Log In

Reset Password

Inside Looking Out: Coming of age

The other day I’m standing in 38-degree weather watching my son step into the batter’s box at his Jim Thorpe Area High School baseball game.

Maybe it was brain freeze that sent my thoughts backward in time. My mind flashed through scenes of his younger years, and they seemed like they all were happening right now again.

I remembered when he was 7 years old and he was the leadoff hitter for the Reds in the Little League. He carried his little body up to the plate like he was a man on a mission. When the sun shined down on the number seven on the back of his red jersey, I wished that if I could have frozen that moment and kept my boy at that wonderful age, I would have signed on the dotted line right then and there.

But like they say, “Time waits for no man.”

As the fierce wind chilled my body to the bone, I wondered if the other parents who come to these high school games are thinking their kids are growing up so fast. One minute, I’m holding my baby boy in my arms at 3 o’clock in the morning and walking him to sleep down a dark hallway outside his crib and just like that, another minute passes and he’s 3 years old running from the car into the house. He trips and falls on the tile floor and splits his head open into a nasty cut.

Running red lights and flying through stop signs, I get to the emergency room and carry him in. The doctor places a bag with a hole in it over his head. Remarkably, my son hasn’t been crying, but once the bag slips over his face, leaving only the bloody gash visible, he screams so loud, I feel my heart want to jump out of my chest. The doctor tells me to hold him down while he stitches the cut closed. I never thought my little boy could be so strong, but I needed every ounce of my strength to keep him still.

Another scene flashed into my mind. When he was 9 years old, he wanted to kick a soccer ball across our driveway into a basketball net that stood on a pole about 20 yards away. He set up a cellphone on the lawn to capture the feat. He put the ball down and booted it with his left foot.

I watch him through the window kick the ball time after time with no success. After each miss, he has to go and pick up the soccer ball and return it to his kicking spot. About an hour later, he asks his younger sister to come outside and bring back his missed kicks to him. Ten minutes later, she tires of the assigned duty and goes back into the house.

The morning turns into afternoon. I step outside and say, “Why don’t you try again tomorrow?”

“No, Dad, I’m going to do this.”

A half-hour or so later, I hear, “Yes!” I run to the window and I see him jogging back to the house holding the soccer ball in one hand and pumping his fist with the other.

“No way!” I shout as he marches into the house. He hands me the cellphone and there it is, video proof. The ball had sailed high into the air and bounced off the backboard and right through the net.

I pulled up my hoodie to block the icy wind from crawling its fingers down my neck. He’s nearly 6 feet tall now and he drove me to the game with his driving permit. I know he’s cold, but his concentration on the task at hand puts that aside. I’ve coached him in Little League and Babe Ruth. He’s never intimidated. When he was 11 years old and one of the smallest kids in a travel team tournament at Disney, he stepped in against pitcher from Florida who threw the ball what seemed like 100 miles an hour.

My boy, who stands no taller than the pitcher’s waistline, takes the first fireball right under his chin. He staggers back a step and glares out at the mound. He swings at the next pitch and misses and then misses the next one, too. With a full count, he takes a mighty swing and taps a slow roller and beats the throw at first for a base hit. To me, it was as if he had hit a home run over the fence.

He leveled the bat over his shoulder now with that same determination in his eyes he had at Disney. My body was numb from the biting November like weather that swirled dust over the Jim Thorpe field. I think he had a two-strike count. The pitcher threw the next pitch and my son swung and missed for strike three. I felt little disappointment. He has always handled the failure that comes with the game of baseball with a maturity beyond his years.

As he walked back to the dugout through brutal cold, I smiled because I know he’ll do just fine while he plays this game he loves and I know why.

He’s still that little boy who kicked that soccer ball into the basketball net so many summers ago.

Rich Strack can be reached at richiesadie11@gmail.com.