- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - It seemed as if it took “David” 2 minutes to travel that last 60 feet on this Thursday night. But when the man closing in on his 70s crossed home plate, Field 8 at Cargill Park erupted.

A sense of triumph wasn’t present simply because No. 4 extended his softball team’s lead in the waning moments. And it wasn’t due to the fact David has never scored a run.

You see, less than an hour after he found home at Cargill, David, like many of his teammates, stepped off a bus in downtown Shreveport with no place to go.

No address, no shower, no bed. Just a tent.

For several members of The Hub: Urban Ministry squad, softball has become their life, their hope.

“Whether it’s homelessness or poverty, hopelessness is worse,” said Myles Roberts, The Hub’s pastor and a team staff member.

The Hub has offered a chance to play competitive softball in a men’s league on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

If you head to Cargill Park, it won’t be hard to spot The Hub. The team, dressed in electric blue, has a standing-room only congregation of fans. They laugh an hug, knowing they’ve escaped the real world, even for just an hour or so.

If you ask “Albert,” the Hub’s star player, the softball team was his idea. Thanks to decision by Roberts and Lovewell Center director John Robertson, a team was realized.

One by one, The Hub drove perspective players to the league’s headquarters to sign up.

About half the team (and fans) is homeless. In addition to The Hub staffers, the rest of the group is made up of people living at the Fairmont apartments and Ledbetter Heights.

The bus was donated by the Word of Life Center and local businessman Steve Nichols.

On game days, players head to The Lovewell Center “first thing in the morning” to pick up their uniforms.

“Everybody wears their jerseys all day,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of like high school.”

The players and fans fill a bus at Hub headquarters and depart one hour before the first pitch.

The faces among The Hub’s cheering section reveal no signs of the struggles they may face.

It was the first of the month, so a few extra dollars allowed the conglomeration of black and white, young and old, to revel in the typical ballpark experience. They chowed down on nachos.

The cheers and the jeers mirrored those that permeate any other diamond.

“Knock the gravy off the biscuit,” a Hub fan shouted.

“Kiki,” was dressed in yellow and even sported matching sunglasses. She had her eye on one player in particular - husband, Marquis, the team’s catcher. In March, the couple was the first to marry at The Hub.

Kiki and friends offered cheers of encouragement and bolstered the effort with sounds from party favors you’d find on New Year’s Eve.

“I’ve played T-ball, baseball and softball at Cargill for 30 years and the stands usually have four or five people in them,” Roberts said. “At our games, it’s hilarious.”

On one occasion, The Hub’s side was so packed, some of the fans traveled to the other side of the diamond “just to be nice.”

The dozens of supporters at Cargill may as well be 40,000 at Wrigley Field to “DeMarcus.”

“It’s just amazing; an amazing crowd,” the 23-year-old outfielder said. “We love them, they love us. It’s a love atmosphere. I think that’s why we do so good.”

Just a couple of weeks into the season, The Hub is 3-3. That’s quite amazing considering the first game marked the first time some team members swung a bat.

Following a pair of losses to start the season, the team has ripped off three wins in four games.

“It’s truly fun,” said DeMarcus, No. 22. “I just wanted to win; it’s all about the win. It’s amazing. When you win, it’s an extra bonus.”

DeMarcus loves playing defense.

“I want to stop them dead in their tracks,” he said.

On this recent Thursday, The Hub found itself down 5-1, but stormed back with 10 straight runs.

“Every time I came to the dugout, Amanda (Linder), our manager, and I said it seemed scripted,” Roberts said. “I was praying the Lord would let us win because it was so fun.”

But, sure enough the opponent, a team sponsored by Merrill Lynch, loaded the bases in the final inning while trailing 11-8. With two outs, Roberts‘ diving catch ended the contest and sparked a wild celebration.

As The Hub exited its dugout, they were met with a victory tunnel created by the arms of fans.

A man named “Jonathan” asked Hub coordinator Bridget Lee to snap a picture to send to his daughter.

“We’ve only had a couple of individual problem people,” Roberts said. “The first team we played, their attitude was helpful, easy on the umpires, easy on us. It’s been really good - opponents have been fun, win or lose.”

On this Thursday, a well-dressed, obviously fit man without a Hub jersey stepped foot in the third-base coaching box for the first time. Prior to the softball season, it had been approximately three years since the man, Mike DeSilva, had seen his brother, Albert. Things have changed thanks to this magical softball team.

“Our church does some stuff with The Hub and I heard some guys talking about the star player who had just one lung due to a stint in prison,” Mike said. “I figured it was my brother.”

Hub director Cassie Hammett urged Mike to take the first step toward reconciliation.

Mike’s first appearance at Cargill was uncomfortable.

“I don’t know if they knew how to be around each other,” Roberts said.

By the second game, the brothers were playing catch. Thursday, Mike coached third and the duo enjoyed a long conversation and a deep embrace before Albert boarded the bus headed downtown.

“If I had to do (be the one to reach out), I wouldn’t have done it,” said Albert, 48. “But because of Cassie and Bridget, they got him out here, and I thank them for it.”

Mike says the reconnection has been “amazing” considering they’ve never had a meaningful relationship.

“I love him; he’s my brother,” Mike said. “It’s good for me. I’m the youngest and he was in trouble and having a rough time with life in general before I even could have a long-lasting relationship with him.

“As a family member, it was hard getting through to him. They are having much greater success. It’s fun to see it; good to see it.”

Like any good team, in any sport, at any level, The Hub experiences victories of all sorts.

“I’ve definitely noticed everyone encouraging and simply talking to people they wouldn’t normally talk to — especially when we are at the games,” Lee said. “Everyone in the crowd is in agreement and we are there to support The Hub - not the homeless players, not Myles or John, just The Hub.

“Hopelessness is the lack of having anything to look forward to - whether it’s your whole life or this week,” Roberts said. “It’s thinking, ‘There is nothing in my future that brings me joy.’

“That’s why we have this team. They’ve learned how to be part of the team, like with Albert learning how to control his anger or his language because it’s not just about you. Failing is a lot better when you have people failing with you to help pick you up. Success is better, everything is better with a community.

“I see the joy and the community softball has brought to these people even when they’re not at the game. We see it all day, all week.”


Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com

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