Lawyers of summer return to the baseball diamond

May 31, 2017

At first, David Masse hesitated.

The question caused him to stop and wonder aloud if he would be able to adequately answer but then his explanation of why he likes baseball reflected the poetry of the game itself.

“Most of all, I just think there’s something aesthetically pleasing about the truth and spirit of the game of baseball,” he said. “There’s a certain beauty to the game that I love.”

Masse, of counsel at Woodward Law Offices LLP in Merrillville, is among many attorneys who leave the pressures of work to put on a uniform and play baseball. As winter turns into spring and summer follows, they spend a weekday evening or Sunday afternoon on the diamond, trying to make double plays, steal bases and hit homeruns.

Some of these legal professionals are skilled players who have been on college rosters and continue to compete at a fairly high level. A few might have been able to play professionally, and several still dream of making a living playing baseball. However, all are like Masse — they love the game and enjoy every chance they get to play.

For attorney Cipriano Rodriguez III of Rodriguez Chargualaf & Associates in Merrillville, his time on the field offers a complete break from the law. Standing on the pitcher’s mound, playing in the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association, his mind is focused on the game rather than the stress that comes with being a criminal defense lawyer.

He credited baseball with keeping him off the streets while he was growing up in Gary. But once he got his diploma, he put away his ball and glove, ignoring the scholarship offers from colleges and the invitations to try out from the Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.

“I was a knucklehead,” Rodriguez said of giving up his chance at the big leagues. “I was just worried about trying to find a job after high school and making some money.”

The daily grind of living paycheck to paycheck eventually convinced him to enroll at Purdue University Northwest and, after completing his degree in political science, he matriculated at Valparaiso University Law School. In his second year, he began playing baseball again as a way to relieve the strain of the classroom.

“When I’m out there on the diamond, I think about nothing but baseball,” Rodriguez said.

Field to courthouse

Lake Superior Juvenile Division Magistrate Matthew Gruett, who plays in the same league as Rodriguez, would seriously consider trading his judicial robe for a pair of cleats should a professional team call.

“If they’re looking for a 38-year-old, I’d be more than happy to lend my services,” he said.

Although he played catcher while studying for his bachelor’s degree at Valparaiso University, when he returned to the game after finishing law school and starting a family, his knees no longer had the requisite spring. He switched to playing outfield and shortstop.

Still, the skills he learned behind home plate carry over well into his courtroom. Being involved in the development of the game, controlling the pace of the action and knowing that the unexpected can happen quickly are the lessons he honed playing baseball and now calls upon regularly while on the bench.

Masse, too, sees a strong connection between the game and the law.

He played in high school and later on an adult men’s league, but as he aged, his pace around the bases slowed and his muscles pulled more easily. To keep enjoying the pastime, he switched to umpiring and now spends his after-work hours calling balls and strikes for high school varsity contests. Occasionally, he gets hit with a stinger and sometimes coaches will scream, but his love of the game has not waned.

As Masse explained, baseball and the law both have rules and ambiguities, and both require the application of rules to facts. Just as attorneys cannot get overly passionate in the courtroom, players cannot get overly passionate on the field.

And during those times when the coach storms off the bench to argue a call, Masse knows, just like the judge in a courtroom, the coach mostly wants someone to listen. He will step out from behind the plate and meet the angry team leader halfway, which can immediately lower the temperature of the encounter.

“The skills I have learned from law for resolving a dispute apply wonderfully to calming down a coach,” Masse said.

Passing along love for the game

In Evansville, William Cartwright, associate at Jackson Kelly PLLC, is following the example set by his father. Cartwright started swinging a bat when he was still a toddler and continued through his college years at Murray State University. But realizing he did not have the skills to enter the draft, he emulated his dad and became a lawyer who loves baseball.

These days, he carves out time in the summer to play on a co-ed softball team organized through the Evansville Bar Association. Cartwright uses the game as a reminder of his good fortune. He said when he gets lost in billable hours and contracts, he stops to think about the history of the law, just like when he got frustrated on the field, he would think about how the game of baseball developed. This helps him remember that being an attorney is an honor and a privilege, just like being a baseball player.

Recently, Cartwright became a father himself. Already dreaming of the day when his newborn son will be able to take to the field, Cartwright said he is hoping his little one will have the extra advantage of being left-handed.

Tim Hixson, attorney at Boje Benner Becker Markovich & Hixson LLP in Noblesville, still wonders if he made the right decision when he left the Butler University men’s baseball team after his freshman year. He enjoyed the game and found comfort in the camaraderie that comes with belonging to a team, but he felt he did not have the talent to compete, so he turned his focus to academics.

At Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, he began playing in a men’s league and continued as he established his career. There among the former college players and even a few former professionals, he worked hard to get his body to do what it had once done effortlessly, and to meet the demands of pitching every week, if not more often.

Hixson has since stepped away from the diamond again. With two young children, he has decided to spend more time at home, though he still has a reason to go to the ballpark. His 5-year-old daughter plays softball and while he is always available to help, he knows, like any good coach, when to just let her enjoy the game.

“I give her the instruction she wants to have,” Hixson said. “Sometimes she prefers to do it her own way and that’s just fine.”•