Losing is Hard

| July 5th, 2019 [easy-share buttons="facebook,twitter,linkedin,mail,print" counters=0 native="no"]

I’ve never been good at losing.

One of my youth baseball coaches reminded me today that in 9 years of youth league baseball, we only lost 6 games. I think I cried after every one of them. Losing always hurt.

The last week has felt like that. I lost my dad. He’s now resting next to my mother, who passed a year and a half ago. Getting through the funeral was the easy part. Cleaning out my only childhood home, and putting it on the market, means I’ve lost again. That’s officially a “losing streak.”

My 7 year old daughter and I were taking a few old school pictures out of frames. I recognized the irony of that – my grade schooler, peeking into what my life looked like as a grade schooler. Like an old reel-to-reel movie, each picture being a snap shot in time, of a longer story.

Baseball was that story, and our summers revolved around it. When I first started playing, our normal routine would be my brother and I going to the field after breakfast. He, a first baseman, and me a shortstop; my mother would hit us 100 ground balls before we went about our day or before the park and rec employees came to get the fields ready for that night’s games.

As I got older, and held my own summer job, I’d have to wait until games were done on the field before my parents and I could get our work in. My high school coach gave me a key to the lights, so I could turn them off myself when my parents and I would finish our groundball routine at 11 or 11:30 at night. They would take turns hitting or playing first base.

Today is the last day I’ll stay at my boyhood home, and likely the last day I’ll ever stay in my childhood town and symbolically, that’s like losing a piece of your childhood.

One of my youth coaches stopped by last week and jokingly said, “I wanted to see if you wanted me to hit you some ground balls!”

Today – not jokingly – I texted him and asked if he’d do just that.  I figured it was only fitting, that my last day in town, I’d do what my parents and I loved doing most.

My baseball bag, likely from college, has sat in the corner of the garage, untouched by me, for nearly 20 years now.  It’s still immaculately clean.  My late mother always kept it that way, in case, just by chance,  I wanted to use it one more time.  Today was that day.

My glove, my shoes, and a jump rope I used in a daily routine to improve my lateral quickness – all the staples from 20 years ago were still there like I was looking back into the past.   But so was this:

And the realization that my mom knew that I would return to this bag and play one more time, likely when I was doing just this thing:  cleaning out their house after their passing.  She’d left me a note – a poem really.   I’d never seen or read before.  The paper she’d encased in plastic so it would hold up under time or the elements.  Because even as good as a mom’s intuition, nobody can forecast when the last chapter of life is going to come.  It’s too personal to share the whole thing, but here is an excerpt.

I hold the glove that made spectacular plays

No balls could ever get by

I turned two before anyone knew

And ran down every fly.

I got the field at 3pm. My youth coach with a bucket of balls and bat in hand, already on the field.  But also my high school coach, who brought me a middle infield partner, after he’d found out what I wanted to do today.  It’s 91% humidity and I wore pants, because “You know sure as hell, I’m going to get dirty.”

Although I didn’t quite take 100 ground balls, I knew it was something I was supposed to do today.  My parents would have loved that.

It’ll be hard to leave tomorrow.  To say goodbye to a large piece of your childhood.  This concrete batter’s box that my dad poured 35 years ago, where our batting cage once stood and we’d spend our summer days, with teammates and friends hitting bucket after bucket of balls, throwing BP to one another.   So constant, you can almost hear the echo of aluminum hitting leather still today.

That concrete slab, and that small town community field are as good of representations of who I am 35 years later, as anything.  And though I’m physically losing that, it’ll all still be a part of me forever.  Baseball brought so much to our lives – transcending really – and I’m fortunate for that.

So don’t ever let someone tell you, “It’s just a game.”  Or that “Losing doesn’t hurt.” There can be crying in baseball.

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