Driving to Disney World in 2013, my family stopped in Atlanta for rest and to catch a Braves game and ended up on the field watching batting practice. We met Evan Gattis, who finished that season in the top 10 in Rookie of the Year voting, and Freddie Freeman who was in the middle of an MVP-like season. I felt like a 10-year old gawking at the field and soaking in the experience. The man in the suit walking in front of us barely registered on my radar until after he was swarmed by fans.
“Who is that?” I asked our host.
I missed my chance to meet Murph.
Bill has never met Dale Murphy either, but he does have his autograph. Bill grew up in southeast Tennessee and cheered on the Atlanta Braves and Dale Murphy every night.
“We didn’t have cable, so I’d listen to the games on the radio in my bedroom. My mom still has my notebook where I kept track of Murphy’s statistics game by game.”
As soon as Bill told me this story, I knew I had found a friend. I listened to Denny Matthews every night and kept a notebook full of Royals articles and my memories of the team through the 1980s.
Bill is in his first year as principal at Kickapoo High School, “but I was a sportswriter for my first career. I was a newspaper guy for almost six years.”
Bill walked me through his newspaper career, from a weekly paper outside of Nashville to winning awards in Kingston to copy editing in Bradenton.
“I spent three or four days with Travis Hafner, Travis Hughes, Colby Lewis, and Kevin Mench when they were in A ball. It really was the highlight of my journalism career, writing about the Port Charlotte Rangers.”
His transition and journey to school administration began at the encouragement of friends and others who told him the difference he was making as he volunteered in a mentoring relationship with a student.
“My second career choice was to teach and coach. In 2001, with the economy going down and price of newspapers on the rise, I made the choice to switch.”
We walked out to the practice field adjacent to Neil Pittman Field (Day #62) to play catch on this beautiful September afternoon with a heat index of 99 degrees. He, too, quit playing baseball after his sophomore year in high school and regrets it.
“I thought basketball was going to be my sport.”
We played catch and I thought about what he said was the most important thing he’s learned as a principal. “Every day is a new day and you have to have grace, especially with young adults. Because there will be days when they feel like they are going through the worst day of their lives, they need to be reminded that it will be okay. Treat everyone with grace.”
What this world needs are leaders who understand the importance of playing and the power of grace. When my daughters walked up carrying an ice cold can of Dr Pepper in their hands, I knew grace was being offered and it was not a gift I could ignore.
P.S. — Dear Dale Murphy,
If you can come to Springfield, Missouri before year’s end, I know of a few people who would like to meet you for a game of catch.