It is a happy picture. Thankful. ‘Pa’ sits right middle holding his oldest grandson. To his right his wife of 35 years cuddles a miracle of life. On either side are the kids and spouses, with the only granddaughter looking away. The smiles are genuine, real, communal.
He took the mound and tossed his warmup pitches. It was AA camp; Spring training. Players moved through the various camps dependent on age, status, injuries. One wanted to time the “music” so to sit in the ‘Show’ dugout when the music stopped. The dance was not choreographed for undrafted players. But one always hoped.
Two outs into the first inning, he faced a former inmate of immense skills who played on the ‘big team,’ working his way ‘back up’ from a nagging injury. He threw a curve outside. Ball one. There was no way he was going to throw this guy a fastball on the plate. It would circle the planet once it left the bat. A slider caught the corner for a strike. Another slider missed. He let fly his fastball controlling it off the plate, outside. It was hammered foul down the right field sideline. The man smiled. A dare. Another curve taken for ball three. The count full. He could walk him. Let it go easy. It was not his way. He took the sign from the catcher. Shrugged him off three times. Finally, he nodded, slightly. His windup was smooth and the arm whipped up and down, releasing the fastball. That was what the batter thougth. His swing was ahead of the ball by two feet. Change up. The punk kid in AA dared to throw him a change up. Strike three. The man glared out walking back to the dugout, seminal composure from his brief stay in the Pen.
The next time up, the he tried to sneak a fastball past on the first pitch believing the ‘man’ would not think the he would throw one. The ‘Inmate’ crushed it deep Center. He smirked as he rounded the bases. He watched the jog. He kept his eyes locked on the stocky figure. As the home run trot rounded third, the man gave him a look.
He smiled. The ‘Major’ smiled back.
He took his teammates fishing every chance he could those summers. He matriculated to the humidity for three years, then hung up the cleats, never making it out of AA. He did not have the big contract. Beef was in demand. He was skinny. He landed back in college to finish his degree, married his high school girlfriend, which was never a sure thing. But he knew he could go nine innings and he won her in the eighth. Threw her a Change up.
He had worked since childhood for jingle in his pocket. He wasn’t cheap, but thought on what was necessary. Painting, factory stations…anything that enabled him to pay his way. And he did not spend. A cane pole and bobber was all he needed to fish. The old 870 Remington his father had given him still pumped well. He kept his things working, clean. They lasted. His knives were kept sharp. As his mind. He might take time to work through a problem, a situation, but he could go nine. And still be effective. And when the answer came, inevitably it was a change up. Kept all guessing. And thrown for a strike.
Out of uniform, he tried teaching. The classroom squeezed him. Education was rigged around rules and regulations while the high energy of seemingly uninterested adolescence sagged his enthusiasm. No, he was not made as his wife, a genuine artist in this field. She would break the box open within the confines of expected duty and make kids shine. The public domain could not hold her and the private sector grabbed that talent and gave her all the “paints and brushes” she wanted. She became a superstar.
He never gave up baseball. There was always a town team, a Rec team, usually two or three, who wanted and needed his talent. He pitched on while finding traction in the Insurance Industry. Here he showcased his talent and made strides. But he was not a ‘big league contract’ and found himself counter to prevailing sentiment, though he was correct on the come. He struck out too many who were under ‘contract.’ Not good! They never caught up to his change up. He shrugged, ‘showered’ and looked elsewhere. Each new ‘Park’ seemingly could not compliment his abilities, so he took his game where he knew he could produce. He made his own.
He became an independent insurance agent whose success helped turn a flagging agency into success. The owner allowed him to pitch his way. His ‘change’ helped turn it from dull existence to exciting experience. It was a never simple, but he could go nine.
His first son died in his arms, a genetic condition leaving all the little bones broken when delivered. They had a healthy son two years later. With the odds stacked against, they adopted their daughter. The children excelled while life’s disappointments were meted out. His son never got the ‘look’ from his coaches in high school until his senior year when he lead his baseball team to State. One coach, with tears, thanked him for bringing joy back to the game. The son carried on and found himself outside the parameters of a delinquent coach while lacing his skates in college. He brushed the game aside, turned to his artistic talents and produced a DVD of his own songs. He put on a farewell concert for the school and played all the instruments himself, a different one for each song. The kitchen help cried.
The daughter was hugely successful on the mound, ice and hardwood. She carried her friends to State tournaments in two different sports. It was on the mound where her personality truly displayed itself. She was in peace, while making others not.
It was somewhere during this time that he had to “go to the mound” and insist she get the next batter out, or she was coming “out.” A hard time for the family, but she pitched out of the inning and finished strong, becoming a police officer, wife and mother. He had shown her what a change up could do mixed in with a heater. It was this lesson that produced tenacity and love which enabled she and her husband to nurture and love a 1lb 8oz baby and bring him home.
A family that has endured and produced friendships, loyalty and love. One that placed footings of Faith, in Jesus Christ. He has entered the eighth. He was made to go nine. And throw the ‘Change.’