On Day #8 of 2018, I played catch with Dad.
With only 8 catch-playing days remaining in 2018, I played catch with a father and son, both of whom were Royals fans.
“Nice hat,” they both said, commenting on my Royals stocking hat.
I first met Patrick at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Coach Bell (Day #144). We sat at the table Ryan reserved for former Glendale High School ballplayers. I proudly represented the Kickapoo JV team.
Throughout the event, Patrick shared stories of Coach Bell I’d never heard. He told me a few more this morning.
“He had his own chair in the dugout. He’d walk back in the dugout after coaching first base and someone would be sitting in his chair. He’d tell them, ‘Your mom’s over there. She’s got something for you.’ It was a very polite way of kicking someone out of his chair. Other times, he’d just look at them and say, ‘Get outta my chair.’”
Like Coach Bell, like his dad who shares a first name with Coach Bell, Patrick now coaches high school in Clayton, Missouri. He doesn’t have his own chair though.
Howard, Patrick’s dad, grew up in Gladstone, Missouri and moved to Springfield to attend SMSU. He met a girl and has been here ever since. He also coached baseball in Nixa for 22 years and is friends with several of my catch-partners. The game is a great teacher.
“You cannot underestimate the power of encouragement. If you want to have a strong team, you must work with the kids who aren’t stars and coach them up. You only have a short time in high school to help them refine their skill set. Encouraging a kid takes them a lot further along to reaching their potential,” Howard said.
“Even the bad days on the field are good ones,” Patrick said, “but it is kinda hard to forget those 22 – 2 losses.”
Howard remembers all the 1 – 0 losses.
As a coach, Patrick is passing along the things he’s learned from his dad and previous coaches.
“I didn’t accomplish my dream of playing professionally, but I’m still fortunate to be able to give back, to pass along something I’m passionate about. I don’t remember our record from two years ago, but I remember the kids on the team. Those relationships last a lifetime.”
Near the field named after my high school coach, we played catch on a crisp Sunday morning. Their willingness to layer up and freeze fingers was a wonderful gift to me.
This catch-playing year has been an unexpected gift.
A present of enjoying life in the present with friends new and old.
Those who shared their natural gifts and affinity for the game helped me reach a quixotic goal only achievable through the generosity of others.
I was honored to be entrusted with thousands of stories of life, hope, and baseball. Every story encouraged me to just keep playing.
Early roots of the word “gift” are related to “inspiration.”
I am quick to say my daughters inspired this catch-playing year, though I have become convinced there are divine echoes.
On Opening Day, Day #88, I used the new Wilson for the first time. Wilson sent it to me as a gift and encouragement when the strings broke on my George Brett glove.
Isaiah (Day #165) turned 15 yesterday. After church, I gave Isaiah the glove gifted to me.
Because, like life, like catch, gifts are meant to be shared.