Cancer can go kick rocks!
For the past 45 minutes, I have been staring at a blank screen, sans the above sentence. I hate death, everything about it.
I walked out of the Montgomery City post office after a day of training for the City Carrier Academy for the USPS, opened Facebook and learned that one of my good friends had succumbed to this horrible disease.
This was not shocking news as Mike Moler had been battling cancer for the last two months and had drastically taken a turn for the worse over the last couple of weeks. The news still hit me like a ton of bricks. But Mike is pain-free now! My immediate thoughts and prayers go out to Jessica, Sydney, little Michael, Jackson, Grace and Christina.
I first met Mike nearly 22 years ago. I was a cocky 18-year-old who was home for the summer from Eastern Illinois University and was playing Legion baseball in Robinson, Ill. A friend of my grandma owned a ballfield – in the middle of the cornfield – and ran an adult coed softball league. One of the teams was short on players and my grandma volunteered me to play although I was still in the middle of my legion baseball season.
Mike was on this team. In one of our first games together, I let the competitiveness get the best of me and I got in a heated exchange with a couple of players from the other team. Mike was right in the middle of the action as well. We immediately became best friends.
The next summer, I think we played softball every night in various leagues in multiple towns in rural Illinois. A couple of summers later, we actually managed to get thrown off of a team. Mike was the first to get booted – in the middle of the first game of a doubleheader.
Well, let’s just say our team was not very good. Mike and I were the best two players on the team — not to brag, because if you would have seen the team, you would know that wasn’t saying much – and Mike had enough and voiced some of his frustrations out during the game. I ended up getting the boot between games because I was his best friend. Plus, I was dating the daughter of the “coach” of the team, so I am sure that did not help my cause any.
The next week another team picked us up and we had a blast – especially when we got to give a beat down to our former team!
After losing my fiancé — who I met through all of our softball travels – to a drunk driver, I left EIU and kind of hit a rough patch with life. Well, not kind of, I did.
Mike welcomed me into their home. It would the first of three times that he would welcome me into their home. We would later become roommates for a fourth time when I was able to return the favor to him due to Mike getting a divorce.
I don’t think I ever told him this, but he saved me. I was in a dark place in my younger years and was uncertain about what I wanted to do with life.
Mike was a successful manager of multiple large water utility companies. It made me more motivated to have a plan for my life. I went back to college and eventually started my writing career. I wouldn’t say that I half as successful as Mike, but he enjoyed my work and that made me happy as well.
Over the years, Mike tagged along with me to watch my Kentucky Wildcats play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Mike was a West Virginia fan and he loved giving me a hard time about UK. I think part of the reason why he went to the bowl game with me was that he knew we didn’t stand a chance against the C.J. Spiller-led Clemson team.
I bought the tickets and he drove us down to Nashville from Peoria, Ill. I think it was around a 6-hour drive, but the night we left was in the middle of a light snowstorm to where for the first few hours we could barely drive over 40 miles per hour.
It was cold in Nashville for the game too. Kentucky did lose, but it came down to the final possession of the game. And I even got Mike to cheer for the Wildcats, which I considered a win in itself.
Mike was a Steelers fan in the NFL. When I first moved to Peoria – Mike had been there for a year prior – we would go and watch his Steelers and my Bears on Sundays. Buffalo Wild Wings was always packed, so we ended up venturing down to Hooters.
That ended up being our go-to spot for games. Yes, the “view” was nice, but little did we know in the beginning, but it was also a Steelers’ bar. The general manager of the place was a huge Steelers fan so he made it into a Steelers’ hang-out spot.
We did become good friends with a couple of the workers. I actually hired them to bartend my Super Bowl party that year, which was probably against their policy, but it all worked out.
In baseball, Mike was a Yankees fan. He also claimed to be a Cardinals fan too, but that was mainly because his company gave him tickets to games quite a bit. And it also gave him more reason to give me a hard time for being a Cubs fan.
We went to a Cubs/Cards game in St. Louis one time with my other buddy Dane. Mike never said anything, but he was super annoyed at Dane because he requested to make more than one pit stop for a bathroom break along the way!
I attended my first hockey game with Mike. We went to a St. Louis Blues, vs. L.A. Kings game. I fell in love with the sport – but became a Bruins fan, not Blues. The Kings won the game 1-0 and I was disappointed that we did not get to witness any fights!
One of my favorite memories with Mike came during the WNBA Finals. The Indiana Fever were playing the Phoenix Mercury. I may or may not have had a thing for Diana Taurasi at the time. I ended up using my media credentials to get two passes to one of the games in Indiana. I put Mike down as my cameraman.
I did not have a work camera at that time because I was working for the Journal Star and we had a staff of photographers. Mike decided to bring a small digital camera. I think it was more of a joke, but luckily the staff at the WNBA Finals did not ask to see the camera.
Along with my press pass, I had access to the team locker rooms for interviews. I ended up chickening out because I was starstruck with Taurasi. Mike gave me hell for that for years. But there was a photo on Yahoo! Sports from the media room during the postgame press conference where you could see Mike and me.
One non-sports-related story I have has to do with his dog Casper. I was working evenings at the paper, so during the day, I looked after Casper. One time during the winter, I let Casper out on his leash. It was cold so I stayed inside and let Casper do his thing. I ended up sitting down and fell back asleep. It was a couple of hours later that I realized I had never let Casper back in. It was the dead of the winter with some snow on the ground.
I was kind of scared to tell Mike about this little accident later on but felt like I needed to anyway. Expecting Mike to lay into me, he just calmly said, “it’s no big deal, Siberian Huskies are used to the cold, so he was fine.”
That’s just the kind of guy Mike was. Maybe he was pissed at me on the inside but didn’t want me to feel more about it than I already did. Or maybe, he really didn’t think it was a big deal.
I could go on and on with stories, mostly involving softball. Man, I miss those days!
But I miss my friend even more! I am kicking myself for not making it to give a proper goodbye to my friend who I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be today if I had not met Mike Moler.
I love you buddy, and although I am sick to my stomach right now, I am happy to know that you are not suffering any longer! When I think about you, I am going to choose to remember you the way you were during our hay day and not the images from the last couple of months.
Except for the photos of you with Jessica on her wedding day! You were so strong that day. And proud! Just as a Marine should be!