Soccer starts off as just a game. It's a game we get our kids to play so they can learn teamwork, physical activity, discipline, and sportsmanship; or it's what helps fill the void between football and hockey seasons - especially when your baseball team is terrible. But soccer doesn't exist in a vacuum. Along the way, you meet people. Other soccer parents. People who sit next to you at matches. Folks at the pub who tune into the match. Most of those folks are good folks, but rather unremarkable. Sometimes you meet remarkable people, and these folks become friends. Once in a while though you meet someone who changes everything.
When I met him, Eric Shertz and I hit it off immediately. Single fathers of young boys and slightly older than most of the folks at tailgates and events, we'd just hang out and shoot the breeze. Tall and lanky like me, Shertz knew the game inside and out. He knew more about the history of MLS than anyone else I know. He'd talk and I'd listen and try and learn. Often times his son would be there with him, making the trek from their home in Maryland to watch the Union play. Once when my car was broken down, they picked me up and took me to the match no questions asked for the princely sum of a jar of my homemade barbecue sauce. That's just the kind of guy he was. In 2011, he gave me his front row seats because it was my son's birthday and he thought it'd be cool for him to see the match from that vantage point.
As time went on, our kids grew up. I got a girlfriend, he went back to school to pursue a degree. Still, we took time out every so often to just hang out and shoot the breeze like we'd always done. I'd invite him over often to barbecues at our house, and he'd show up with a bushel of blue crabs and National Bohemian. When Shertz heard I had been tasked with coaching my son's U8 team, he gave me a whole binder full of coaching tips and drills to use with the kids. When Bearfight FC was coming to fruition, Shertz was the guy tapped to handle the business end of running a soccer club. From getting the league to recognize the club, to player registration and international transfers, Shertz did it all.
I last saw Shertz before the match last weekend against RSL. His son - now 16 - is bigger than most grown men I know. We did as we always do - stopped and shot the breeze for a bit, just taking it all in. I told him we'd have to go to Schaefer's in North East again for a happy hour, and he said we would when he'd finished school for the semester. Little did I know that would be the last time I'd ever see him.
Eric Shertz touched so many of us and was universally liked by everyone. Once the news of his passing was made public, the outpouring of support was overwhelming. Personally, it's been difficult reading Facebook and seeing all of the pictures of my friend, but it's also been heartwarming seeing the outpouring of support and love not only from people who knew him, but from Supporter's Groups around the world expressing their condolences. Soccer is a community, and the community has lost one of its great citizens.