Sunday, August 4, 2013

Rounding Third And Heading For Home

From today's Times and News-Star

In these pictures in the social section of the newspaper, they look like young men in love: clean polo shirt, arm around a pretty girl, huge smile, and below, a write-up about the day that will forever change their lives.

“Engaged to be married.”

Whoa. This is big-boy stuff.

But to me, they still look and smell like the Little Leaguers they were when I first met them. They still have dirt on their knees and they smell like wind and dirt and Gatorade and leather. Some have baby fat. Soon, they would all have nicknames.

My biggest break from “coaching” Little League was I got to meet a lot of boys and families I’d have never known otherwise. There’s regret from that time – I think of things I’d have done differently and, with experience, better – but mostly I smile and look at pictures or the baseballs I got these guys to sign and am grateful that I got a chance to be on their team.

Now it’s been a hard-to-believe nine summers since I last sat in the dugout of a Little League game – on an upside-down bucket just outside New Iberia. In nine more summers, some of these newlyweds are likely to have Little Leaguers of their own.

Time is the great mystery. It’s so uncaring that it’ll let your pitcher or your center fielder grow up and get married when he should be showing up at practice, with eye black on, a size 6 cleat, homework to do before bed at 9, and a makeup game against the Reds Tuesday at 5:30.

The first one got married two summers ago. Crazy. I didn’t worry because he was about the most mature pre-teen I’d ever been around. One Fall Ball game he looked at me in the dugout while we batted and said, his face smeared with sweat and dirt and with a granddad’s disgust, “Coach Teddy, that man over there just said some profanities.”

He was 11.

The most recent time I saw him, he was saying “I do” and clean as a pin.


Another got married in June. Good man. He went with us on trips to play in Dr Pepper Park in the shadow of The Ballpark at Arlington and his dad bought our “pitching staff” mock turtleneck red sleeves one chilly October evening. Only 12 years old, they looked like true baseball men out there.

Two will get married this autumn. The best non-on-field memory I have of each is food-related.

I can’t use their names because that would be indiscreet. (Alex. And Taylor.) Alex was fast as the wind, a trait that served both he and his teammates well as he loved to go to the concession stand. During games. No telling how many infield hits he legged out after leaving chili on the bat handle.

Once I asked Taylor why he was even more happy than normal, on this certain day. “Because it’s Bacon Night,” he said. “My mom fries a pound of bacon for us every Thursday night.” How beautiful is that?

Baseball and bacon. Can you beat it? And now these guys have someone to share both with, someone who doesn’t smell like mud. Good for them. We’ve all come a long way since that preseason practice when they were eight and I told them that by league rules, they had to start wearing “protective cups,” and they looked at me like I had bananas growing out of my ears. I promised them they’d thank me later.