FAIRBORN — Recovery isn’t just an individual or family concern. Recovery is a communal concern.
The Anonymous Joes, a group of softball teams in the Fairborn Parks and Recreation Department leagues, have worked to form a community where individuals recovering from substance abuse can channel their energy in a positive way.
Four years ago, Clayton Rivers and Matt Maloon finished treatment together and decided to start playing softball.
“We didn’t know anything about it. We didn’t know anything about bats. We didn’t have any equipment. We just got about 10 of us together and got the money together and started playing. Since then, it’s just ballooned,” said Rivers.
The roster has since grown to around 40 members, leading to the creation of a second men’s team (The Average Joes) and a co-ed team. Rivers joked that they’re building a softball empire.
The teams raise all of their own money and ask for no payment from the players. Rivers said that the team has spent $6,000 just this season.
While the Christopher House, a local recovery center, isn’t directly responsible for the teams, many of the members have gone through there. The team has become an example of hope for those going through the process.
“One of the things that I think gets overlooked a lot is that when you put down something as profound as addiction – something that takes up your whole life and all your activities – you’ve got to replace it with something. You have to have fun,” said Christopher House manager, Nathan Crago. “Recovery can’t just be sitting around in church basements and talking about recovery. I think having fun and enjoying life is a huge part, and what this has done is it’s given these people that opportunity free of charge. I think that’s why this works. People are seeing that recovery can be fun and not just a white-knuckle process. It gives us all something to look forward to.
“I get the residents out here sometimes so they can see. A lot of these guys are in the same spot not too long ago. There’s a seed planted there. If he can do it, I can do it.”
The coaches for both teams, Nate Graves and Joe Cloud, say they recognize how the game brings people together.
Many of the players, whose names have been shortened for confidentiality, agreed that the teams held them accountable and helped with their recovery.
“When I first got sober and I graduated treatment, Clay got me to play softball and, for that first year, that’s really what kept me sober. I knew if I went back out and used, I couldn’t play softball with these guys anymore,” said Josh.
Players also talked about how being able to do something from their past was a powerful tool in helping them get better.
“I used to play when I used. So still being able to do these things when you’re not getting high, and being able to be around people who understand, helps. It’s a lot easier to build these relationships,” said Kyle.
“I had always heard about these Anonymous Joes and I said, ‘Look, I played ball in high school and I want to play ball.’ Clay kept telling me to stay sober and not worry about it,” said Ryan. “I play in another recovery league on Sundays, too. To get a group of us, where we came from, to do this and have everybody know who we are is really cool.”
“Once we get sober, we get a chance to get back and start doing things that we did when we were kids before we got messed up with drugs and alcohol. Most of us played baseball. Recovery is just about getting back into the mainstream of life,” said Brent.
Maloon said the groups do much more than just play softball. They have a white water rafting trip in West Virginia every year on Labor Day as well as spiritual retreats, campouts, cookouts and fantasy baseball leagues.
Tommy, another member of the Joes, said the recovery process gives him the strength to continue to stay sober.
“That was one of the best experiences of my life, honestly. The unity on the team and being able to relate to people like you is good and helps you stay sober.”