I really don't know why I'm writing this on a public forum, especially this one, but maybe it will allow me some therapy. I apologize ahead of time for the long read.
As many of you know, I recently accepted another coaching assignment this upcoming summer after a short pause to be a devoted father and husband. Not that my priorities have changed, but as the little dude gets older I can sneak off a little more and even take him with me some this summer.
Anyhow, the point of this little story is to share a moment I had yesterday with a former player.
Before the boys of summer wore DBAT hats, I coached a little team of 15 year olds a while back. This group wasn't the most talented bunch, but what they lacked in ability was made up in spirit. A fun little group, as I sit here and reflect I can't help but smile at some of the vivid memories. We had some metroplex kids, but we also had a large East Texas representation. Even today, I'm kind of partial to country boys as they tend to have a good start towards manhood and it makes my job a little easier.
There was this one East Texas country boy that was pretty special though. My first experience with him tells the story. He and his parents show up after the long haul in from Marshall, Texas. This was his first game with us that summer as his high school team had just finished the playoffs. Kid grabs his glove and heads to third as we take infield. Don't ask me how, but during infield the youngster rolls his ankle so bad he barely makes it off the field. I didn't stop infield midstream, wanting to see how he would react. If it was real bad, third base was only feet from the dugout and he surely was going to head for relief on his own if needed. Obviously he didn't need it, he finished infield.
As the troops rounded up after infield and prior to game time, I see the boy tending to his ankle. He's got his pant leg up attempting to wrap it for support. This is the funny part and coaches and players will understand. Like most 15 year old teams, no real athletic trainers or supplies are present so you just make do. Well this boy was only going to wrap his ankle with pre-wrap. He felt it certainly would give him enough support to lace em' up and contribute to his team. Those of you that don't know about pre-wrap, it serves no purpose other than to keep the real support tape off your hairy legs to minimize pain once removed. But you couldn't tell his kid that. He was certain it was helping him and he was gonna be up there when the 3 hole spot came.
Again, not knowing the seriousness of this injury, I really didn't think much of this and didn't want to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Kids spot came up and he quickly laced one in the gap. As I watch him get down the line and make a turn towards second, I realize this injury calls for more than just pre-wrap. The right thing was to remove the kid from the game which I did once he got to second. But it didn't come without resistance. The boy begged to keep him in and I was almost convinced, but I couldn't let it happen this time.
Fast forward to the next year. After becoming fairly close with this family, I received a phone call prior to the upcoming summer season. Your typical East Texas father simply explains that his boy was going to play for a different team this summer as that's what the boy wants to do. I actually understood the move as the new team was an established organization in the area and it would be a good move on his part. I hated to lose the kid and I really think the father wanted to stay too. There were no formal commitments made or the family certainly would have lived up to theirs. Again, I hated to see this boy go, but deep down it was for the best.
So he moves on and so do I as the next few years pass. I end up coaching a newly formed DBAT bunch. We have a good summer at 16 and start gearing up for our 17/18 summer season. Low and behold, I get a call from that East Texas family and I welcomed the opportunity to have him join us. He was the perfect fit for our team as our bunch of 17's needed a few 18's for leadership roles. This kid was perfect.
Have you ever seen the kid that goes all out on every play everyday? I'm talking max effort all the time? Even if it's picking up a foul ball down the line? That was this kid.
Have you ever seen the kid that's the first one out of the dugout when a run is scored ready to slap a high five? That was this kid.
Have you ever seen the kid that has a dirty uniform after the first inning without even sliding? That was this kid.
Have you ever seen the kid that's chanting for his team until the last out is made? That was this kid.
This young East Texas boy was a leader that summer for our bunch. The kids respected him and so did his coach. It's a rewarding thing to watch a young athlete develop into a man right before your eyes. I got to coach this player for a total of 2 seasons of my 4. For that I was honored, as this player was everything a coach wants in a player.
So he was off for college after that summer. He received a D-1 scholarship that would take him out of state. Knowing his mama well, I knew she was torn up about it, but you would never see those East Texas parents show emotion. At least that their son could witness.
As that summer team went on, so did I. This is when I became a father and decided to take the next few summers off. I kept in touch with many players, tracking their progress as they played in college and professional organizations.
This player ended up coming back home to play his last two years closer to home. Just like any other team he played for, the coaches and players loved him. His ability was good, but not as up to par with his character. He was a good college baseball player but not a great one in the past. He did everything well and the numbers were always there, but he didn't have a huge scout following at every game.
So now we are in the present. This year he has really come into his own. All the hard work, the grind, the passion has paid off. He's having a terrific senior season and leading his team to a successful one. This once scrapy young boy is now a solid man putting up nice college numbers and impressing some professional scouts. One in particular.
I happen to take a trip to DBAT in Addison the other day and I run across an old friend and professional scout. We talk about old times and where certain players are now. That East Texas boy's name comes up in discussion and he tells me it looks like he's gonna get his chance this June. All signs point to him getting that professional opportunity he's dreamed of and rightfully deserves.
Just two days later, I get a call from that East Texas father. He starts with small talk as we've been friends for some time now. My wife and his wife have become friends and our families always make a point to visit when we travel close to another’s home. So he goes on to tell me that his boy had another set back this week as he's come up with a little injury. He's torn his other ACL going for a ball down the line in the outfield. The ACL opposite of the one he tore during his senior year of high school.
To say my heart sank is an understatement. I can't imagine what's going through this young man's mind. Dad goes on to tell me it get's better though. As this outfielder dives for the ball he obviously knows something is wrong. They rush to check on him but he stays in the game. Very next inning a grounder comes his way and in his attempt to throw he falls flat on his face when he tries to plant on that bad leg. Everyone knew, it was time to come off the field. He quite possibly has played his last game of baseball which he has such passion for.
So they see a doctor and fit him for a brace. Immediate surgery is the only real fix, but to buy a day or two they give him a high tech brace. Kid get's home and decides he can still hit with his bum knee. Yeah right. I don't know the details, but story is he's still playing with a completely tore ACL and went 2-4 the very next game with a HR and a single.
Do I believe it? Absolutely. Am I surprised? Not in the least.
Should this kid still be playing his senior year of college? Absolutely not, in some opinions. Is this kid’s baseball career over? Most likely, but nothing will surprise me at this point. But there is not one person that knows this player that will tell him he must come off the field due to injury his senior year of baseball.
So I know I've got to make a phone call to this young man. A phone call to a former player that will probably be very emotional for both. A call for support and confidence in that things happen for a reason. I didn't know how it would go.
This call took place yesterday. We talked about old times and how much has changed since. In his mind he only has this moment in time, as most young adults can't see next year let alone another decade. We talk about why things happen and both agree we have no clue really. I try to explain this circumstance will help him as a father or coach knowing he won't truly absorb it now. We talk about his options and as much as I wanted to offer my advice for immediate surgery I could not say it. Knowing this kids passion and determination, only he can make that choice.
He goes on to explain he will play as long as his body will allow this season. We share tears together as those emotions are coming back now.
We go through life not knowing what comes next. I don't know what's next for this young man but whatever it is he will succeed in doing it.
As I look towards this summer of coaching I can't help but hope I will have another opportunity with a player such as the example I just gave.
Yesterday I realized again why I coach the game of baseball.
Yesterday I received another trophy.
Yesterday allowed me and a young man know that the game of baseball is only inferior to the game of life.
Tomorrow a young man will put another one on the score board of life.