LE MARS, Ia. — One by one, the seniors of the Le Mars Gehlen baseball team walked out to the field. It was, at first, a typical Senior Night ceremony: flowers and kisses for Mom, a hug for Dad and cheers for the graduating players before a home game on a late June night in western Iowa.
When the last athlete was honored, Gehlen coach Marty Kurth strolled to the plate holding a bat in his hand.
Players from all 31 of his Gehlen teams assembled across the infield behind their former coach. The crowd was silent as Kurth’s accomplishments were rattled off over the public address system: more than 500 career wins, two state championships and a legacy as one of Iowa’s all-time greatest high school baseball coaches. The crowd roared.
Kurth eventually turned around. His former players were now in front of him, about 40 feet away.
All their coach could make out were the colors of their shirts.
Kurth still couldn’t see who they were when he walked up to say hello. He asked each of them to introduce themselves as he shook their hands.
“I recognize voices and stuff,” Kurth said. “That was tough at first, not knowing (who was who).
Kurth has been blind in his left eye since last July. The other one started to go last month.
“We knew that the end was coming,” said his wife, Jen. “He was going to call it quits here probably by the end of next year. So we were kind of looking forward to this anyway.
“But this is God’s way of telling us, ‘This is time.’”