Fond memories often invoke some sad ones too. My dad came to every baseball game I played from little league through American Legion. He and my mom were obviously the most loyal fans I had watching me. Mom was more of a spectator while Dad taught me everything I learned about the game. Just his presence at the ballpark was a stabilizing mental factor for me, serving as an anchor for my performance during the games.
Each time I took the mound, I looked around the fence line to see if Dad was there to watch me play. I knew he would be, but it was tough finding him sometimes because he never sat in the stands. He liked to walk around the field, perching himself in different locations, and never stayed in any one spot very long. He’d always tell me to concentrate on my game and forget about him being there or where he was.
I never listened to him though. I would look around the field every inning until I found his new location. Seeing him standing quietly by the fence gave me the self-confidence I needed to perform at my very best. It was as if we were playing a little game of hide-n-seek within the baseball game itself.
The first time I pitched without Dad watching me occurred at my first college game. It was very difficult for me. Even though I knew he wasn’t going to be there, I still searched every foot of the fence line around the field in hopes of finding him. You see, a heart attack had taken Dad away from us three months earlier at the young age of forty-five—the very number I chose to grace my uniform. The thought he would never be there to see me play baseball again was a tough reality I had to accept.
I was scared, nervous, and had more anxiety than ever before. The butterflies in my gut were about to push me to the point of feeling as though I was paralyzed from the neck down. I sat in the dugout before the game wondering how I was going to pitch that first time without Dad being there. I wanted to play—heck, I needed to play our little hide-n-seek game within the real game, but he was nowhere to be found. I felt all alone on the green diamond for the first time in my life. I finally collected myself and found enough courage to force myself to run from the dugout out to the mound for the first inning. It was the longest run in my baseball career.
It was time for me to suck it up and do exactly what Dad had taught me to do—BELIEVE IN MYSELF! With my back facing home plate, I removed my cap and looked up at a puffy, white cloud in the sky. I prayed, not for God to help me, but for Him to let Dad somehow be with me that day. I tossed the rosin bag to the ground and then faced the batter. My whole body was shaking as I toed the rubber for my first pitch in a game without Dad being there to give me that much needed confidence.
I took several deep breaths as the catcher signaled for a fastball with his index finger pointing straight down. Visions of Dad doing the same thing a million times flashed before me, causing a warm feeling to spread throughout my body. I felt an inner peace, and my self-confidence quickly grew stronger. I realized I had found Dad’s new location and felt his presence in that puffy cloud high above the field.
My anxiety seemed to vanish as I hurled my first pitch of the game and heard the umpire yell Dad’s favorite word, “Stttriiikkkeee!” It was exactly the sound I needed to hear at that critical moment in my life. From then on, I knew exactly where to find my Dad at the ballpark—he was always looking down at me with a big smile on his face, and that was all I needed.
Dad, thanks for all the things you did for me, but most of all, thank you for all the things you did WITH me…
If you are a player, I hope your parents are there supporting you the way mine did. If you are a parent, be there and cheer for your child, but let the coaches do the coaching. Your presence means more to them than you can possibly imagine.
Topic from the novel, On Green Diamonds: Pursuing a Dream.
Tom Tatum – Author – 2015
Author page: http://www.amazon.com/author/tomtatum
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