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My two sons played baseball from the time they could hit a rolled up sock with their hands until they walked off the field of their last games in college. I did not grow up playing baseball, really, beyond backyard games; I did not have a love of the game. I did have love for our sons, though. So when they were presented with the baseball, through Sonya, mainly, then me, they took off. We joined.
We together found a lot of life, love, and pain in it. I still remember when they were much younger, finding piles of rolled up socks on top of the “homerun” cabinets in our den; them celebrating a homerun when a Wiffle ball would stay in the limbs of a cedar tree in our backyard; and playing with them out by the barn where the backstop was an exercise trampoline on its side so the ball would bounce back to me after the pitch.
Years later, I remember hugging our youngest son while he cried and said how much he would miss what had just ended, the last game of his college career, and the last game of his childhood years. I also remember my oldest son’s last game in college. Back surgery ended his dedication to be as good as he could possibly be at baseball; the coach started him in the lineup as an honor to him. He then took him out before the first pitch because he was incapable of playing and would never be able to play again. Through it all, they had loved the game that “doesn’t love you back,” as the saying goes.
They experienced much of life on life’s terms in pouring their hearts into something that mattered to them. Tears, injuries, laughter, bonds of friendship, celebration, heart wounds, hard questions, memories kept and memories they regret, heart break, gratitude so huge it had no words, hard work, sweat, dreams fulfilled and destroyed, arguments, fulfillment, great victories and loss.
They got to play together on a state semi-final team, and said goodbye to each other on the field, as one of them would graduate from high school. I still remember how they hugged goodbye to what had become a short lifetime of being together on a field of green. I can still see them sitting quietly in the dugout after their last game together before the lights on the field were turned off. I will remain forever grateful how their love for each other became a sealed bond through a dedication they gave their hearts to. Our sons are grown and gone now, doing life in their twenties, and Sonya and I doing life in our fifties.
I was rearranging and cleaning our garage last week, deciding what needed be pitched and what might be used again. I found a bunch of bats in a dusty, cobwebbed corner behind wood planks, wood scraps, broom handles, and paint poles. I knew they were there. I pulled out the useless bats, a cracked plastic Wiffle ball bat, wooden bats, aluminum bats, all scarred up, cracked, and dented from lots of use. I held a cracked wooden bat in my hands, looked at the faded white tape wrapped around the handle, brown from dirt and hands gripping it. I recalled all the hours we spent on what we called our “hitting field” down by a wet-weather creek. The echoes of the bat hitting the ball and our voices in the late afternoons, the sweat, the gnats, the sounds of mowers in the distance, the smell of grass, their faces, their efforts, and me getting to be with them.
I couldn’t throw the bat away. I couldn’t throw any of them away. I found an old cloth and wiped the dust and cobwebs off of each bat. It took a while because I was seeing our lives. I missed them, and I missed our years. My heart ached in gratitude, sadness, and regret—the wish to do it again, and to do it all better as a Dad. Such sweet, sad joy to have lived a life so good with them. I wiped my eyes with the old cloth after I cleaned the bats. I put all the bats on a shelf. I had room to keep them.