ST. GEORGE — Local citizens in recovery teamed up with members of local police agencies to play a friendly game of softball last Saturday night in an event designed to break stigmas, provide healing and have fun.
The third annual game at Canyons Softball Complex was played with the intention of helping recovering addicts and law enforcement officers show support for one another and feel unity.
Ty Empey, a recovering addict and the founder of Sober Softball League, told St. George News that the game pitting recovering addicts against law enforcement officers is not a softball competition in the traditional sense.
“We come together to play a game with them, not against them,” Empey said, “to show that people do recover from drug addiction, and we can get along with law enforcement, and we’re all on the same team.”
As recovering addicts rejoin the community and have lives just like everyone else, Empey added, events like the softball game allow a sense of normalcy.
“It just shows that when people recover from substance abuse and drug addiction, we’re normal people,” Empey said. “We’re part of the community and we work with the law enforcement officers. We just want to help as many people as we can.”
The game began with a presentation of the colors by an entourage of motorcycles that drove the flag onto the field for the national anthem.
The bikers are part of the Family Affiliated Motorcycle Enthusiasts, or FAME, a motorcycle organization for recovering addicts.
“My man Ty here invited us, and we’re always happy to do stuff like that,” FAME rider Aaron Vaught said. “We’re just a group of guys and we’re all in recovery together. We don’t drink or use, and we do a lot of cool stuff.”
First pitch followed the anthem and while both teams had a couple of strong athletes and a score was kept, what mattered was not so much the competition as feeling the camaraderie and friendship among players.
In the dugout with the law enforcement team, St. George Police Officer Tiffany Mitchell told St. George News that team was made up of officers from the St. George Police Department and from Adult Probation & Parole, a division of Utah Department of Corrections.
“What’s really great about this is they want to come talk to us, they are proud to say, ‘I can’t believe I’m standing here talking to you, and I’m not in handcuffs, and I’m not in trouble,’” Mitchell said. “It really is just a feel good way for all of us to heal from all of the stuff everyone’s going through so it’s a good time.”
As a police officer, Mitchell said that when she has to arrest someone on a drug charge, she looks at it in a way that it’s going to help them.
“It’s going to further speed up the process hopefully to get them to recovery and getting help and getting to a place where they can have a productive, happy life,” Mitchell said. “Like today, they can be here in the presence of police and have it not even be an issue.”
In the dugout with the recovery team, players related some of their stories and talked about why they wanted to play in the game.
“I really like that they’re trying to bring the recovery community together with the cops,” Jessica Staples said. “The cops are pretty much the first responders in our lives when it comes to recovery, for a lot of us anyway.”
She added that the game helps boost morale and helps people feel good.
“We’re just trying to live our lives the best we can without going down a dark road and going into a dark place,” Staples said.
Kristen Silva got interested in participating in the softball game last year when her boyfriend played in it.
“It’s amazing and so fun, and just awesome to see the two teams work together and play together,” Silva said. “We’re all people; no matter what uniform we wear or what we’ve done in the past, we’re all just here to have fun.”
Natasha Stones uses softball as a step on her path of recovery from drug addiction and from the pain of losing her mother.
“Softball has been my thing to have fun and get on with my life,” Stones said. “This has been my place where I feel at home and can connect with people and just have fun.”
Stones said the disease of addiction impacts everyone and hurts more people than are talked about.
“Doing this and having stuff like this gets the word out better,” Stones said. “Not only that, it helps integrate us back into society.”
The law enforcement community sometimes gets a bad rap, Stones said, and it’s a privilege for her to play with them on the softball diamond.
“When you’re using it’s easy to cast them as the bad guys, but really they’re just out there trying to save us,” Stones said. “I’ve had cops save my life many times, so I’m just super grateful.”
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