By Bill Loop
In an instant, Dick "Chief" Twyman is gone.
He was supposed to recover from a spill that led to a broken hip and brain trauma.
Chief never got that chance.
The former owner and coach of the Havasu (AZ) and Haysville Heat is much more than a baseball guru and National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame inductee.
He is the spark who led semi-professional baseball to Wellington.
Life is cruel, but with Chief's passing, a new era of Heat baseball emerges. With his son Rick taking the reins, Wellington has witnessed winning baseball – carrying on the winning Heat tradition.
It's funny how a game can mean so much.
America's pastime has sparked careers, changed lives and has given towns an identity.
This year Wellington is one such town.
Rick Twyman has given Wellington a chance to come to the ballpark.
Rick's baseball career came to an abrupt end after a car accident, but coaching proves to be his calling – like father, like son.
He reflects on this year's team – the ups and the downs – while preparing for a matchup against the Nevada (MO) Griffins at the NBC Tournament in Wichita.
"There is no one specific leader of this team. They're a weird bunch. We don't have that true leader this year. Different guys step up in different games. There isn't that one guy that's done it the whole year. It's been a group effort."
After a mediocre start, the boys of summer start putting it together – leading up to the NBC Tournament.
"The 20th of June, they started figuring it out. That's when they went on a roll," Twyman said.
Tragedy nearly struck the Heat in a game against the Derby Twins, quite literally.
After hitting two homeruns, Heat slugger Tony Piazza watches as a fastball whizzes over his head. Piazza receives the message and wants to let the Twins pitcher know he got it.
"The pitcher and him were yelling at each other. A (Derby) bench guy came off and basically speared him, or close-lined him. That's what started that whole thing. Nothing would have transpired; the coaches and umpire were heading out there…" Twyman said.
Like it or not, that's baseball.
The Heat didn't let the incident affect them. Suspensions were given to both teams, and they both moved on.
Winning 18 of their next 20 ballgames, the Heat finish second in the Jayhawk division with a record of 20-13. Keeping their eye on the ultimate prize – a NBC World Series Championship.
Page 2 of 2 - Win or lose, this team has overcome diversity and may have found a permanent home in Wellington.
"There haven't been any complaints. The players absolutely love it here. The host families have been great, the families all want to do it again next year. The community support, the people coming to the games, it's been outstanding," Twyman said.
The big question regarding a long-term deal with the Heat and Wellington weighs over the Wheat Capital. Twyman and the Heat plan on meeting with the city once the tournament concludes.
But right now, there's only one thought on the Heat players' and fans' minds – bringing home a title.
That road is likely to cross the Santa Barbara (CA) Foresters, who the Heat lost a nail-bitter to on Saturday.
They do have one thing going for them – foresters don't like heat. That, my friends, is mascot science.