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Celebrating memories and friends

I suppose virtually everybody has memories connected to this time of year. For some, they revolve around barbecues, family togetherness and fireworks.

Mine? They revolve around baseball. At least, they start with baseball.

This time last year I was fresh off a week-long road trip in which I, along with four of my friends, saw a game in the final season of old Yankee Stadium, saw RE.M. at Madison Square Garden, trolled Times Square, posed with the Rocky Balboa statue in Philadelphia and did our own personal walking tour of the momuments of Washington D.C.

Then I came home and covered youth league baseball for 12 hours on Independence Day.

But my fondest memories of this season of heat, fireworks and baseball come from eight years ago.

I was 19 years old and working as a youth ministry intern in Paris, Tenn. that summer. I had long been an Atlanta Braves fan and had developed an affinity for the lovable loser persona then held by the Boston Red Sox. One of those items on that to-do list of life I kept inside my head was to see a game at Fenway Park. That summer there was talk that Fenway Park would soon be closed.

So it hit me. If I was ever going to check that one off my list, it had to happen quickly.

I set to planning along with my friend Josh Riley and we embarked upon a trip that would see us catch a charter bus in Nashville on Thursday, July 5 before arriving in Boston on Friday, July 6. It was 27 hours each way. We braved odd smells that eminated from the rear of the bus. We toweled off in the restrooms of restaurants and bus stations. We saw the Red Sox and Braves battle for 10 innings. We made friends with a couple of inebriated individuals who thought of us as divinity based on our oddly accurate predictions throughout the game. We cheered for every pitch and stood on our seats as we chanted “Manny! Manny! Manny!” with the Fenway faithful. We watched Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez go back-to-back with two outs in the ninth to tie the game. We ate a midnight meal in Chinatown, met a handful of really interesting people and arrived back in Paris in time for church on Sunday morning light on sleep and long on memories.

Just over two years later, Josh lost his life trying to save a friend while on a rafting trip. He left behind a mother, father, sister, wife and a host of people who thought the world of him.

I scarcely saw him again following the summer of 2001. But what he left with me was fond memories of baseball, road trips and the ever-present desire to seize every moment that presents itself, relish every experience and make every memory.

This time of year reminds everybody of something different. But it reminds me of one young man who unwittingly helped me learn to get the most out of every memory.

Jeremy D. Smith is sports editor for the Demopolis Times.