Thursday, June 29, 2006

Autographs for Curtis

Said my kind-hearted father as he took my hand:
“As you go in defense of our dear native land,
“Son, be brave but show mercy whenever you can.
“Our hearts will be with you, 'til you 'turn again.”

-- Bright Sunny South – Alison Krauss & Union Station

Colton is a nine-year old boy who plays on the little league team of mostly 10-year olds that I’m coaching this summer. I suspect that when he was born he entered this world with a baseball in one hand and a catcher’s mitt on the other. He seems to me to have been born a catcher. He also possesses a very strong arm and will pitch for us now and then. Colton was also born with a competitive spirit, a can-do attitude, and a great smile. However, on Saturday I saw none of those usual attributes.

Colton started on the mound for us that day and was scheduled to pitch the first two innings. In our league a pitcher can only throw a minimum of three and it wasn’t until just this week that I began letting our pitchers throw the full amount. During warm-ups I could tell that he was distracted, and in the top of the first he walked all eight batters he faced and they scored the maximum five runs allowed per inning. Throwing down the ball on the mound, Colton walked off the field in tears and towards me on the third-base dugout side. I gently pulled him away from the team and we walked down the left field foul line together and had a little talk. The poor guy was really upset and after settling him down I asked him if he wanted to give it another shot. He told me no. Right there I knew that more was bothering him than what had just happened. Colton has never said no to anything after meeting some initial failure or challenge, but today he had had enough. He went on to catch the last half of the game, got a hit, and the first inning was soon forgotten as the boys won the game.

What I knew that day that you have yet to learn is the reason for Colton’s distraction. On Wednesday Colton, his mom and his little brother said goodbye to his father, Curtis. Curtis left for Iraq yesterday and will be gone for fifteen months. He will miss the rest of this season as well as the next. Of course Curtis is going to miss much more than just baseball.

Curtis is not just Colton’s biggest fan, but perhaps our team’s as well. You can always hear his voice from the stands cheering on the boys when they make a good play, and offering words of encouragement to them if struggling. Monday night was no different. It was to be the last game he would be able to watch us and we wanted to make it special for him.

Before the game I brought a game ball and a pen into the team huddle and told them they were now going to practice another part of baseball: autographing one. Each boy wrote his name and uniform number on the ball, not knowing what I was going to do with it. They played a great game and afterwards we met as we always do down the left field line in a circle with the parents gathered around as I give my post-game speech. It’s usually not much of a speech as they are more interested in eating the treat and slurping down the sport drink provided by a different set of parents after the game than listening to me.

I kept the game notes short, and then asked Colton to come stand next to me. I gave him the ball and asked him to give it to his father. He did, along with a big hug as the parents clapped. Both he and his father were in tears, and from what I’ve heard a lot of others were as well. Curtis thanked the boys for the ball, told them he was proud of them and would be rooting for them while he was away. I have his military email address and will be sending him updates on our games as well as any pictures that are taken.

On Tuesday night, just past midnight on the day he was to leave I received an email from him thanking me for the ball, for coaching the boys, and for a memory that neither “I nor my family will forget.” I wrote him back: “Thank you for the next fifteen months, for the sacrifice that you and your family are making, and for being our biggest fan. We’ll see you when you return safely home.”

Summer officially began yesterday, but it has already been one we won’t soon forget.


At 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have linked to this.


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