob Brenner - January 17, 2021 2:11 pm

    Once again you have hit a “Home Run” Sean! By far one of the greatest lines ever, “They had to open the refrigerator to warm the house”! Thanks for the wonderful picture this article painted. Best Wishes to Greg and his mother. Nothing better than a loving mother and her son…❤️

  29. Patricia Harris - January 17, 2021 2:25 pm

    Another great post. Good on you, Sean. Now it’s time for you and your bride to adopt a couple of ten year old boys. Get with it! Pat

  30. Debbie D., AL - January 17, 2021 3:48 pm

    Sean, this is one of your best stories! Joining others to pray for Greg’s mom to be completely healed. ❤️

  31. Jane - January 17, 2021 3:49 pm

    I live in that kind of community. We are here for each other. We put aside the things that divide us. We pitch in and help. Someone has a need. Covid or no Covid …. we are there to help. It may be at a social distance…with masks on…but we are there in force. No one is too young or too old. A young family lost their mother as she was having a baby. Baby, 2 siblings, and dad need help. We are raising money, bringing food, helping where we can. Because that is who we are.

  32. Ann - January 17, 2021 3:52 pm

    Simplicity…encouragement…humor….you’ve done it again, Sean! 👏🏻😁

  33. Lee Jones Hackett - January 17, 2021 4:01 pm


  34. Bill - January 17, 2021 4:06 pm

    Great story, Sean. The great American pastime again brings people together. Yeah, great story.

  35. Jan - January 17, 2021 4:38 pm


  36. Patricia Gibson - January 17, 2021 5:33 pm

    God is always at work and prayers were lifted to heal Greg’s Mom🙏

  37. Jessica of the Central South East - January 17, 2021 6:09 pm

    Sandi, prayers sent up.

  38. Cynthia Russell - January 17, 2021 6:53 pm


  39. Linda Moon - January 17, 2021 7:00 pm

    Breast cancer stinks. It was my third cancer. I’m grateful that my children were all grown up then. Wow…it’s good that Greg and his brother found some much-needed fun! The all-potato menu sounded more than fun for me! Surviving cancer is what I sincerely hope for Greg’s mother so she can have lots more fun with him. God, if you’re reading this now, please bring more fun to her, and most importantly, survival of her breast cancer.

  40. DiAn - January 17, 2021 7:22 pm

    This is a great story – and it has wonderful undertones in it about the human spirit. Reminds me of an assignment I had years ago (the late 80’s) in Deadwood, SD. I remember being amazed at the way folks used gyms and other meeting places to Dance every Saturday night! It was great to see young and older folk dancing together with no other agenda than to have Fun! It was delightful and very important to see that folk who basically never saw one another during the day (sort of like now in Pandemic Times) could put aside their differences, stresses, and lives to dance on Saturday nights (while it was cold as He_ _ and snowing/icing out side!). It was very heartening – and we WILL see this again – and in our lifetimes!

  41. Barb - January 18, 2021 12:03 am

    Aww, man, I hope God makes his mom better too!!❤


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