There have been maybe two times in John F. Hendrix's 59 years - 38 of them on a softball diamond - when he wasn't his normal, loquacious self.
"I always thought 'chemo' and 'radiation' were just words," says the man most everyone in Missoula knows as Porky. "There was a time in December when I couldn't even breathe."
Cancer in his larynx has tried to silence the longtime player and umpire. Porky's a fighter, though, and on Saturday he was positively chatty.
But a couple weeks ago he found himself speechless again. It was at the first Porky Benefit Softball tournament, organized by Elaina Berglin and Margaret Been. Hendrix has the obligatory mountain of medical bills, so the women's softball community chipped in.
To commence the tournament, Hendrix toed the rubber and lobbed in the first pitch.
"For the first time in my life, Porky was shut up," he said. "After they had me throw the first pitch in the 8 o'clock game, I was bawling. I was really blessed by the Good Lord to have these people do something that nice for me."
If you've never been a softball player, you may not know about Pork. So here's a brief profile:
The dude playing the washboard in the Silver Dollar, the weekend of the Moe Smith Invitational? That's him.
The guy who restrings your blown-apart mitt in the span of a couple innings? That's Pork. You might get sticker shock - 30 bucks per glove - but your Little Leaguer won't.
"I make the big guys pay so the little guys can play," he says. Kids' gloves are free.
Porky is the man who, after years playing a mean third base for the Lolo Sponsors, umpired with aplomb for many more. He maybe didn't dance out from behind the plate as much in his later years, but he got everything right. It had to be the right call. Pork said so.
"A damned good umpire," says Berglin, who became an umpire after being inspired by Porky. "Damned good umpire. With his enthusiasm for and love of the game … it was nice to know when he was behind the plate that you were going to get a fair game."
The sheer number of fair games defies belief.
"Oh, Jesus. Oh Jesus," Porky said Saturday. "For the record? Six or seven thousand."
"To be a good umpire in chief, you have to have guys who want to take the ball," said Pat McDonnell, who was Missoula's UIC for years. "And he went out there all the time. You could overwork him - and sometimes you did - but he never refused. And he did a great job."
Which is why eight women's teams took to two diamonds at the Fort Missoula complex. The one out-of-town team, Twisted Tea of Kalispell, beat Elbow Room II for the title.
The umpires donated their time, and several local businesses - Desperado, Elbow Room, Flipper's, Ole's of East Missoula - ponied up some money. A 50-50 raffle netted $500, and Berglin was able to cut a check for about $1,600.
That's not half of it. Porky and his wife Diane have a roof over their heads, but it's seen better days. So Dave Taylor teamed up with United Building Center and soon Porky will have a new roof at a bargain basement price. Say, $180, marked down from $3,500.
Impressive numbers for the former mill worker with 5,000 hours on a Bobcat and 22,000 hours on a front-end loader. Porky will retire from his maintenance position at the East Missoula Ole's on July 3.
Here's to new beginnings. Berglin left open the "Porky Benefit Softball" account she created at Missoula First Credit Union, so anyone else from inside the local softball community or out can make a tax-deductible donation.
You already know where to find her next May.
"You know, Porky is a great name for a softball tournament," she says.
Pork, you better be there.