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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I See Old People

Dear Josie,

I miss softball.

Call me crazy, but I loved the outfield best.  I loved the space and the smell of the grass.  The inner monologue and the distant sounds of the crowd, the occasional dragon fly softly landing on cracked leather.  I could chase a fly ball for days, sprinting and tracking and ever-so-carefully plucking it from the bluest of summer skies.  In the early years that's where your worst players would go, but not so much as one got older.  I can remember a coach in high school telling me, "Infielders lose runs, outfielders lose games."  I always loved that.

Your aunt and I began pitching lessons in grade school.  Truth be told, I never really enjoyed it.  I hated the attention, the constant pressure. I was alright, so they would put me in from time to time.

In 1996, I was pitching for St. Sabina.  This was my church, my former school, the Catholic Youth Council team I had been a part of for seven years.  It was the championship game of the last tournament of the summer.

I remember throwing strike after strike, walking only one batter the entire seven innings.  It was tied until they began hitting me into the fourth, nothing major.  Pop- ups to third and a grounder or two up the middle.  We fell apart.  Error after continual error.  Bobble after overthrow.  I fumed on the mound, glaring at my teammates as we felt the trophy slip from our grasp. We lost. 

After the game, the umpire sought me out in the parking lot. He was quite older, into his sixties perhaps, with a gentle face and a tendency to squeeze the plate.   "Hey seven!" he called.  I turned to face him.

"Adversity builds character." 

The following summer brought more tournaments, more Saturdays packed with multiple games atop heat indexes.  This time it was South County, a little farther from home.  Before our first game I stood near the concession stand with some of my teammates.  I remember his face as he turned from the front of the line, clad in his gear from that morning.  Blue snow cone in hand, slightly lifting it as he passed.  "Adversity builds character, " he smiled.  With a wink he was gone, as quickly as I'd seen him.

It is strange how often I have thought of that man.  Pictured his face as I worked two jobs in college, re-registering every September as my financial aid was denied.  I have heard him during funeral processions and doctor's appointments.  He has walked with me through hallways to comatose brothers, smiles beside me on tired  Monday mornings when the coffee's run out and the kids just won't give.  He was there on the coldest of mornings as I held you, his voice a quiver as they carry you away. 

"Adversity builds character."

It was a whisper, but I heard him.  I always do.


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