Gary Whyte throws out the ceremonial first pitch Friday night in the Alton River Dragons' final home game of the season at Lloyd Hopkins Field. (Photo by Nathan Tucker)

ALTON - For decades, Gary Whyte has given back to the local sports community he loves so much.

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He’s been a mainstay behind home plate through his life, umpiring competitive softball for over 50 years.

It’s a love for sports that started at an early age for Whyte. When he was just a teenager, the Jerseyville native tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park. Very few can say they’ve stepped on that hallowed ground, shared with greats of St. Louis baseball’s past stars like Stan Musial, Dizzy Dean, and Satchel Paige.

"(Local sports) mean a great deal to me," said Gary Whyte on Friday night. "Because that's all I've done myself, umpiring, refereeing, playing sports, it's been my life."

That passion for the game, and sports in general, led Gary Whyte to umpiring. He spent five decades as a home plate umpire for competitive fast-pitch softball of all levels in the area. He also spent 53 seasons refereeing basketball.

Since he “retired” from competitive games five years ago, Whyte, now 85, still umpires rec-league softball in Edwardsville twice a week during the spring and fall season.

Back in June, Whyte’s love for the game took a back seat when he was diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease. Whyte was unsure if he would call balls and strikes again.

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Luckily for Whyte, this diagnosis was caught in time to take action.

Thanks to the Cardiology team at OSF Saint Anthony’s in Alton, in partnership with board-certified interventional cardiologist Kishore Harjai, MD, of SLUCare Physician Group, Whyte underwent a procedure to replace his heart valve.

Now Gary Whyte, and his heart, are back in the game he loves so much.

“On top of receiving a heart valve replacement, they also gave me a pacemaker for good measure. I’m doing great and feeling good.” said Whyte.

After the successful procedure in June, Gary Whyte isn't skipping a beat.

"I'm going to start umpiring again in late August," said Whyte. “That’s when the fall league starts back up. I'll be driving a bus again when school starts. Right back to it."

To celebrate Whyte’s return to doing what he loves, calling balls and strikes behind home plate, he got to show off the arm that tried out for the Cardinals nearly 70 years ago. Gary threw out the first pitch at Friday night’s Alton River Dragons game, their final home game of the 2023 Prospect League season.

“It means a lot to have moments like these at Lloyd Hopkins Field,” said River Dragons general manager and acting head coach Dallas Martz. “To have someone with his story come out on this field, it’s a special moment here.”

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