It didn’t really hit me until I was caught off guard after most everyone but the parents had left the ball park. I had come over behind the dugout to say hi to Ryan and to congratulate him on his efforts. Then it hit me, this final moment hit me, I realized that I did not have my camera, so I asked a friend if they had a camera to get a picture of Ryan and I. That’s about the time that things slowed down just a little bit and when the emotion really started to tug at me.
To me, maybe a little bit selfishly too, a number of these kids will always be known to me as part of ‘my team’. When the friend asked about getting a picture of the 13’s after taking my picture with Ryan a lump started to grow in my throat. The 13’s. Goffstown’s 13 year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars from 2007, those are the 13’s. The team that came within one win of going to the World Series in 2007. The team made up of players who now have spent more than half of their young lives playing baseball together every spring and summer in little old Goffstown. Tonight that run ended. Forever.
The flood of emotion hit me like the recurring surf of the incoming tide as one player after another came up the steps from the playing field. I was totally unprepared for what happened next, but I was willing to oblige as this group is so special to me. A player who moved to our town in his 13th year, had tears running down his face as we gave each other a long hug like only those who have gone into competition together can do. We talked of the effort and emotion left on the field. We talked of the commitments made to get this far, and the commitment needed to move past tonight and on to greater things. I appreciate him taking the time to talk with me on an emotionally difficult time for him. Then it was a player I’ve known since he was 9. More tears. More hugs. More talk of the focus and determination to move forward. It’s nights like tonight that ignite a fire in the beings that want more in competition and personal standard than any dousing of water the pain of losing can throw on their flame.
Still more players, up the stairs, greeting me, hugs from each of them. Sincere, somber chats, with each of them. One of ‘my team’ had left the ball park before this unscripted moment took place but I hope I can catch up with him soon, another player I’ve known since he was 9 years old. Then a return visit to my son. A big hug, a manly embrace with my son who turns 19 this week. I told him how much I enjoy watching him play and how proud he makes me. I told him its been my pleasure to watch him. I told him that I love him.
Then it was time to go. For the second season in a row I watched a son of mine play his last baseball game for Goffstown. I know this piece won’t mean much to many, but it sure mean’s a lot to me. My boys, now young men, and I have spent countless hours together in and around the game of baseball. These players that I talked with tonight; I have spent hours and hours with, in dugouts and on ball fields competing together as a team to be the best.
I guess I knew this could happen tonight, but like any true competitor, I hadn’t planned for it or even really thought about it. I always believed, played, and coached with the idea that we play, we compete, until someone tells us the competition is over. After that, and only then, do we sort out the emotions and realities of our playing future. Maybe that’s naive, or just dumb, but I never thought that competing, with the inkling of a thought focused on anything but winning and moving on, was a good idea. Tonight it ended. These guys all turn(ed) 19 years old in 2012. There’s no more town team to play for after Legion ball ends. At least four of these players who finished playing for Goffstown tonight, have already played, or will be playing, college baseball.
Finally, it was very apparent to me that these players left everything they had, on the field. There was no effort or emotion left in these guys. They played hard, they played until the final out with all the effort they could muster. As a father, and as a coach, I filled with pride watching these young men compete like there’s no tomorrow and putting it all on the line. It’s only baseball, right? Yes, it’s baseball, and for all of us, players, coaches, parents, it’s been close to everything at some point each summer for many years. Tonight baseball ended as we’ve known it. Some of my best friends have come from the parents of these kids who are talented and driven enough to play together year after year. They start playing together because they happened to have been born in the same year, and live in the same school district. The parents come together as a result of the kids’ groupings. All these years later the same kids, ‘my team’, came off of the field together, and these same parents, my friends, were there as always. Somewhat selfishly perhaps, I hope that in some way I was a positive influence in their baseball careers or even gave them more reason to continue playing. Most definitely though, these guys have positively influenced my love for the game and demanded my best when I have coached. These are two more reasons why this means so much to me. Among my most sad days, the days when I have to say good-bye to another season.