Baseball a life-changer
By MIKE MURPHEY
Roy Hobbs Baseball
Although his life seemed beyond repair, Darrell Dreesen found redemption in a baseball field and a friend.
Deep in depression just a few years ago, he took a walk while pondering a failing marriage, failing finances and failing health. He’d reached the low point of a downward spiral.
“Emotionally, I was just worn out,” Darrell said. “I didn’t feel like I had much to offer to anybody. My walk took me by the ballpark in my neighborhood, and I saw a bunch of guys my age playing ball. So I sat and watched for a while, and I thought maybe I could still do this. So I asked who was in charge.”
He was directed to Vic Marotta.
“We talked, and he said to give him my name and phone number,” Darrell said. “A couple of days later Vic called me and told me I was on his team.”
When Darrell tried Little League in the Minneapolis suburbs, he was the kid who sat on the bench and occasionally played right field. When he moved to the little town of Brooten, Minnesota, though he found a different situation. A little town needed all the kids for its baseball program, so he played and improved.
Small town demographics worked for him again in the 8th grade when several of the older kids got into trouble and were ineligible to play on the high school varsity team.
“So the coach needed players. He put me in center field and told me that while he knew I wasn’t going hit the older pitchers, my job was to catch the ball. So I played 5 years of varsity baseball and that was quite an experience.”
He played some town ball after high school and coached his two sons as they grew, but those days were only memories on the day he got the call from Vic Marotta inviting him to join a team in a St. Louis Park, Minnesota, over-50 league.
“Darrell was really down on his luck when I met him,” Vic recalls. “His wife was involved with drugs and drinking. He was living in a lousy apartment. He was overweight and he smoked too much. He was really at a low point.”
“When Vic called me about playing,” Darrell said, “I was just so excited. I hadn’t played ball in several years, and for the first time in quite a while, I had something to look forward to.”
“Baseball opened everything back up for him,” Vic said. “He stopped smoking. He’s 5-8, and when I met him he weighed 225. Now he weighs 165, and he got back in the gym and lost all that weight because he wanted to be a better ballplayer. And he’s an excellent player. Much better than I ever was. He really came alive as a senior ball player.”
Darrell is not the first hard-luck recipient of Vic Marotta’s friendship.
“I have a bunch of friends like Darrell,” Vic said. “My son tells me that when most people see a guy they think they should probably back away from, that’s the guy I gravitate toward. Darrell is a very nice person and everyone likes him.”
Vic has owned a chain or Karate instruction studios in the Minneapolis area for 40 years, and he’s used to seeing people change and gain confidence through the discipline of and camaraderie of sport.
As he has played with Vic’s team over a couple of seasons, Darrell heard his Minnesota Bees teammates talk about their annual trip to the Roy Hobbs World Series. But given Darrell’s financial status, the trip was beyond him. Until 2013 when Vic decided Darrell should go. A teammate bought the plane ticket. Vic waived the tournament fee. Darrell and Vic roomed together. Others chipped in to help.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Darrell said, “and I will always be indebted to my teammates for that.”
The next year, Vic said, Darrell carefully set aside money so he could pay his own way to the series. He’s done the same this year, and will be on the Minnesota Goats 60’s roster.
“None of this would have happed for me,” Darrell said, “if it wasn’t for Vic Marrota. He’s extended my life and improved the quality of my life. And I’m not the only one he’s done this for. He makes baseball happen for so many people. The Minnesota senior baseball community owes him a lot.”
“We’re all proud of Darrell,” Vic said. “He’s gotten a better job. He’s moved to a better place – closer to his work, closer to us, closer to the ballfield. Everything is getting better. He’s got a positive attitude about the future and he’s very happy to be alive.”
And traveling to Fort Myers once again with his Teammates.