Hi, there! Thank you again for being here, or if it’s your first visit, just plain thank you. I appreciate it more than you can possibly know.
I’ve been in a quandary as to what I wanted to post. I figure that some of you are still getting to know me, and I want to make a good impression. But, shoot, I’m usually all over the place with my subject matter, so it’s hard to guess what will strike a chord with you all. I went in to my file full of essays, and the one that follows was the first one I looked at. It’s another baseball story that’s not so much about baseball. And, frankly, it’s one of my favorites. I hope you approve.
I want to tell you a story today about a fellow named Pete. Now, Pete is not his real name, but that’s what we’re gonna call him. This is another story from my baseball coaching days, so if you’re sick of those, I’m sure I’ll run out of them one day.
Pete was a guy who joined our baseball program late in his high school career—just before the start of the season when he was in his sophomore year. He had not come up through our county youth leagues and was very behind in baseball skills when he joined us. We had never known him as a baseball player prior to the day he first tried out for the team, and we really didn’t know where he came from in the county. But Pete had some athletic ability and was strongly built, and I was always notorious for trying to hang on to every kid who I thought had any chance of ever playing even if it was just a little bit.
Now there was a problem with Pete. To put it frankly, Pete was not well thought of by teachers, coaches, and administrators—I really never found anybody that had anything good to say about Pete. He was very quiet and generally didn’t make a good impression on people. He was not tall but was very muscular and might have been a little physically intimidating to some people. He didn’t like being corrected and most teachers considered him to be sassy and a little disrespectful. He always remained quiet and never lashed out at any adult, but he would make these scowling faces and mutter things that no one could understand much. All that made him a little mysterious and maybe a little scary. He was a hard kid to understand and get to know.
Occasionally, he got into trouble with the principal’s office. Although mostly a loner, he would sometimes run with a bad crowd that would get him into conflict with other students—arguments, maybe a fight on or off campus, tough guy showdowns—silly, childish stuff that some young people see as adult behavior.
Well, when Pete showed up at the baseball field to tryout to become a member of the baseball team, neither I nor my assistant-coach-brother was too excited. Here was this student with all this baggage, all this negativity surrounding him, all this trouble. Pete had been dismissed from the football team earlier in the school year, and we just were not excited to see him attempting to join our team. But—when he was with us in those first days, he worked hard, he was totally respectful, he showed a strong desire to be a part of the team, and he wanted to learn. We kept him.
Pete made slow but significant progress after he joined us. He remained a hard working, good citizen while in our presence, and although never a popular student with adults, he became a better citizen in the schoolhouse too.
There came a day in Pete’s junior year when he had advanced to become a player who had some legitimate potential as a member of the varsity baseball team. He was still not a starting player, but was first backup in a couple of positions and was a guy we tried to get into games to get experience that would help him to become a starter in the future. He had paid his dues. He had come a long way.
And then one day—Pete didn’t show up. And he didn’t show up the next day or the next— right in the middle of the season. He disappeared for more than a week; missed three games and three practices. And we never got a call or a message. I marked through his name on the roster; I was done with him.
I was working hard, hitting fungos and instructing and running a highly organized, well-planned practice when I saw Pete in street clothes outside of the 3rd base fence about 30 feet past the 3rd base dugout. How dare he show up at my baseball field after he had missed those practices and those games! How dare he show up and expect me to stop my practice to come see what kind of pitiful excuse he was going to offer. I was young then and thought that I was more important than I really was. I made him wait a good while, and then I stomped over to the fence preparing in my mind all the things I was about to tell him: I took a chance on you; you let me down; you sorry, good-for-nothing; you get off this field; don’t ever let me see you again; bring me your uniform.
But as I was walking over—stomping over—and just about to get to him, I told myself to slow down. Slow down. Listen. Don’t be so quick to make judgment. Instead of all those things I was thinking and preparing to say, I said, a little disgustedly and pointedly, “Pete, tell me what’s goin’ on with you.” And I was quiet. And then with his head down big, full, round tears began to fall—and this tough, physically powerful, supposedly bad guy began to break down.
Pete had had turmoil in his family, and he had been living by himself in a car for those several days. This tough, bad guy was also a 17 year old boy who had a tough family life who dealt with it the best he could. I kept Pete on the team; made him do some penance for missing the games and practices, but I kept him with us; kept him on the team that had become so important to him and gave him as much stability as anything else in his life.
Pete started every game of his senior year. He stood like a granite wall at 3rd base and hit .333 that year. He made some throwing errors, but did a very credible job. He was also about our 5th line pitcher. One day we had to have him—those above him were pitched out—and he won the only game he ever started as a pitcher, and he hit a home run that day. Talk about having a day!
For a few years after he graduated, Pete would make a point to come by the school where I worked at the time. He spoke quietly and would make small talk for a few minutes, and then he would give me a hug.
He would give me a hug.
And he would leave and come back a year later and do the same thing again.
It’s been many years now since I’ve seen Pete. I don’t know if he holds a steady job; I don’t know if he’s married and has any kids; I don’t know if he’s been in any trouble as an adult.
When do we give up on people in this life? When it is okay to give up on people? When would you say it’s okay for your school to give up on people? When would you ever give up on your own children?
I don’t know if that day on the fence changed Pete’s life, but I do know that it changed mine.