Friday, February 27, 2009

Old memories are new

My life is pretty good. I have a job. That's really enough when school districts are laying off teachers. I never thought that would happen. I heard a rumor that Charlotte would dismiss all first- and second-year teachers. They can't lay me off. I have withstood too much. I faced an attack dog.

The job is the foundation of my pretty good. But I'll tell you what else. I'm playing ball again. I'm the assistant junior varsity baseball coach. The first couple days I watched pitchers and hitters without much thought or comment and dreaded the moment when I would have to fungo in front of the whole team. I never could fungo even in my hitting days. I secretly stayed after practice once to fungo into a net when nobody watched.

When the moment finally arrived, I swung and missed in front of an optical firing squad of 15-year-olds. Then I sort of hit the rest. Ray Kinsella endured a similar scene when he missed in front of Shoeless Joe. "I'll get some out there," he shrugged.

Now I am coaching with confidence. I threw some curves in the cage today and got a few grins. Damn kids got me amped enough to whoop if I could put one by them from 30 feet away. I hollered when they put it back in my ear.

The head coach and I wrote our first lineup. Ever. It's on the white board in front of me right now. Paul, Evan, Ethan and big Dalton will lead us off. We have some speed and some bats, and we might scrounge some defense before our first game next week.

The varsity coach let us scavenge his uniform closet, so we grabbed stocking hats and team shirts that must have been designed by a student-athlete. The backside of the camouflage shirt says "ON THE HUNT."

"Everyone hunts around here," the head coach said.

"Do you hunt?" I asked a random player.

"Sometimes," he said. What is sometimes? I've hunted twice in my life. Is that sometimes? I'll find out later.

Baseball. It makes me feel like I'm back at 176 and Dawes, toeing the dirt at first. I remember Mr. Harrington's high perch, Coach Panther's runny nose plea to "flat out" get it done, swinging at a high ball for my first and last home run, poker at pasta parties, grounding out against Mundelein, hauling the water, 1-2-3 'Cats, dirt in my shoes, gloves in my pocket, joy in my soul.

The memories are new again.

For Jesse, the 'Cats and Coach Panther

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