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Dale & LuAnn

3:50 p.m. May 29

Birthdays have always been a greater point of reassessment for me than New Year’s Day, the first day of spring or Thankgiving. Like a pie in the face, I’ve got another one coming.

And what do I know ?

Have fun. Savor the icing.

And know the beauty of finding a shared spirit.

Dale and LuAnn Klein are huge suburban Chicago baseball fans who I met a few summers ago while writing my column for the Midwest League’s Kane County Cougars. We keep in touch now and then and I am sure to hear from them in the spring, when flowers begin to bloom and birds wake you up from a morning slumber.

A friend recently asked me about this baseball column I write. Last Friday night I was driving back from a Peoria Chiefs game. Steve Earle jangled out of the CD player. He sang about a beacon in the night and feeling so lonesome he could cry. I thought about Dale and LuAnn and beyond. Together, since 1986 they have visited 273 minor league baseball parks and 46 major league parks. Together, they are metaphors for a spirit that can be so elusive, regardless of age, race or gender….

Baseball is the most unpredictable of sports.

Unlike basketball and football, the game is not dictated by a clock, so anything can happen at the very last minute. Love is equally unpredictable. Little things make a big difference. “Like love, like life, a baseball game is as long as it takes,” according to a friend who on every opening day of baseball season calls her friend and they read stuff like that from “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” a collection of woman writers on baseball. I missed my friend over Memorial Day weekend. She was off in Canada with some guy she met on an airplane. That’s the great thing about baseball. And love.

They conquer implausibilty,

Dale and LuAnn met in church. They were married in 1983 and their passion for baseball came out of their union. Their first visit to a minor league park was in 1986 in Nashville, Tn. Dale and LuAnn have since shared baseball, travel, collecting more than 200 souvenir plastic ballpark cups (I’ve been in their basement) and attending winter baseball banquets in place like Clinton, Ia. and Cedar Rapids, Ia.

Amazing.

Dale and LuAnn moved separately to the Chicago area in the winter of 1975. Dale must be about 61 now. He was born and reared in Milwaukee where his father was a pastry chef. Dale has that Wisconsin thing going on of steely 9-5 eyes and a playful supper club smile. LuAnn, somewhere in her mid-50s, is from South Bend, Ind. where her father was a truck driver (there you go) and her mom was a cook for a high school cafeteria. She is shy–compared to Dale–but she, too, is always smiling when I see her. They are the fife and drum of a magical heartbeat.

Dale and LuAnn met through their work at Awana Clubs International, a Christian-non-profit organization that offers programs from pre school to high school for churches worldwide. They keep detailed photo books of all their visits and Dale maintains an always evolving “Minor League Ball Parks Log” on his computer. The thing looks like an IRS audit. They do not argue about making repeat visits to ballparks in Syracuse, N.Y., Memphis, Tn. and Erie, Pa. for example. When Dale and LuAnn visit teams in the Quad Cities, Clinton, Ia. and Burlington, Ia., they bring along their bicycles. They love to bicycle along the Mississippi River. They enjoy coconut creme pie. Together.

I’m sure there are bumps and disagreements along their path, but I’ve never asked Dale and LuAnn about issues like arguing over driving tasks and choosing road food. I just recall those walls and walls of plastic cups in their basement and then toast to the grand improbablities of love.

This is something I always want to believe in.