“This is a lot more exciting than going to watch the pros at Yankee Stadium,” declared Becky (Simmons) Friedel who is originally from Bradley County, but has lived just outside of New York City for nearly three decades.
Friedel is actually making her third trip south this season to see the Mustangs, including her second in a three-week period. While she loves the entire team, its her nephews — senior Matthew and sophomore John Simmons — that have her wanting to be a part of the fun.
“Jimmy’s (her brother) boys are the children I never had,” she expressed. “This is a once in a lifetime thing for these kids. I just had to come back to see it.”
After making the trip in for John’s 16th birthday in early April, she returned for Matthew’s graduation a couple of weeks ago.
“I got to see some games in April, then when I came in for graduation they were playing in the district tournament over at Bradley,” Friedel related. “Then we went to Cookeville and McMinnville. Those games were so exciting, I called and pushed my return (to New York) back so I could stay and see the Tullahoma game.”
That decision payed big dividends. After watching Matthew shutout Ooltewah in a district championship game, plus seeing him come in to save the day with six innings of scoreless relief in Cookeville, she saw her nephew drill a two-out, two-strike pitch into right field to drive in the game-winning run in a 1-0 extra inning win to send the team to the school’s first state tournament.
She also got to watch every pitch of his complete-game performance against Bearden in Wednesday’s second round of the Spring Fling victory to advance the Mustangs to the state semifinals.
“That was amazing. All of these boys have worked so hard and deserve everything they’ve gotten. They really play as a team,” she remarked.
Friedel flew back home to Tuckahoe, N.Y., which she describes as a “mom and pop store town that doesn’t allow fast food places,” the next day but soon regretted the decision.
“I went to bed that night and by the time I got up the next morning, I knew I had to come back. I started calling airlines to cash in some frequent flyer miles.”
A world traveler since her retirement in 1995 from being a phlebotomist lab technician, Friedel said her return trip cost her “25,000 of her frequent flyer miles and $80 to come see history.”
“I’ve traveled around the world and nothing I’ve seen is as exciting as this,” she related.
Originally scheduled to head back north Wednesday, she pushed her return flight back until Saturday in case the Mustangs made the state title game.
Although Walker Valley’s run came up a win short of the state championship, Friedel won’t stay in New York long as she plans to return in June to watch the boys play in summer ball tournaments.