Here’s another in the recapturing youth saga…

For the last twenty or so years,
The only power rush I’ve felt in sports
Is going to the driving range,
Taking out the big stick, and
Letting loose with every bit of power
Without regard for GPS or
Innocent bystanders down range.

That feeling of nothing
When the club hits the ball square
Is about as close to, well, that
A middle-aged man can get
Without actually getting there.
As the ball lifts into the stratosphere
There’s just an excitement punctuated by supreme calm.

Hitting a baseball is a lot like that,
Or so I remember
As it has been more than half my life
Since I got to wave the big stick
At a pitcher.
Today, however, I got the chance
To get in the box and take some batting practice.

The first swing was right out of the eye doctor’s chair,
All Lasik, cataract surgery, and what’s going on in left field.
At fifty, it was more than a little embarrassing, but
Undeterred, I laughed, dug in a little, and
Readied for the next pitch,
A hard ground ball
Easily fielded by the third baseman.

Something happened after that,
Muscle memory?
Blind man’s luck?
For as the head coach would say,
“You started hitting piss rockets.”
I love baseball vernacular.

What he meant
Was that the ball was jumping off the bat.
Certainly, he was grooving pitches, but
Instead of dribblers and pop-ups,
I hit line drives off the screen
Going back up the middle
With that driving range rush.

Let the record show that I am aware
Of the relative nature of my modest accomplishment today.
Also, let the court stenographer read that
A couple of the liners were legit
Even in the batting practice environment
Of a high school optional outing
When the pitches were like Dave Crowder’s phat buttered ducks.

Pitching and hitting,
These last couple of weeks sure has been fun.
I probably don’t have any eligibility left and
Very few years where I’d want to get out there and play.
I guess now it’s time
To get back on the range because
I sure like smacking that ball around.


Photo Credit: Flickr.com via Google Images

Grinding down the eyebrows,
Doing the zombie shop at a yard sale,
Dissecting a catcher’s mitt,
Sleeping the afternoon away,
Hanging with new folks,
Old ones too, The Millers and Jameson,
Watching Dave induct Pearl Jam,
Good night…

It’s Philly, yo
Hosting a big ass party
That doubles as the NFL draft.

I’ve been here more than half my life
Choosing to adopt most of the style
That is the Philadelphia way.

I love the grit,
The honesty,
The take us as we are or just go away.

I dig when it’s hot
People find a way to watch TV in comfort,
Taking their sets onto the porch to catch a breeze.

So tonight as I live the high life
With mellow beats playing,
I sit on my porch looking inside to the tube.

I’m relaxed, no mosquitos yet,
And I’m chilled after a day in the sun.
Feel the love, brother!

Time has a way of distorting perceptions.
An athletic career is probably never
As good or bad as a retired athlete remembers,
So making comparisons to the present in the past’s context
Are sketchy at best.

I’ve been coaching for awhile now,
Really a millisecond in the life of my career
As a physical education teacher,
But it’s interesting
Thinking back to how I was as I watch my players now.

The demands on today’s players are too much.
Year round, open gyms, specialty coaches
It’s ridiculous
Because all the special stuff
Doesn’t help kids know how to play better.

I couldn’t survive in this environment.
I liked the seasons,
Winter basketball, spring and summer baseball, and
Fall was mine to piss way,
To just be a kid.

Yet, somehow I got as far as I could
With an understanding of how the games are played,
A sports IQ if you will, and yet,
As I coach today, I know there is still more to learn,
Mostly how to understand what I don’t…arrogance, egoism, delusion…

Then I think, maybe I’m carrying that baggage
Thinking I know the best way
Wanting the kids to be something they cannot be,
Wishing this wasn’t a recreational stop in their careers,
But something that brought some pride to the school.

I think about wanting to play Bruton.
I think about warring against Denbigh or
Sweating it out against Hampton and how
We tried to do right by our school coaches
So our school would be respected.

We knew when to pick and how to roll.
We understood that baseball is dynamic and
Standing around only creates an attitude of passiveness.
Whether it was coaches or players
We were together.

Then I remember some players
Who rode the drama train when they didn’t get what they wanted
And they turned on the coaches or teammates
Robbing us of whatever unity
We worked so hard to build.

Now I see
Then was not so different than now
I understand how time smooths the rough edges
Yet I can’t shake the idea that I can coach “as we should be,”
Not allowing the existing culture that so many are willing to accept.

The turnaround starts when kids carry equipment.
The attitude changes when kids drop the comebacks after being coached.
Hustling, making the correct play, dropping the stat line,
All of these things matter.
Helping the kids understand that is the hard part of coaching.

Looking back,
I think my coaches made those priorities.
They all had their way, but togetherness, team pride, and accountability
All rose from the standards that they set out.
Those lessons mattered more than my launch angle at the plate or a three on the court.

The time has come for some Coach Jones confrontation.
The controversial one once took a cocky white boy to the side and said,
“Son, you look disrespectable.”
Maybe this was the wrong word, a malapropism, but the message was clear,
“Get your shit together and represent your team correctly.”

It took me “being me” to learn the lesson the hard way,
But I got the message because my coach helped me to understand.
My talent level didn’t change, but my attitude about what it meant to be an athlete did.
Perhaps we need a little of that Melvin mental chiropractic adjusting
To align some of our pasts with the curvature disorders of the present.

I sure hope my coaches remember me as a team player.
I hope they remember me listening to them.
I want my teammates to have thought me a good teammate,
Better yet, a friend, someone they could count on
To be in the right place at the right time.

Ah, that what then…