Sixteen years ago, I was living through a remarkable time in my life. I didn't have any gray hair yet, and my 30-foot jump shot still traveled 30 feet. Heck, back then, I could actually stoop to pick something up and then stand back up without help.
Ah, the good old days.
I had a camera store and photo studio, which I thoroughly enjoyed running, and had a string of some of the best part-time jobs you could find.
In the late 1980's, I was the stadium announcer for the Idaho Falls Braves, a class "A" rookie-league team for the Atlanta Braves. I was paid $25 dollars a game to sit in the best seat in the house and say, "Leading off and playing shortstop, No. 10, Jose Offerman...." Then, in 1991, I became the official team photographer for the Idaho State University football and basketball programs.
It was a great time for me.
Now, don't get me wrong, this was more about being in the right place at the right time then having any marketable talents. I got the job with the Braves because I happened to be in the stadium when the public address announcer quit in a huff.
Rai Henniger, the team's general manager who didn't know a soul in Idaho Falls, walked up to me and asked me if I'd like to be the team's PA announcer. As for working for the university, Brian McNeely, the then new head football coach, came in to my store one day to buy a video camera and asked me to be his photographer.
I spent my summers at McDermott Field in Idaho Falls and my winters in Holt Arena in Pocatello. It was great.
In 1992, The Salt Lake Trappers, an independent rookie-league team in the Pioneer League, was forced out of the Utah capital because Derks Field. Their home park had been condemned.
The city tore it down and built a new Triple-A stadium in its place. The team moved north to my hometown of Pocatello Idaho, changed their name to the Posse, and began the process of settling into town. Needing a photographer, the team's general manager contacted me, and I spent the summer snapping pictures at Halliwell Park.
Again, I was in the right place, at the right time.
I got a chance to get to know several of the players. Some asked me to take pictures and send them to their families in Oklahoma, Florida, or Wisconsin. Others just wanted to know where the pubs were in town. A few of the players were jerks, but the vast majority were good, decent kids, most of them away from home for the first time.
Towards the end of the season, it became known that the team would be moving to Ogden, Utah in 1994. The players were told to make sure they returned the jerseys at the end of the year. Because the "Posse" would be in existence for only one year, they would probably become valuable, and the owner wanted them back.
I was in the clubhouse during the last home stand, snapping pictures and saying goodbye to the players. One young pitcher came up to me and thanked me for taking some pictures of him during the season.
He had a vibrant personality. He joked, he cajoled, he laughed all the time. He was confident, on the cusp of being arrogant, but not quite.
He had told me earlier in the season that he had been released by the Twins the previous year, and that "the gig in Pocatello was the only one I could find." He said that he was confident he was going to find work in '94. He had pitched well, going 8-4, 4.13 in 16 starts.
I genuinely liked the guy, and told him I thought he had a bright future (but I was just guessing). I walked out of the clubhouse door and headed towards my car when I heard a voice call out, "Hey, Farid, wait!"
The pitcher caught up with me in the parking lot.
He reached under his shirt and pulled out a black and teal Posse home jersey. "They said we couldn't keep them, but they didn't say we couldn't give 'em away," he said with a smile. He tossed me the jersey, waved, and ran back into the clubhouse.
It was a real "Mean Joe Greene" moment.
I knew that player as Cory. I never knew his last name; I never new any of their last names.
So when the tragic news of the death of Cory Lidle hit the news a couple of years ago, I never gave it a second thought. Oh sure, I was saddened by the death of a baseball player, but it wasn't like I had any relationship with the guy.
After driving my son to band practice that morning, I stopped at the corner convenience store to grab a newspaper. "Dead Baseball Player Had Pocatello Ties" read the headline.
I ran home and searched through my copies of all those pictures I took, trying to find one of Cory Lidle. I found the picture at the top of this story. It was taken July, 1993. I scribbled the names of the players on the back of the picture. Second from the left reads, simply: "Lidle."
I never realized that "Cory," that fun loving kid who gave me the jersey (I don't know if it was his or not) made it to the major leagues until that morning. I didn't follow the players' careers after they left Pocatello because, well, this was an independent team for goodness sake; those were players who weren't good enough to sign with a big league club. I didn't think they had the talent to make much farther.
I was wrong.
I wish I could remember more about Cory Lidle than just the shadowy impressions that remain with me these many years later. He was fairly short. He laughed a lot. He was really confident. But he was so much more than that.
He was a man who beat the odds and became a quality pitcher after being passed up by every major league team.
God Bless you, Cory. We're still thinking of you.