This is an emotional end for Matt and Marshall Simon.
Matt is the father, Marshall the son. Matt is the coach, Marshall the player.
Marshall graduated late this spring from Plainview-Elgin-Millville High School. Like all Minnesotans, his graduation fell short of what it was supposed to be due to COVID-19. His final P-E-M baseball season, with his father as the Bulldogs’ assistant coach, got even worse treatment. It was yanked away entirely this spring by the pandemic.
Then, after 11 straight years of being side-by-side in baseball during summer, Matt always Marshall’s head coach then, that tradition also seemed to have been claimed by COVID-19 with American Legion baseball being cancelled nationwide.
The end of this father and son’s love affair with baseball — their forever means of togetherness — appeared over.
“This spring, that was a tough pill to swallow, not having a season,” the 43-year-old Matt said. “And then the summer (American Legion) season was cancelled. That was also tough. But then it was almost like we’d moved on, figuring nothing was going to happen with summer baseball.”
To their delight, they figured wrong. What they’ve been given hasn’t been a replica of the American Legion schedule they’d grown used to. Still, it’s been something, with a pack of Hiawatha Valley League and Three Rivers Conference schools having carved out games with each other.
Plainview-Elgin-Millville has played seven of them, winning five. It has two left, the final one Monday.
There is an Elgin duo that has likely been more grateful than anyone for this made-from-scratch league. That is Matt Simon and his boy Marshall.
What they’ve been granted is one more shot at car rides together to the ballpark, then the games, then the rides home.
They cherish all of it. Neither can think of anything better than being together, just like this.
“All of his life, Marshall has always asked me to play baseball with him,” Matt said. “It’s always been an important thing for us. We also spend a lot of time watching baseball games on TV. You can pick up a lot of things that way. He understands the game at a different level than most kids because he sees so much of it. A lot of our time together has revolved around baseball.”
Their conversations, however, while often starting off about 3-2 counts or disguising pitches, inevitably veer all over the place. Sunsets, movies, funny stuff, religion. They hit on anything and everything.
Awkward silences don’t exist on their baseball car rides. The same was also true way back, when Matt and Marshall were first stationed in the family backyard, dad teaching son how to throw and catch.
Marshall says that his dad taught him everything he knows about baseball, having rounded him into what Matt calls a “Swiss Army Knife,” able to play any position.
But the conversations and the teaching went well beyond baseball and still do.
“My dad is really fun to be around,” Marshall said. “We don’t always have to be serious. We talk about all kinds of stuff. And our senses of humor are pretty broad. When I think back on our baseball time together, it’s going to be about all the talks we had together.”
There are just a couple of more baseball trips to be had for these two. Pondering that, father and son find themselves in the same predicament. They go silent, and then there are tears.
“I’ve coached Marshall every summer since he was 7 years old,” Matt said. “This ending, it’s going to be bitter-sweet. It’s just now hitting me that this really is it. It’s emotional.”