When my oldest was five he started playing t-ball and soccer. A year or two later, he was put on a team that became like a second family for all of us for the next few years. Four of us dads, who didn’t know each other (except for the two that were brother-in-laws), began to coach together that year.
We joined forces for the next few years, spending the late winter and early spring months on the baseball field with our sons and those of ten or so other parents. Our objective. To have fun, winning came second. We drafted kids who we believed were quality kids who didn’t have “little league” parents. Usually, we were successful. We laughed more than we yelled. The kids lost more than they won. Over time, though, I’d like to believe they still had fun.
We had nicknames for every kid ever season. The coaches’ kids: Pieces, Whiskers, Scotty Law, Choach. They changed at times, but those were the ones I remember the most. The coaches acquired nicknames as well at one point. The Quiet One (most definitely sarcasm there), the Godfather, Flip-Flop (which never stuck), and I was the Barefoot Lawyer when I wasn’t Frodo — so named for my need to run around at practice and at games in my hairy barefeet.
As with most good things, it came to an end a few years ago. Choach’s parents got divorced and when his mom got hooked up with a psycho boyfriend, he couldn’t play baseball. His dad, at the age of 35, still played adult baseball on Sundays with 20-year-olds. Choach when he was only eight or nine would go with his dad to his practices and hold his own. The kid was one of those special ones — natural talent, a love of the game, and a desire to do the work to excel. And, it was ruined by an idiot adult.
My son, when he was eleven or twelve, moved on to another team because he was a year older than the other three and there comes a point when that makes a difference. He went from our hang loose, have a good time, motley group to a team coached by a super competitive jerk. The assistant coach was a former NBA player. There were all-stars at almost every position. And, my son, who had pitched and played catcher every season up until then, couldn’t buy a chance to do those things with this team. I will never forgive the coach for continuing to promise to my son that he would get a chance to pitch and not following through on that promise. My son learned that year that sports coaches can often be pricks. His love of playing sports soured a bit and I ached so many times watching his dejection.
He spent the last two years back with his old coaches again, when their kids moved up the next year. The first year back was a struggle. He injured his elbow and shoulder and couldn’t throw the ball for weeks. He got to hit, but didn’t play in the field for most of the season. The last season, the injuries remained and his baseball career was over. Primarily because he wasn’t interested in doing the physical therapy exercises needed to strengthen his damaged wing.
But, that’s not what this story is really about. That’s not the curveball I want to talk about.
One of the coaches worked in a construction trade at the time. A year after we started coaching together, he also got divorced. And, then he hurt his back and eventually had to go out on disability because he couldn’t work the job anymore. A year or two later, he had a girlfriend. They now live together. He has two teenage sons. She has two teenage daughters. And, they’re both smacking the hell out of life’s curveballs.
Instead of wallowing in being “disabled,” he went back to school. He’s now in his late 40’s (I think) and he’s been back at college for the last four or five years. He’s this close <> to getting his degree. Last I heard he wants to go into counseling or some social service position working with substance abusers. His girlfriend? She’s also back at school, pursuing a degree in nursing and she’s that close as well. It’s amazing how much they sweat the hard work to do well in their search for an education and an opportunity to better themselves. And, they have these four incredible kids. Each of them plays an instrument. The boys play baseball — Whiskers was the starting pitcher today in an opening round 8-0 victory for his high school. The girls play soccer and cheer.
They’re the type of adults who should be held up and celebrated. They’ve fought through some tough times, but they’ve never stopped swinging.