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Babe Ruth season nears opening day

Steve Yingling

Returning to childhood stomping grounds evokes memories of when life was simple, fun and carefree.

When Todd Fields returns to the South Tahoe Babe Ruth Field on Saturday night, you can be sure that he’ll recall the three straight league championships and the time he three-hit Arizona in the Senior Babe Ruth Western Regionals.

Hopefully, for an evening, the 1984 South Tahoe High graduate can forget that he has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

South Tahoe Babe Ruth has dedicated the 1997 season to Fields and will honor him before the opening game Saturday night.

“Guys had more ability than Todd, but he knew how to get the most out of what he had. He’s the same way in life; he’s never going to give up,” said Gary Shidaker, who coached Fields in Senior Babe Ruth.

Signs of the disease, ironically, appeared during a softball game five years ago.

“He had been having twitches and spasms and didn’t know what it was. During a game a ball was hit to him in center field. He went to pick it up and couldn’t. When he finally did, he tried to throw it and dropped it. Then he picked it up with two hands and threw it to the shortstop. He went to the doctor the next day,” said Todd’s father, Tom.

Since being diagnosed with ALS four years ago, Todd has lost use of his arms, has only 10 percent leg utilization and his voice has deteriorated by 50 percent.

“He’s accepted this the best anybody could,” Tom said. “He’s always had a great attitude. He believes somehow, some way or somewhere there’s a cure.”

Regrettably, Tom now knows as much about ALS as some doctors.

“They don’t know how the disease starts, but they feel it’s an oversecretion of glutamate in the bloodstream that stops the nerves from functioning properly. It’s sort of like insulin in a diabetic,” he said. “The overbalance of glutamate causes the nerves to die and then the muscles don’t work.”

As the effects of the disease have worsened, the wheelchair-bound Todd has been under care at the University of California-San Francisco Neurology Department. He and his wife, Debby, have a 2-year-old son, Tyler.

“The hardest part is he can’t hug his kid. The kid can sit on his lap,” Tom said. “When you have to ask your son to get you a glass of water, that’s difficult. He knows the time spent with his son is going to be very limited.”

Unlike the many special diamond memories Tom and Todd shared as Todd made his way up the baseball ladder.

“Some of the best moments we had as parent and kid were out there on that field,” Tom said.

Besides his Babe Ruth exploits, Todd developed into a gifted player for South Tahoe High.

One of his best moments came during his senior season against Reno High. Facing future major-league pitcher Shawn Boskie and the unbeaten Huskies, the Vikings pulled off the upset of the baseball season with a come-from-behind 3-2 win.

Todd was responsible as anyone for the upset. He relieved Mark Shehadi halfway into the game with the bases loaded, no outs and Reno in front 2-1. Unshaken, Todd struck out the side, and blanked the Huskies over the final three innings. It was the Huskies only loss of the season – one that ended with a state championship and a 24-1 record.

“When Mark and Todd get together, that’s one of their favorite stories,” Tom said. “It was a great way to end the season.”

Todd continued his baseball career at Cal State Northridge and Chico State, becoming the first Viking graduate to earn a college varsity baseball letter in 17 years.

“He was a really good ballplayer. The only reason he didn’t get a college scholarship was because South Tahoe is a cold climate,” Tom said.

Before joining the Tahoe Stars, a local semipro team that no longer exists, Todd attended three-day camps with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.

Tragically, Todd shares a lot in common with the Gehrig, the Hall of Famer who led the Yankees to seven world titles before dying of ALS at 38.

“They both played first base and were good hitters; they even wore the same number 4,” Tom said. “He doesn’t have any pictures or the book of Gehrig. Todd has a really positive attitude. It’s difficult to remind yourself of the situation your in. He thinks he’s going to get better. If there’s anything out there, we’ll continue to try.”

When people talk about Todd’s qualities, the oft-used description is effort. As he fights for his life, Todd is making quite an effort to be in attendance Saturday at the Babe Ruth Field.

“He’s excited and thinks it’s an honor. He hopes he can make it motivate the kids,” Tom said.

Maybe it’s time that the South Tahoe Babe Ruth fields get a name. Todd Fields sounds nice, doesn’t it?


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