It’s true that humans make memories, and that the best ones for a writer are those who leave an impression.
Matt Snodgrass did, because after seven brain tumors and six craniotomies and localized radiation and two rounds of oral chemotherapy and one round of precautionary intravenous chemotherapy — all before the age of 20 — when does courage officially become part of one’s DNA?
I can’t imagine ever again writing about a person as brave as Matt, a young golfer who died at 23 in 2011. I’m not sure anyone has, as the song goes, lived like they were dying more than him.
The taxi driver in Beijing made an impression because without his supreme guidance, I would not have looked for the Jinshanling trail more than two hours into walking the Great Wall of China, slowly ascending a stone path toward points of breathtaking scenery while taking a break from my Olympics coverage in 2008 to witness such a magnificent miracle of rock and boulder and stuffed earth.
Ashton Cave also did.
Helicopters are good for many things, but not parenting within the bizarre and irrational world of youth sports. More impressive than those historic accomplishments put forth by Mountain Ridge Little League five years ago was the man who directed such an unforgettable run.
He is currently on the captain’s list for the Clark County Fire Department, a husband and father of five who played baseball and soccer and also wrestled at Cimarron-Memorial High School, never the greatest athlete and yet always the hardest worker.
Super Bowls. Final Fours. Olympics. NBA Finals. Rose Bowls. A Stanley Cup Final. A World Cup.
Few, if any, stand above those events I have been privileged to cover more than those 10 days in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 2014, chronicling the first team from Nevada to make the Little League World Series.
Cave was everything you want in a leader of youth and yet rarely encounter. Not to this degree. Not to his level of understanding a bigger picture beyond the immediacy of individual glory, mostly perpetuated by those piercing sounds of maniacal absurdity.
You know … parents.
But he never allowed any of it to overwhelm his team. Cave, now 41, executed a perfect balance of work and enjoyment for those 14 players. Mountain Ridge had as many family days as any other team, never practicing for more than a few hours and always making the time light and fun as music blared throughout workouts.
“I still come across people that remember our run, and my response is always what a humble opportunity it was just to be part of it,” Cave said. “I’m a native of Las Vegas. I grew up here. This town has provided so much opportunity for myself and my family. It was an honor to give back — we were able to take advantage of the opportunity and leave a positive mark on the city, these boys and Mountain Ridge.
“I just always wanted to lead from my position, striving to represent Las Vegas as a father, leader and coach.”
I loved the town, reforested with second-growth timber, the most famous of Little League complexes hidden off a highway by beautiful woodland. I will never forget visiting and writing about a seemingly ordinary field along Fourth Street, west of Lycoming Creek and south of the place that since 1959 has hosted the best Little Leaguers in the world.
Little ‘ol Bowman Field. The birthplace of Little League. The first electronic scoreboard controller. The first set of bases. The first score sheet. The stones used by the first umpire to keep track of balls and strikes.
Just an amazing place, South Williamsport.
From its beginning, there has been more good than bad with Little League, more folks than not with the correct set of values and integrity than those who conspire to defraud the brand and stain its intended mission.
Little League lost its way over the years along a path now littered with tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue and a presence on ESPN each summer that has caused many to forget what’s most important.
But good still exists in it, because when you look past those with selfish intentions and unruly parents living through their kids and corporate posturing from suits representing a child’s game, you notice an event defined by volunteers intent on imparting ethical standards, by everyday people who do extraordinary things for children.
And when you look really close, back five years ago, you see Ashton Cave.
Humans make memories, and those he made for 14 boys from Mountain Ridge will live forever in their hearts and minds.
Along with those of a certain sports columnist.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.