Putting aside bats, gloves for chainsaws, sweat

Roy Hobbs Baseball

Curtis and Bertles
Photo by Tom Giffen Chris Curtis mans the chainsaw as Steve Bertles stands ready to assist.

Steve Bertles and Chris Curtis expected to spend part of fall 2022 playing in the Roy Hobbs World Series. It’s a tradition they look forward to every year.

“That’s my Christmas,” Curtis said.

His autumn Christmas was canceled in 2022. Hurricane Ian’s devastating march through Lee County took care of that.

But Bertles and Curtis still came to Fort Myers in 2022, still drove 18 hours from Dayton, Ohio, straight through to help as foot soldiers in a volunteer army from Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity. They didn’t need their gloves and spikes and uniforms.

They used a chainsaw and sweat and muscle to help in the post-Ian recovery.

On a steamy November morning last year just a few weeks after Hurricane Ian struck on Sept. 28, Bertles and Curtis labored in the backyard of a home nestled between the condo towers of downtown Fort Myers to the west and I-75 to the east. It was the 10th house they visited in a week.

In June, 9 months later, Curtis said that the week “was a blur.”

On that November day, Bertles explained why the men felt compelled to drive to Fort Myers to help.

“Fort Myers has been very good to over the years,” Bertles said.

Now, a year later, Bertles, said he is “eager to see” how his baseball community looks now.

He is not expecting a miracle, particularly on Fort Myers Beach.

“I don’t know if it will be the same or can be the same,” Bertles said.

Bertles’ wife of 35 years, Jackie, is more of a beach person than her husband.

“My beach is the dirt of the infield,” Beatles said.

Donating a week of time and lots of sweat last year was a way to pay the community back.

While in town last year they took a drive out to Fort Myers Beach, where they usually stayed previous years. They have fond memories of spending part of their World Series weeks near the north end of the beach around Times Square, a pocket of shops and restaurants and bars that thousands of Roy Hobbs players likely visited over the years.

Not in 2022.

“Times Square is not just damaged, it’s gone,” Bertles said last year.

Bertles and Curtis could have spent all of November last year basking in Ohio’s cool fall weather. Instead, they traveled to the cauldron of Fort Myers as it sweated through a record heat wave with highs around 90.

Steve Bertles
Photo by Tom Giffen Here’s Steve Bertles hauling debris, a big part of the Ian cleanup.

“This was our baseball week,” Bertles said last year. “We were going to be playing in the 45s & 53s. We kept the vacation and came down and volunteered.”

They helped a retired woman in her 60s whose house was wrecked.

“It was a shack,” Curtis said.

But there was a joyful moment when she discovered a washing machine purchased just before the storm still worked.

The Ohioans stayed that week at the Bonita Springs home of another Roy Hobbs player, Craig Ramsey.

Still, when they got home after that week of volunteer labor in high heat and humidity and a very long drive the exhaustion hit them hard.

“I slept really good when I got home,” Curtis said.

They know many players donated time to help.

“It was good to see ballplayers are just not selfish guys,” Curtis said.

Both men are back in 2023.  Curtis is planning to play one week with his Dayton Wolves crew.

This year, they will use their bats and gloves and spikes and not a chainsaw. The week in Lee County is what drives many players through their Northern summer leagues.

“We play a season just to get ready for Florida,” Bertles said.

In 2023, Florida should be ready for them.