Happy Birthday, Coach Al

I started my baseball career relatively late. I played the entirety of my first season hidden in right field. My father took over the team the following season and it would be the first, last, only time he coached me. I was 10-11 years old at the time and I had not really developed at all through that first year and the following off-season. Still, it was the second or third game in the season and we needed a pitcher. It was the first time in my life I had ever been on a mound. My performance was an atrocity. I routinely started my wind-up before the umpire was ready. I walked a ton of batters. I got squeezed by the umpire. The only other thing I distinctly remember about this game was crying on the bench after my father finally, mercifully yanked me from the game.

On the way home, my dad swore in my presence for the first time that I can remember. He conceded that he knew I wasn’t ready to pitch. He admitted that he was harder on me – that he expected more of me – than the other kids on the team because I was his son. He apologized for putting me in a situation where I would almost assuredly fail. Then at the end of it, he said something like “I know it was hard, I know you didn’t really pen, and I know Peter (the home plate ump) squeezed you, but you still have to block all that shit out and play the game. You have to keep playing. You can’t give up.” I think I stopped crying because I was in shock. When I watched The Original Kings of Comedy years later and Steve Harvey told his story of hearing the nuns at his church swear for the first time, I thought of my dismal pitching performance and his post-game speech to me that day.

My favorite picture of Coach Al and myself.

My favorite picture of Coach Al and myself.

On that day, I understood my dad’s literal message. He’s too terse to use words like “adversity” and “obstacles” and “perseverance”. He’s too direct to go for inspirational speeches. I knew he was telling me that nothing should prevent me from playing hard. I wish I could tell you that this conversation was a turning point in my career, but it wasn’t. I generally tried my best, but at times when my lack of talent failed me, I was given to bouts of giving at-bats away, then letting those appearances affect my play in the field. I sucked at baseball. And at 35-years old, when I pop out to the infield with runners in scoring position like I did last night, I feel those same emotions of frustration and self-loathing. But I’m still playing, still looking for those even rarer moments of success.

Later in life I would come to appreciate that my dad’s words to me on that dreary day weren’t just philosophy on baseball. He applied those same ideals to everything in his life. My dad is a grinder. He cooked, cleaned, coached, and that was on top of his job in the warehouse of a pharmaceutical distributor. Madison has dance once a week and it’s tedious. How the hell did my dad do every day for over decade?

Right now, I am going through things in my personal life that are uncomfortable and frustrating. It’s difficult, but recently when someone asked me if I would consider giving up, I replied “that’s not an option.” When asked why, I said “It’s just not.” Now, I hatehatehate when people answer questions in this logicless manner. But it’s true. It’s true because the man who raised me never viewed quitting as an option, either.

Thank you, dad. Happy birthday.

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