Quill the Umpire: You can count on kindness of umpires in times of need

It was far scarier than the worst nightmare John Ettner had ever experienced.

At around 4:37 in the morning on June 11, John and his wife were jolted out of bed after hearing a huge explosion.

“I shot out of bed and looked at the window and couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said. “I saw flames and a fireball.”

John said that anyone who saw the destruction that this gas explosion caused would consider it a miracle that no one was killed. Several homes were even torn down completely to their foundation. I saw footage taken from a drone days later and it truly is a miracle no one lost their life.

Fortunately, John and all of his Marengo neighbors are still alive, but still beyond devastated with their losses. More than 50 homes were damaged, including 20 that were left uninhabitable. The Ettner’s home is going to require between $60,000 and $70,000 in repairs.

Like what usually happens when tragedy strikes, we learn that kindness and generosity still exist in a world that’s also sadly filled with hatred.

Special “Marengo Strong” t-shirts are being sold with $9 of $12 going directly to the families affected, restaurants have been accepting donations and gift cards, and Marengo area OutReach Enterprises (M.O.R.E. Center) has also been collecting monetary donations, clothing and supplies.

As for John, he’s also receiving unbelievable support from the Fox Valley Blues Umpire Association where he is a member. In fact, the first person that contacted him after the explosion was Jeff Collis, who founded the Fox Valley Blues (FVB) in 1994.

“I got a text from Jeff because he heard what happened and realized how close it was to us,” John said. “That just goes to show you the care of our guys and the brotherhood of the Fox Valley Blues.”

It went well beyond a text though, and I knew that it would.

Collis posted the news about what had happened and how fellow umpires could help John and his family. It didn’t take long for the compassionate and generous support to flood in. Donations were made directly to the family’s Go Fund Me page and more than $7,000 has been collected already toward their goal of $10,000.

Other umpires asked Collis to take the pay from one or two of the games they worked and to give it to the Ettners. John has received at least an additional $1,500 in this way.

In addition to the opportunity to donate directly to the Ettners via their Go Fund Me page, donations to the entire Marengo Disaster Fund can be mailed to 829 Greenlee St., Marengo, IL 60152 or by calling (815) 568-7950. Please consider helping out a good guy going through a tough time.

Helping our fellow umpires during tragic times is something we do at FVB. Coaches may have the backs of their players, but good luck in convincing me that they’re more supportive than our umpires are to each other.

If you see the FVB on the cap, you’re not only seeing some of the best umpires, but also some of best people.

I’m not here to pat my fellow umpires on the back. That’s not why we do it, but I am still going to mention a few of the wonderfully generous things we’ve done over the years not only for our fellow umpires but for the communities we work in. Heck, we’ve even helped out coaches during tough times.

For 23 years, FVB umpires have donated their time, umpiring games for free in the Schaumburg Firefighters Association Annual Softball Tournament, which raises money for the Loyola Children’s Hospital’s burn center. I don’t have official numbers, but the fundraiser typically raises $30,000 a year so if my calculations are correct, that means that close to $700,000 has been collected.

We made a monetary donation to the handicapped field at Sunset Park in Lake in the Hills so that many of the disabled have an opportunity to play the game we all love.

We’ve also provided important awareness. Last July at our biggest tournament of the year we wore “FVB Stand with Blue” bracelets to support police officers across the country.

Some of us have worn pink jerseys in support of breast cancer research and awareness and we’ve raised thousands for the Susan G. Komen organization.

We’ve helped former Cubs reliever Jason Motte’s Foundation help strike out cancer by raising hundreds of dollars, and we raised $1,000 for former Geneva coach Matt Hahn as his son battled cancer and other families in a similar struggle.

And like with what happened to John, we’re there for each other. When the son of one of our umpire’s died tragically in a motorcycle accident, many umpires donated to him during such a difficult time. When we lost one of our own umpires earlier this year, we also raised money for his family.

We’re also doing our part to ensure that the future is bright with umpires. There’s a scary shortage of officials and it’s only going to get worse. We implemented a youth program this year that included 18 youth umpires. Four of them graduated to FVB and the others will continue to develop. Many FVB umpires assisted in this endeavor and we’re just getting started. Unfortunately, I’ve seen other organizations send kids with little experience out onto the field, with no knowledge of the rules and dressed like they’re going to Lollapalooza. It’s a shame to our profession but just another reason why FVB is so special.

I really could go on and on because these are just a handful of ways we’ve been there for our communities and for our fellow umpires. It’s truly a special association that I’m happy to be a part of.

Well, it’s come to that time of year. Time to say goodbye until next year. High school sports are speeding up and football season arrives next Friday. I wish all my fellow umpires who also officiate football the best of luck this fall. As for me, perhaps a little fall baseball on weekends in September or October, and if anything really interesting occurs in the baseball playoffs, perhaps I’ll return for a special column. If not, thanks again to all of those who read and respond. I’ll talk to you next spring.

• Sugar Grove resident Chris Rollin Walker is a baseball umpire with an eye for strikes, balls, gerunds and participles. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.