When I was 13, I was determined to be a great baseball player. I wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves. Dale Murphy was my hero. Even though I had grown up Southern Baptist and he was a Mormon, I still thought he was the cat’s pajamas.
I got that phrase from my Grandmother – the wife of The Executioner.
I was seven years old when my father gave me my first Rawlings baseball mit. I remember rubbing leather oil on its surface and along its fingers for hours and hours. That night – before I went to bed – my father and I put a brand new baseball in the center pocket and proceeded to wrap shoestrings around its outside. Tee-ball practice was to begin the next morning, and I was to have the most glorious glove on the team.
I remember riding in father’s black, Jeep Wrangler and listening to Kenny Rogers sing: You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille… on the AM radio. We were both smiling, but neither of us said a word. We were going to baseball practice.
I wasn’t a very good baseball player. One time in tee-ball, I struck out fourteen times in a row. Tee-ball, for cripes sakes! But I was committed. I thought that I would become a better player if I could memorize statistics: Did you know that in 1983 Dale Murphy had 121 RBI’s and 36 Home Runs? It wasn’t his best year, but that’s the same year we found out Father was sick. I guess it just stuck with me.
I was the worst, most knowledgeable thirteen-year old baseball player in the entire county. In Seventh Grade, I tried out for my junior high-school team. For two weeks I bobbled fly balls, overthrew first base, got thrown out attempting to steal and I even hit the coach with my bat… twice.
“Sorry, Coach. But did you know that Carl Yastremski once sent his first base coach to the hospital after his bat slipped out of his hands…”
He wasn’t impressed.
I didn’t make the team that year, and I was humiliated. Upon my arrival home after a grueling bus ride through our subtle southern town, Norman, the mailman, greeted me. Norman fought in the Vietnam War. He was a Green Beret.
The story goes that Infantry Sergeant Norman Ulysses Brandon killed more than 30 “gooks” with his bare hands. He was a master of Kaput! After being honorably discharged from the military, Norman became a mailman.
Oh, the irony of it all.
“I heard you got booted from the baseball team,” he said. “I never was any good at sports either. Shake it off.”
Oh, joy! Perhaps I’ll just give up on baseball and maybe I, too, can become a servant of the federal government delivering coupons and gas bills and worthless sweepstakes letters to the unassuming public. Thank you, God. And thank you, Sergeant Brandon… I feel much better.
“There’s a letter for you in here. Looks like it’s from New York. I think it’s from your daddy.”
Father had been in New York for several weeks on business. The letter read:
I’m sorry I can’t be there for tryouts. You’ll do fine. And I know that if you do your best, Coach Compton will see that you’d be a great addition to the team. But if things don’t work out for you, just remember, that you are still very young. The best for you is still to come. You are a Greyhound. When Greyhounds are born they are pitiful looking dogs. Shaky on their feet. Skinny and awkward. But when Greyhounds grow up, they are the strongest and fastest dogs in the world. They are the best of the best, and all the other dogs want to be a Greyhound. Remember that. And remember that I love you and I am very proud of who you are and who you will become.
Attitude is everything. But today is not yet anything. Fill it with laughter.
I love you, my son. I miss you,
P.S. I went to the top of the Empire State Building today. I thought of you.