The Long Way Home

This is living proof that it’s not the destination, but the journey.  I guess the logical place to start is the beginning, roughly 19 years ago.  Somewhere, there’s a picture of a naked 2-year-old little boy throwing a baseball on the front porch.  Before anyone calls the cops, his glove, almost as big as his body, covered the parts that some would be utterly alarmed at, ‘cuz let’s face it, 2-year-olds never run outside naked in the real world.  Don’t ask me where the picture is, I really have no idea but I can see it clear as the day it happened.

“What are you doing?”

“Baseball!”

Thousands of hours playing catch, soft toss, fielding grounders, a million drills and even more bumps and bruises all started in a small town front yard.  Certainly my butt was, at some point, shaped exactly like the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket, the preferred seat of most baseball dads.  Whether it’s playing catch with a 5-year-old, soft toss to a high schooler, or just a good spot in the dugout, the 5 gallon bucket is a staple of the baseball universe.  There better be one in Cooperstown.

At the youngest possible age, it was off to the ball fields at Donaldson Westside Park and “Baby Beal.” Practices, games and homerun contests all followed by ice cream.  It wasn’t long, however, before that naked little 2-year-old on the front porch literally out-grew the 60 foot bases and he had to start playing in leagues that offered 70 and 80 foot bases before being thrust onto the MLB size field.  It wasn’t long before the 45 mile trips turned into 90 mile trips with weekends in hotels, trying to get uniforms clean for the next day, and figuring out how we would get through with our limited pitchers.  High school begins and we get to add Chillicothe to the road trip list.  Yay.  Not only is the trip to Chilli’ the worst but it seemed like we always got stuck with an umpire that coached summer ball with the Chilli’ coach.  Not sure how this is even allowed to happen.

Of course after the high school season it was still more summer ball, more 90 mile trips, hotels and wondering when the rest of the team would show up.  Still a lot of hard work which was rewarded with a trip to a showcase at The University of South Alabama in Mobile.  It rained.  We managed to get in half of our games and go to the beach one day.  I didn’t know it at the time but that was the first time some of the boys had seen the ocean.  I know, technically it’s a gulf but I wasn’t going to break their spirit so don’t lump me in with Rex Hudler.  Still, 1,838 miles later, we would all do it again.

Now, I’ve always told that little boy to play as long as it’s fun and have fun as long as you play.  I never new how long that would be but one day we were following him to Iowa with a load of his stuff for Junior College and baseball.  In case you don’t know, juco baseball is a much different animal than high school and the NCAA.  Basically, there are no rules governing how much they practice.  It was a lot of work that, at times, bordered on abuse for the pitchers but it was still fun and at the end of the first year, we drove 8,252 miles to watch.  Despite being the team’s only freshman pitcher on the all-conference list, that little boy was asked to walk on again the following year.  That, in combination with the fact that he had already taken every meaningful class for his major, he decided to transfer to a school in Kansas City.

Kansas City!  So much closer!  Obviously we’d made that 90 mile trip dozens of times for summer ball so this would be easy.  For the second straight year, we started off with an early spring trip to Texas and we wrapped up the (post) season in Wichita.  Only 6,502 miles this year.

During the first two seasons of college ball, we watched a lot of walk-off games and only one where we walked off on the short end.  We saw incredible plays and not so incredible plays.  We saw horrific injuries and miraculous toughness.  We saw a group of little boys become a team of fine young men.  We saw a season end and, for some, we saw their last game.

It wasn’t a last game for our little boy.  He would be leaving soon for his next adventure, Myrtle Beach, SC.  He became a “Hammerhead” and we made a 2,868 mile road trip to watch a bunch of little boys from all across the country.  By the time we got there, they were already a team and again, we were there for the post season.

Before the post season started, we already new the next step for our little boy.  Of all the offers he had out of juco, the most important thing he wanted from his baseball career was a school that offered his major.  Yep, a real student athlete.  To explain it, I must jump ahead a couple years.  He’s going to grad school for occupational therapy, probably at KU.  Not a lot of schools offer pre-occupational therapy.  Now, you can get into KU’s occupational therapy graduate program with any bachelors degree but that wasn’t good enough for our little boy.  Unfortunately, it turns out that pre-occupational therapy programs are few and far between.  In fact, not one school that was interested in him for baseball had pre o.t. or so we thought.

In South Carolina, the teams were put up in empty condos on a golf course.  I know, must be rough.  I’m don’t know exactly how it happened but I like to imagine that it happened on the golf course.  One of the leagues coaches had been trying to get our little boy to play ball for his DII school.  The problem, as always, was the lack of the pre o.t. major.

“I think we have that.”

“Really?”

From the age of 2 to 21, we have easily traveled over 25,000 miles to play, watch, coach, and grow as a player, a teammate, a dad-coach, and parents.  A journey that we would do all over again.  A journey that has made it’s next stop just 1.3 miles from that front porch.

 

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