It was a Saturday morning much like any other for Carl Helm, pastor of Marion Christian Church, until his wife, JoAnn, blindfolded him and tucked him in the car.
When the blindfold came off Saturday morning at the baseball complex, a bewildered look stole across his face as the congregation sang, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
People cheered as his trusty old mitt was handed to him.
“You’re pitching, Carl,” someone prompted. “Better warm up your arm.”
Youth pastor Chris Ensley said, “Pitching was always Carl’s thing.”
Helm put on his glove, walked into the crowd, placed his hands on his hips and looked around, then asked, “Are we really playing?”
“Yes, Carl,” was the consensus.
He didn’t waste any time. Teams were counted off. Helm was at the mound fending off good-natured hecklers who said things like “better get the bullpen warmed up,” to which Helm replied, “Better get ready ’cause we’re gonna make it rain.”
Elder members of the church got the idea for a surprise softball game and birthday party after a sermon entitled “The Bucket List,” Helm delivered a couple weeks ago.
“I’m still dazed that this is happening,” he said. “I never dreamed that I’d be playing ball again. I’ve always loved the sport — playing it more than anything. I just wanted to play one more time. The thing is, though, I’m so stinking competitive that I could get hurt — I’d be diving for the ball.”
Helm played baseball when he attended Southwestern Baptist University in Baltimore, Missouri. Back then they called him Carl “Humble” Helm, because he was always modest about his talent, he said.
“No matter what the crowd said about me, I never let it go to my head,” Helm said. “There is always someone better.”
Helm went on to play semi-pro ball. During one game in which he played against future Montreal Expos pitcher Steve Rogers, Helm said a scout spoke to him about his talent but told him a major league team would not be likely to sign someone his age.
Helm was 28.
He turned 70 July 19.
“Turning 70 is awful,” Helm said before the surprise party. “It’s like 60 only a decade older. Numbers with zeros always seem worse.
“There is a frustration that comes with getting older. My mind says ‘I can do it’ but the body says ‘maybe not.’ I’ve been hearing a lot of maybe not lately.”
He collected some strike outs, walked some, and gave up some base hits. He held his competitive spirit in check as he encouraged some batters to take extra swings.
“I’m just so happy to be out here with all these wonderful people,” Helm said. “I’m still shocked. I love the fellowship this game brings.”