It has been 11 years since I lost my baseball buddy, and it has been nine years since my best friend died. In 2008, my Papa Melvin lost his passion for baseball due to his progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In June of 2010, Papa passed away.
Today, we rise with the sun to get in the dirt and honor Papa by hosting a softball tournament on The Longest Day. Today, after months of reaching out to friends, family and colleagues to create teams to play in our one-day tournament, raising both funds and awareness, we celebrate Papa’s life.
When I was growing up in Georgia, Papa would take me to the ball fields almost every day.
Papa was the local umpire in our town, and the most animated umpire anyone had ever seen. He could be heard counties away yelling, “STRIKE THREE, YOU’RE OUT!” I hold that memory close: a mental picture of him turning sideways and kicking his leg straight out, pointing his finger after calling a batter out.
Papa is how I found my love of baseball.
We would drive his blue Ford pickup truck to the red clay fields, which always left permanent stains on my baseball pants. On our way, we stopped at a small barbecue shop to buy boiled peanuts. I’m telling y’all – there’s nothing like boiled peanuts at a ballgame.
On the way home, we would always stop at Waffle House. Wherever Papa was going, I was going! We would talk excitedly about the Atlanta Braves and when they would win the World Series. The Braves did win the Series in 1995. Our favorite player was Chipper Jones.
When we moved to Michigan, I would travel to Georgia every summer to visit Papa. In 2008, we had planned a golf trip to Myrtle Beach. On the way to meet us, Papa got lost while he was driving. That was when we found out Papa had Alzheimer’s.
He started to forget things. We had to take away the keys to his beloved pickup truck. Our baseball conversations became nonexistent. In 2008, he was still with me physically, but I had lost my best friend.
Our family has been involved with our local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association for over a decade. Then, in 2015, we heard about The Longest Day.
The first few years of our event, we hosted block parties with various activities, but I wanted to do more to honor Papa and pay respect to his memory with something he loved. In 2018, I thought: ‘What better way than to host a softball tournament?’ We call our event Striking Out ALZ because I always remember his voice in my head: “Strike three, YOU’RE OUT!”
Papa always told me: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” In a way, that is how he led his entire life. Because of him, I’ve learned so much, and one of those things is certain in my mind.
Together, we can end Alzheimer’s – we just have to keep swinging.
About Trey: Trey Litz fights to end Alzheimer's for his Papa, Melvin Gill; his wife's Grandpa, Glen Tuck; and all those who are caring for someone with Alzheimer's. Trey has hosted a variety of events and tournaments to raise funds and awareness for the Alzheimer's Association. He is hoping that one day, he will be hosting an event to celebrate a world without Alzheimer's. Trey and his family – wife Darby and two boys, Wyatt and Brody – live in Saline, MI. View Trey's page.