Photo courtesy of Eddie Poe
To the Leesburg Lightning Organization:
Even though I may have been the team “journalism intern”, in my mind, the best part of the gig was also being a fan of the Leesburg Lightning. For me, the fan experience gave itself a whole new meaning on Friday, July 22. Pat Thomas was virtually packed to the brim, the clouds broke and opened up to a clear night, and we beat the first place River Rats to begin a much needed five-game win streak.
It was a night that helped to remind me that there are few things more pure than a summer night at Pat Thomas Stadium, in “America’s hometown.” Not to mention, I was fortunate enough to spend it with all of the people who have become like family to me.
As I sit here, tomorrow night is the final regular season game. It may also be the final home game — depending on where we finish in the standings.
Opening night came at the beginning of June, and just like that, it’s the end of July and we’re wrapping up the regular season. It all flew right by me in an instant. However, the playoffs have yet to take place and I have all the faith in the world that the Lightning will persevere and bring another Florida League championship back to Leesburg.
What I really mean though, is that I’m not quite ready to return home.
Before I do, I’d like to take the time to express all of my gratitudes to the summer family I won’t soon forget.
First, to Mr. Chuck Johnson, John Meier, Roger Croft, and Tyler Brandeburg, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be apart of the Leesburg Lightning organization and continue pursuing the many career aspirations that I have. You all supported me from day one and made me feel at home when my true home was over a thousand miles away.
I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Leesburg back in late May. I was nervous. I was overly anxious to begin working. Even more so, I was eager to meet new people and learn all about what makes Leesburg special.
Each of you wrapped your arms around me — metaphorically speaking — and welcomed me to my new home. You encouraged and helped me through a brand new experience, and your kindness never failed to keep a smile on my face.
You also taught me the true meaning behind being apart of the Lightning organization. “We do things a little differently from the rest of the Florida League.” I heard those words the very first day and they stuck with me the entire way. Fortunately for me, those words rang truer than ever and I quickly figured out what they really meant.
It didn’t take long to see that summer league baseball in Leesburg, Florida, is much more than just a baseball game. Much more than just simply going out to the ballpark to catch a few innings and eat a hot dog. It’s a rite of passage.
Truth be told, I’ve never experienced anything quite like a Leesburg Lightning game. It’s like being sent back in time to be reminded of the exact reason why baseball is referred to as “America’s pastime.” Nothing was more memorable than the 4th of July game. It’s when I fell in love with Leesburg. I also fell in love with the diverse fan base that the Lightning have. From the young kids who attend games with their parents, to the older demographic, you all are what makes coming to Pat Thomas so special. Your passion for the Lightning and for the community made me feel so fortunate to be in Leesburg.
Traveling to the other stadiums/fields for away games was never the same. Not even close. I always wanted to come right back to Leesburg because the authenticity just wasn’t there for me. I was spoiled, but in the greatest way possible.
To add, I’m deeply appreciative of all of your support throughout this entire experience. Your compliments about my writing, and your smiling faces were heartwarming and made coming to Pat Thomas so simple.
Next, to all of the Lightning players, thank you for everything. Thank you for treating me like a friend, for taking the time out of your lives to get to know me, and for always respecting me. I look up to every single one of you. You’re doing what I wish I was still doing. You’re pursuing a dream. I played baseball from age four up until the end of high school, and I always dreamed of one day playing major league baseball — just like all of you. Unfortunately, I fell out of love with the game about half way through high school. I went home one day and I realized that I just wasn’t having that much fun anymore. Nonetheless, I miss it every single day. Baseball was my vice, where I always seemed to be the happiest. Where I went to forget about everything else.
It always amazed me how baseball could do that.
Now that we have one game left before the playoffs, nothing would make me happier than to see you guys go to Tropicana Field and win the whole thing. I know you guys are capable of it. I know no other team in the league has overcome as much adversity. The great people of Leesburg are already proud of you, why not give them more reason to be proud of their hometown team?
We may cross paths somewhere down the road, but until then, I wish you all nothing but the best in all of life’s endeavors. For those of you who continue playing after college, keep chasing those dreams. Keep chasing them for all of the little leaguers out there who lace up every day, dreaming that one day they’ll wear a major league uniform.
To Coach Billings, Coach Holt, and Coach Teegarden, thank you for always offering a helping hand and for standing by my side throughout this entire process. I may not have always done my job to the best of my ability, but I’m grateful that you stuck with me. I wish each of you the best of luck in your coaching careers and where ever life’s journey may take you.
To Demery, Tori, and Zach, I’m really going to miss you guys. We’ve sure come a long way since intern orientation back in May. We walked into that room in Sanford and hadn’t the slightest clue as to where this experience was going to take us. We were blessed to have been placed in Leesburg with all of the wonderful people who made this experience what it was. We learned a great deal from each other. We got sick of each other at times but we also created an endless amount of memories here in Leesburg. I couldn’t have asked for a better set of interns to have worked with, and I hope you’ve all enjoyed this experience as much as I have.
As for the future, I hope we keep in touch with one another. I know you’ll all do great things and accomplish all of the things you set out to do. Always feel free to reach out if you’re ever in need of anything. You guys will always be family to me.
With this unforgettable experience coming to a close, what’s next?
After my 15 hour drive back home to Maryland, I’ll soon be setting out on another one of life’s journeys. On August 15, I’ll be departing home once again to take on graduate school in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ll be attending Arizona State University in hopes of earning my Master’s Degree in Sport Journalism. The hot desert awaits me but Leesburg will always be near and dear.
Leesburg will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve been blessed with so many incredible opportunities in this life, and spending a summer here has certainly been one of them. This community has shown me what it means to truly love America. It has shown me that whatever dilemmas we may face in this world, we’ll always have each other. Never change Leesburg. This world is a much better place with each and every one of you in it.
I have no doubt that I will soon return to “America’s hometown.” Until then, I’ll miss you all dearly.