Jeff Treadway lived his life in the best way possible.
With a smile on his face that shined as bright as the sun.
It seemed only fitting that the sun was shining down on Joe Goddard Field in Coal City Saturday during the annual Jeff Treadway Memorial Wooden Bat Tournament at Independence High School.
The late son of Mike and Betty Treadway was remembered for his contributions to the game of baseball by his alma mater. He played for the Patriots from 2000 through 2003, helping lead Independence to a state tournament appearance during his senior season.
But for Treadway, the game of baseball was just one of many things he loved — as anyone who knew him would attest.
“This is about the only thing he would give up hunting and fishing for,” Treadway’s father, Mike, said. “He loved Coach (Joe) Goddard and (Scotty) Cuthbert. He played a little basketball, but this is the only thing he would make time for in his life that didn’t have him hunting, fishing or farming.”
Goddard played softball with Mike in 1977, beginning a relationship with the family that continues to this day.
“We played softball together and then Michael (Jr.) started at shortstop for me for four years and Jeff started at second base for me for four years,” Goddard said. “He always had a smile on his face. He always worked hard and was always very helpful and respectful.”
More so than the outdoors or baseball, Treadway loved life. He loved helping people. He loved his friends and his community. But more than anything, Treadway loved his family.
“He wasn’t just my son; he was my best friend,” a teary-eyed Mike Treadway said. “My other boy (Mike, Jr.) is the same way. The Lord blessed me with two really good boys. My boys are saved, and I look forward to what the good Lord promises — that I get to spend time with him again. I’m getting closer every day.”
Treadway was working for Appalachian Heating when he lost his life in the tragic explosion at a Little General Store in Ghent on Jan. 30, 2007. The blast killed Glenn Ray Bennett, also of Appalachian Heating, and Frederick Burroughs and Craig Dorsey II of the Ghent Volunteer Fire Department.
And while there are long days for Mike and Betty Treadway, moments like Saturday’s memorial go a long way to help heal the wounds they’ve suffered since that day.
“To me — I was involved in the community as a principal and worked here for 28 years,” Treadway said. “For Jeff’s memory to be kept and be loved and the community giving love back to us is beyond belief. It’s absolutely indescribable. It makes you feel warm inside.”
The tournament has been a celebration of Treadway’s life in the years since his untimely death at the age of 21.
With every crack of the bat, those who called Treadway a friend could only imagine the tall and slender blonde, flipping the ball to shortstop Chris Gambrell — as they did more times than anyone else in Independence history — for a double play.
His lifelong friend and teammate at Independence Brent Haga remembered Treadway as a lucky outdoorsman — always able to hook the biggest fish or bring down the biggest trophy on a hunt — all with a smile on his face.
It was the same optimism he showed on the field.
“He was full of energy,” Haga recalled. “He was always ready to go.”
Treadway’s passion for baseball started at an early age.
“He was always running with a glove or a bat and ball,” Mike said. “If he wasn’t going to the farm or something with me, he was playing ball.”
Treadway’s mother Betty recalled watching him play with the neighborhood kids, hitting home runs over chain link fences and celebrating with each shot.
It was that same passion for the game that helped propel Treadway and his Independence teammates on a run to Charleston and the state tournament.
The Patriots had been on a tear, averaging close to 12 hits per game, before losing to Magnolia in the opening round of the tournament 7-3.
“If I remember correctly, we lost in the first game of the sectional that year,” Goddard said. “We won out of the sectional, won the regional and went down and played Magnolia. Halfway through the season, we put it together and played solid baseball.”
Even though he didn’t help bring home a championship, Treadway’s impact on the Independence baseball program remains strong.
“I’m so impressed with these kids,” Betty Treadway said. “They didn’t know Jeff, but they’ve all come up to us and hugged us and they’re motivated by playing for Jeff’s memory.”
In 2013, the Patriots retired Treadway’s number nine jersey, presenting it to his family in a ceremony between games.
It’s one of his parent’s greatest treasures.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been seven years (since Jeff died),” Mike said. “I guess these memories — these things like this going on — that’s why it doesn’t seem like it’s been very long. I still remember all of it like it was yesterday.”
The elder Treadway’s eyes welled up with tears and his flashed a smile — reminiscent of his late son.
“I’m still... I see different thins and look to see if it’s Jeff,” he said. “He’s still very, very much part of our everyday life. I was very, very proud of Jeff.”
E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.