When My brother, sister, and I were little, we all used to play t-ball. We've got pictures and super 8 footage of games and practices; Jamie standing on the pitcher's mound ( which is odd, as there is no pitcher in T-Ball...).
More often than not, dad was at the helm, coaching us. He had the same glove all the time we were growing up.
"It's older than you are," he'd say almost every time he brought it out for a practice or game.
As a T-baller, I was admittedly, not exactly the top of my game. Low self-confidence, awkwardness, and clumsiness were generally my best attributes at that age. And, even with a ball sitting atop the tee, I still couldn't hit it off. If I didn't chop the top off the ball with my bat, sending it dribbling just beyond home plate, then I'd hack at the Tee, and the ball would simply fall lifeless to the ground.
I can just picture my dad rubbing the back of his neck with his hand in frustration.
But there was one day, one game, that I have held on to for good reasons, not bad ones.
It was a typical at-bat for me. I had just spent my first swing, whiffing the bat over the tee without even touching the ball.
Now, dad was not the most ideal coach, as far as we could tell. Short-tempered at at times, and despite a mantra of "it's not winning or losing, it's how you play the game"... dad wanted to win.
I am convinced he'd have more hair if he had stayed away from coaching his kids.
But then, no. If he stayed away from coaching, I'd be without one of my very strongest memories of him and I as I was growing up.
"Time out!", my dad called from the bench. I turned to see him coming towards me at the plate.
He turned me back to the tee, and crouching over me, he placed his hands over mine as I held up the bat. And he leaned in close, with his face next to my ear, and he said "Stuart, it's simple. Just take your time. Keep your eye on the ball, and just bring the bat away from the tee, then back to the ball. away from the tee, back to the ball. Then swing. Simple."
And with that, he stepped back, and I reared back the bat, liked he showed me...
..and I hit him in the head. He walked away with a grin on his face as he rubbed his head.
I reset, and did it again. Eye on the ball, bring back the bat. bring the bat close the ball, repeat. Then swing.
And the ball leaped off the tee and into the infield. Beyond this point, I don't really remember if i ran, if I made it to the base, if I got tagged out, or stood there or what, But I remember that hit.
And I remember my dad's arms around me. There, in front of all those people, maybe not saying that he loved me, but showing it none the less.
From all the memories I have been sorting through--frankly, ever since he was first diagnosed with cancer, this is the one that has come back again and again.
Dad always figured that we hated having him as a coach, but with a memory like that, to last me a lifetime, how could I ever say I hated him as a coach. And it's through this memory, as well as the millions of others, that Dad gets to live on, that I can keep him earthbound.
And it is the same for everyone else. He is only a dad to me, my sister, and my brother, but he is also a brother, a cousin, a son, a husband, a friend, a co-worker,
a boss, a teammate. And all those people have their memories, too.
And some day, if I am so fortunate to have kids that play t-ball, like I did, and like my dad did, maybe I'll have the chance to come up to the plate, lean in close to the ear of my child and say...
..."now, this is how your Granddad taught me how to do it."
I miss you dad. I love you.