They celebrated Chuck Wesley on the softball fields this past weekend, honoring his legacy by renaming a team for him that competed in the annual Senior Cup.
Wesley died this past Feb. 5, after a fight with leukemia. He was 52.
"Chuck Wesley was an amazing individual, loved by so many people from many different cites in which he lived, including Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York and, most recently, Chicago," said Brian Harder, 46, who lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood. "Chuck had a bone marrow transplant in 2010 that we thought was successful, but when the disease returned early this year, it claimed [ his life ] within a week. It was a shock to everyone who knew him.
"Chuck played softball in each city he lived in and was always a team motivator and friend. When Chuck moved to Chicago, he organized the 'Battered Boys' team for the Senior Cup and filled it with friends from all over the country. 'Battered Boys' refers to being over 40 and through the ringer of life, but still going strong. These friends have all formed a tight bond together based on Chuck's leadership.
"This year we became 'Chuck's Battered Boys' in his honor and played the tournament with him watching over us."
Although the team didn't win the tournament championship, the memories were priceless, said Harder, a pitcher/outfielder. "It was more about enjoying each other's camaraderie that was brought about by [ Wesley ] ," he said.
Harder said the tournament, naturally, was emotional, as was the post-event get-together at Sidetrack Bar.
"I found myself talking to Chuck at times while I was on the field," Harder said. "Chuck was too weak to play in 2010, but he still brought us all together. His presence was certainly felt and there were moments [ this weekend ] where I just felt like crying as I recalled seeing him in the dugout with a scorebook or cheering us on when we made good plays.
"The weekend highlight for his closest friends actually came after the tournament on Sunday night at Sidetrack. Three different friends went to three different bartenders at Sidetrack and purchased drinks. Each time drinks were ordered, the bartender bought a drink or two of the total order. It literally felt as if Chuck was with us buying us drinks at the bar and when we realized what was happening, it was a joyous feeling that brought tears to our eyes."
Harder put together a large collage of pictures that were collected from Wesley's friends. The photos were blown up, laminated and tied together with zip ties, and then hung on the fences and backstops at the field. "Not only were [ the photos ] appreciated by Chuck's friends, but many strangers came up to look at the pictures and it gave those of us who knew him a chance to tell them about the great guy that Chuck was," Harder said.
"Chuck's family lives on the East Coast, so there never was a real memorial service for him here in Chicago. This wasn't quite a memorial service, but it gave us a reason to celebrate and remember the person Chuck was, so that we could have a little closure with his passing."
Bernie Galla, who lives in Pittsburgh, played for Chuck's Battered Boys. He said Wesley "was an athlete and a positive spirit [ who ] showed on the field this weekend when a team of 16 friends came together to play and remember him."
Galla said the Wesley spirit was ever-present throughout the weekend.
"It would not take anyone long to see that the group of guys playing softball in Chuck's honor was a real reflection of the type of guy Mr. Wesley was," Galla said. "His personality and character could be seen in each of the guys who came together this weekend at the ball field. While he has moved on to a better place, his memory and life lives on in those he knew and touched."
Jim Paulson, 45, who lives in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood, played second base for Chuck's Battered Boys.
"Chuck was the team spirit both in the Senior Cup and on our [ regular-season ] softball team, Big Chicks Wicked," Paulson said. "The tournament for me was very emotional. Chuck had organized this for us last year and was with us for every game, the registration and the closing party. We had a wall of pictures of Chuck and as always there was not one picture where his huge smile was not present. I decided, in his absence, that I would organize the tournament this year and invited his friends back in from Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Florida who, through Chuck's passing, I have become very good friends with. It was no surprise that Chuck was surrounded by people who also have big hearts and the respect and love for him."
The team went 2-2 in the tournament and wore jerseys that had "For Chuck" printed in a softball. After each game, they chanted, 'Chuck Chuck Chuck.'
"I consider myself a very lucky person. After moving here two years ago, Chuck asked me to play on his softball team and, because of him, I have made such great friendships with so many more people," Paulson said. "I sit with these friends every Sunday, smile and realize how very lucky I amand Chuck always will be a part of that, no matter how much time may pass.
"Chuck meant the world to me. … He was such a wonderful person."