The Only One He Trusts

It’s been a month since you posted, WordPress tells me. I know, I know, I know. Just a month of me up to my eyeballs and four flights across the country for the day job.

My son has just completed his first experience with high school sports as a freshman on the varsity golf team. So as to not bore you with the gory details of (yet another) teenage sports drama, suffice it to say that any assumptions one may have about golf being a “gentleman’s” sport are highly overblown.

Yes, I am watching the World Series and yes, I am rooting for the Cubs and wow – Corey Kluber was dominant in Game 1 and I love,love,love you Kyle Schwarber. You can read about the World Series on web sites where they actually pay the writers to cover the games. Welcome to my stream-of-consciousness.

On Wednesday night it was raining and dark and I was maneuvering my car down a winding road in search of a baseball training facility where my son had his final night of Fall ball practice (yes, there are die-hards still playing).

“Where the hell is this place?” I said, as I made a sharp left past a faded sign into the lot of a dark, deserted industrial park. It made me think of all of the odd places this game has taken me – from a crowded “L”train on the South Side of Chicago, to  a questionable neighborhood in Miami to a deserted field somewhere in Pennsylvania that showed me the very origin of the phrase “bush league.”

Inside the training facility it was quiet and the owner was seated on a metal folding chair. He’s a former hitting coach for the Tampa Bay Rays and a former professional player himself, but his full background is a bit sketchy. I don’t ask. I hadn’t seen him in several years but he recognized me from around the local youth baseball scene and got up to give me a hug.

“Look at heeeem” he said, gesturing towards my son.

“Yes, getting taller isn’t he?”

A few other kids started to filter in.

“Did you know that one of the players you train is on this team?”I said noticing that he had not yet arrived.

“Yes…he’s my guy.” he said, nodding and hesitating.

“He…knows the game, doesn’t he?”I said.

“Whew. He does. He knows it all.”he confirmed.

As more kids started to filter in, he spoke up in his slightly broken English.

“You know, a lot of you keeds do not know what he goes through. He has auteesm. He can’t help the way he eeeez. He tries so, so hard. It is so,so hard for heem. Things that are easy for you – they no easy for heem, you see?” This huge athletic man pulled a tissue out of his pocket to wipe away a few tears. “That he is playing competitive baseball at all…”he trailed off…shaking his head.

I have written before about how awful kids can be to one another. I remember a day in Spring baseball where this boy walked up to a group of players sitting on the bench. “Hi, guys!” he called out smiling to the other players. They dropped their heads, turned away, laughed or just ignored him. “Hey, can’t you at least say HI? You all know me from school!” he said innocently. Yet somehow, they…couldn’t, or worse, wouldn’t.

Just then, my son walked in from the outfield where he was warming up the pitcher, the buckles on his catcher gear clinking in the breeze. Effortlessly and without prompting he spoke to the boy:

“Hey Jack, how are you doing man? You on the mound today?”

Just a simple acknowledgment. Respect. Not much to ask.

“You know, Maria, when he pitches he only wants your son to catch for him. He’s the only one he trusts.” his mother told me before last week’s game.

That alone made me more proud of my son than anything he could ever do on a baseball field.

Mary
 

To me, baseball is much more than a sport. It is a timeless dance; unconquerable, relentless in its order, something that always makes sense in a nonsensical world. It is dramatic theater full of deception and deceit, heroes and demons, dreams realized and dreams lost. It challenges our thinking to a particular kind of speculation, analysis and argument. It offers a temporary escape from reality and abundant lessons about reality. It starts as just a simple game then turns to an obsession, an addiction, a torrid affair, a state of mind, a religion.

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