Last week I came up with the idea to write a series of columns about the unsung heroes of our community who work quietly behind the scenes with little to no recognition, yet what they do changes lives for the better.
Chim Curry was one of the first names that popped into my head.
While you might not know his name, if you’ve ever been to Waxahachie’s Optimist Park, or knew a kid that played youth baseball in Waxahachie, you’ve seen his work.
For the past 20 or so years, every afternoon during baseball season, Chim is the man who makes sure the park’s five baseball fields are immaculately manicured, the lines separating fair and foul are chalked straight and narrow, the water jugs are filled, the scoreboards are working and the lights are turned on.
He also fills in behind the plate when an umpire calls in sick, staffs the concession stand, is the voice of reason when tempers start to rise and is the keeper of the park’s lost and found box.
I called Daily Light photojournalist Scott Dorsett and asked if he would go to the park this week and take a couple of shots of Chim to go with my column.
He was so impressed with Chim, instead sending me a couple of shots, Scott sent in a photo essay and a short story. His essay, entitled “The Set Up Man,” is on the cover of today’s lifestyle section (Page 1B).
I’ve known Chim for nearly 16 years. Fourteen of those years we served together on the Waxahachie Youth Baseball Association’s Board of Directors, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to providing baseball programs for the youth of our community.
Until five years ago, the league was totally responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the fields at Optimist Park. It relied on coaches and parents to volunteer their evenings and weekends to help make repairs, perform hard manual labor and raise funds to purchase the supplies we needed just to keep the league running.
Each year, we could usually count on having a corps of about a dozen volunteers who would help out on a regular basis.
Chim was always there. Every day. Every year. Year after year, long after his son aged out of rec league ball.
Five years ago Bryan Johnson took over the operations of Optimist Park and for the first since the park opened in the late 1940s, coaches and dads no longer had to worry about keeping the fields up and getting them prepped for games.
But Chim did.
He stayed on and continues to do what he has always done, tending to the fields every day as if his kids were going to play a championship game that night. Though Bryan pays him a small stipend for his work, Chim will be the first to tell you it’s not about the money.
I’ve seen a lot of dedicated volunteers during my 14 years with the league. But most moved on after their kids quit playing ball.
Every day after he got off work at the GM Assembly Plant in Arlington (he retired a few years ago), Chim would go home, change clothes, have dinner with his wife and head to the park.
Come to think of it, in all the years I’ve known him, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a rake in his hand, or a chalk box, or filling water jugs, or stocking the shelves in the concession stand or filling in behind the plate when we were short an umpire.
And he’s never sought recognition. That’s not who he is.
In fact, as hard as he works, he works even harder to avoid the spotlight.
He’s a soft-spoken man, but when he speaks, everyone listens.
Hard to rile, he’s always the one that steps in when tempers start to flair and calms everyone down. During my 14 years on the WYBA board, I was blessed to have served with a lot of dedicated moms and dads who not only love the game, but love teaching that game to kids.
Suffice it to say, we are all very passionate about baseball. Occasionally, that passion would get the best of us during a heated board meeting.
I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard Chim say, “Alright, y’all. Everyone just take a deep breath and count to three.” In a matter of seconds he would diffuse the situation, get everyone calmed down and back on topic.
I’ve seen him do that a couple of times at the park as well when the parents in the stands forgot to read the sign at the park’s entrance stating: “The price of admission is good sportsmanship.”
In Scott’s story on Page 1B, Chim’s response to the question “Why do you do this?” didn’t surprise me.
Nor did it surprise me that Chim told Scott to give all of the credit to his wife, who understands and supports his need to help share the game he loves with the kids in our community.
Chim and I have had many conversations over the years and we both share the same belief that baseball is more than just game. With a good coach working in a good league, kids learn valuable life lessons that extend beyond the field and prepare them to be successful adults.
Beyond how to hit, throw and catch a baseball, the game requires discipline, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, teamwork, patience and humility — all skills needed to succeed in life, and become good human beings.
While Scott was chasing Chim around the park this week, he wrote about Chim giving kids “high-fives” and congratulating them on a big hit or a great defensive play.
But I’ve also seen Chim reach out to kids after a bad game. Kids walking around with their heads pointed down, tears flowing down their cheeks because they had been rocked on the mound or dropped the ball that lost the game or struck out with the bases loaded.
Long after his playing days have ended, Chim can identify with the kids because he remembers what it was like to be 6-, or 8-, or 10-, or 12- or 14-years-old and feel demoralized because you let your team down in the clutch.
He also knows that in baseball, as in life, we often learn more from our losses than we do from our moments of victory. It’s almost like he has a sixth sense that allows him to know when a kid’s about to give up on the game — as well as themself.
That’s when Chim the groundskeeper becomes Chim the teacher and uses baseball to impart those important life lessons — that even though they don’t realize it at the time — have a lasting impact on the rest of their life.
I’ve heard him give “The Talk” to a lot of kids over the years.
Without be condescending or talking down, he’s able to reach the kids on a level that only someone who’s played the game and loves the game could understand and appreciate. And he doesn’t minimize the hurt because he knows that in life, as in the game of baseball, how we deal with failure shapes our character and helps define what type of individual we become. He reminds them of why they like playing baseball and he reminds them that even the biggest Major League stars have bad games.
And near the end of the talk he asks them who their favorite Big League player is.
“Do you know how they got to be so good at playing baseball?” Chim asks, as he walks the kid to the concession stand.
Time after time the reaction is always the same as the kid looks up, wipes his nose on the sleeve of his uniform and shakes his head.
“Because he never quit,” Chim answers. “When he had a bad game, he brushed himself off, learned from what did wrong, and kept plugging away getting better with every game he played. Nobody has a perfect game every game. We all have bad days. What’s important is you don’t let a bad day, or a bad game, determine who you are and what you do. I guarantee (the kid’s favorite player) had games worse than the one you had tonight. And look where he is now.
“Tell you what, how about I get you a snow cone from the concession stand and the next game, you get a hit for me?”
Though most folks don’t know his name, Chim Curry has touched thousands of lives in our community during the past 20 years by helping provide baseball opportunities for our youth. Whether raking the mound, chalking the lines that separate fair from foul, filling the water jugs, turning on the lights or turning defeat into a valuable life lesson, he makes a difference every day at Optimist Park.
Thank you, Chim. And at Chim’s insistence on giving credit where credit where credit is due, thank you to his wife Lori for sharing Chim with our community.
Neal White is the Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at email@example.com or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.