Before year-round travel teams, back when soccer was just a fall and spring sport played in partnership with the YMCA and sponsored by Pepsi, Dad coached my team. We practiced at Delaware Elementary weekly and games were on Saturday mornings. As coach, Dad doodled line-up ideas on scrap pieces of paper and I’d find various x’s and o’s with names and unusual terminology. Dad never played soccer growing up, so he invented a few new positions like “monster” and “sleeper” and others I’ve long since forgotten.
Mark often played goalie for those teams because he could kick the ball far. A “bad” punt still traveled across midfield. A good number of Dad’s ideas involved Mark catching the ball and punting it, allowing our sleeper, one of the team’s fastest runners, to take it the remaining third of the field and score.
“I had a trampoline at home and it really helped develop my leg muscles,” Mark said with a smile.
We met at Fassnight Field in the dew and wind and with the drumline of Parkview High School playing in the background. Mark’s a passionate Cardinals fan, cheering on Ozzie in his youth and Yadi now. He told me the story of going to his first game with his dad, how they had good seats behind home plate and almost caught a foul ball. He asked to borrow a glove and we started tossing the ball on the dirt infield slowly warming up muscles.
“Aaron’s my cousin,” Mark said.
I was stunned.
“Really? Aaron (Day #256 and others) from Florida?”
Mark explained to me the family tree, which I mostly followed but kinda didn’t because I’m horrible at mentally interpreting genealogies. I laughed at the small-world connection of this project.
We discovered that we both broke our ankles at the same time, though Mark’s healed apart from surgery. In the past few years, however, he’s been having significant lower back issues.
“I have some disks degenerating, but it’s not bad enough for surgery. Yet.”
I worried about playing catch causing him more pain.
“I can handle 20 minutes of throwing a ball.”
To avoid any additional strain on his back, Mark made sidearm throws and looked exactly like the logo of Sidearm Nation.
He has a solid knuckleball that danced on the wind and moved awkwardly from the sidearm slot. I tried a few sidearm throws in return, imagining I was Dan Quisenberry, one of MLB’s best poets. I did not try a sidearm knuckleball because I have no idea where that throw would go.
A few weeks ago, Mark reached out to me via Facebook, expressing his willingness to play catch.
“I was watching American Ninja Warrior and saw Kevin Bull compete. His alopecia story reminded me of you. I thought it’d be nice to catch up with you and see how you’re doing.”
On Four Playoff Game Friday, I was delighted to reconnect with an old friend, and glad to hear that we’re pulling for the same team.