Sometimes the smallest gestures carry profound meaning, even if you don't realize it in the moment.
Mike Barton delivered one I've never forgotten.
Thirteen years old and playing catcher for my Quincy Park District baseball team, I had an integral role in our team's dashed title hopes. In a play at the plate in a tie game, I dropped the ball and allowed the winning run to score. Our opponent went on to win the league championship, one game ahead of us in the standings.
Visibly upset and generally ticked off at myself for the error, I sat on the bench lamenting the moment for what felt like forever.
Barton, an iconic fan of Quincy sports and a fixture at events for decades, pushed his bicycle behind the dugout and paused briefly.
"Hey, hey, hey, Schuckman," he said. "You're a good kid."
I can still hear him say it the way only Mike Barton could. Countless kids and athletes heard him say the same exact phrase to them over the years, so much so they mimicked his voice, his cadence and his actions as they retold the story.
It was the ultimate sign of respect for a man who devoted his life to being Quincy's biggest sports fan.
He undoubtedly rooted for his alma mater -- Barton graduated from Quincy Notre Dame in 1961 and was inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame as a friend of sports in 2003 -- but Barton was moreso a fan of kids and sports in general.
A special-needs man who couldn't drive, Barton would ride his bicycle from venue to venue, watching summer baseball games and YMCA basketball games as well as attending games at QND, Quincy High School, Quincy University and John Wood Community College.
He usually had a transistor radio held to his ear or connected to headphones, listening to his beloved St. Louis Cardinals or the local broadcast of a game.
Barton knew nearly every kid by name, knew who their brothers and sisters were and knew their family lineage. He knew which school they attended, often because he popped up at CYO and junior high games as often as he did summer league events.
He had an all-too-familiar hand wave when he didn't like an official's call, and clapped and smiled when the team he was rooting for did something right. Close your eyes and I'm sure you can picture both scenes.
He was passionate, friendly, quirky and interesting.
Above all else, he was our own and was treated as such.
In 2000, while attending a Quincy High School vs. Quincy Notre Dame freshman boys basketball game, Barton had his bike stolen. The next day, a private citizen presented Mike with a new bike. He broke his headphones at a Quincy University basketball game once. The next day, he anonymously received two new sets of headphones.
Mike Barton wasn't just loved. He was treasured.
Similar sentiments and stories were shared on social media Wednesday upon learning of Barton's passing. He was 77 years old, and it was 77 years well lived.
Mike Barton never tried to be anything other than himself, and as we've all come to learn, that was quite special in so many ways.