An Old Coach Remembers


I looked out to right field and saw that Tim knew who was at bat and was playing only twenty to twenty-five steps from the right field line. Rocky was also positioned way into right centerfield. Without being told my team had positioned themselves exactly where I wanted them.

Sure enough, on the second pitch the hitter dove in to a pitch and hit a line drive curving toward the right field foul line. Tim took off at a dead run to his left. At the same time the runner broke for third. The other team's third base coach, anticipating the ball falling was waving the runner home.

I watched helplessly as Tim closed on the falling drive. At the last minute, Tim seemed to lurch forward. I hesitated to call it a dive, but the result was the same. Tim was laid out parallel to the ground, his glove stretched out as wide as he could get it. The ball hit in his glove inches above the ground and stuck! Tim had caught the ball. Tim came back to earth landing face first. As he quickly came to his knees facing the foul line, I could see his nose bleeding and his mouth full of sod. Spinning counter clockwise, Tim came around to throw a perfect strike to Jack who made a perfect hop/skip relay to second base completing the double play. Game Over! We Win!

I never saw that though. I was transfixed by the play Tim had just made. As he completed his turn to throw the ball in, all I could see was blood and snot flying as he spun. That and the big mouthful of green grass hanging out his mouth. This was maybe the most spectacular play I had ever witnessed. As I continued to watch, I saw Rocky come charging in from center field. He immediately positioned his six foot 180 lb. frame in front of Tim, a move I realized was made to clean up Tim's face and to give Tim a few moments to compose himself. In case you've never been hit hard in the nose, let me tell you, there will be tears – either from the pain or from the damage to the sinuses. Rocky, God bless him, was giving Tim a moment so he could face his teammates and the rest of the crowd with pride and dignity.

After a moment, Rocky and Tim were jumping up and down like they had just won a championship. Wait a minute – they had! Jack and Robert, our first baseman, reached them first, but the rest of the team was not far behind. I turned to look at the stands and saw Sherry and three other moms trying to climb the fence. They were definitely in "Mommy mode." I smiled, shook my head "no" and indicated the gate six feet away. They abandoned the imposing four foot chain link fence and rushed through the gate. They were only the first as the stands quickly emptied onto the field.

Looking to the top row I saw Mr. Morrison standing, and hollering at the top of his lungs. He saw me and gave me a thumbs up.

After checking to be sure Tim was OK, Sherry came up to me and gave me a big hug, whispering in my ear "Thank you." Her tears were bigger than Tim's. God, I love this game.

A couple of weeks later, we had our awards banquet. This was an opportunity for all the players and their families to get together one last time before the season was officially over. Every player got introduced by his coach and given a framed certificate of appreciation. The top two teams got trophies. We didn't normally give out individual awards, but this year, my team led by Rocky insisted we present Tim an award for the "Most Improved". Unbeknownst to me, someone had saved the bloodstained baseball from the final play of the season. Each of Tim's teammates had signed the ball leaving space for the coaches to sign. Rocky came up to me and asked that I say a few words as I presented the ball to Tim.

So, after recognizing all my young men and giving them their individual trophies, I began: "My boys, and make no mistake, they are MY boys, asked me to make this presentation to one of their own. While I don't normally like to give individual awards to players in a team sport, this one time I agree. Baseball is a team sport and I've said many times – you win as a team, and you lose as a team."

As I uttered that phrase, my boys loudly joined in. I couldn't be more proud. Funny, I must have gotten something in my eye. I had to stop and rub it for a second.

After a moment I continued, "Everyone has something at which they are especially good. In Rocky's case, I fully expect him to accomplish great things in the world of sports. Jack has a great analytical mind and Robert has a special gift when it comes to interacting with people. As they say, he could sell ice cream to Eskimos.

"Tim Conrad is a wonderful violinist, maybe the best I've ever heard. Of course, that's probably not saying much, because until I heard Tim play I thought the best violinist I had ever heard was the guy who played "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". I've since been told that's not violin, that's fiddle playing."

Once the laughter at my expense died down, I went on. "Tim has the ability to make his violin talk to you. It can weep, express indescribable joy or relieve all the tension in your body better than any massage. The first time I heard Tim play, I stood in the wings transfixed. I never knew music could be so riveting."

Looking down at my boys, I saw surprise that I had heard Tim play. "Don't look so surprised, I snuck into orchestra practice, just as I keep in touch with all of you and your activities. You make me proud, each and every one of you. Anyway, Tim's talent is his ability with the violin."

"This year, Tim came out to play baseball, a game to which he had never been exposed. It was a difficult time as he had to learn a new game from scratch, a game that all of you had been playing for years. In addition, he had to meet what was to be his new teammates. He was the outsider trying to prove that he belonged on this team and was deserving of the respect of his teammates. He accomplished that by working hard, never complaining or making excuses.

"Tim, your teammates recognize your efforts and in an effort to show you how much they think of you, they have put together this award which they aptly named "The Award for Most Improved". This is the ball you caught to secure our championship. You can still see your blood on it. It has been signed by the whole team – coaches and teammates."

As Tim came up and accepted his award, I said, "Tim, thank you for being our friend, teammate and of course, my son. We are all very proud of you."

I looked out into the crowd and saw Sherry silently weeping. I was happy for her.


It's now twenty years later. All my boys from that team are now in their early to mid-thirties. Somehow, a bond was formed by the members of that team; a bond that is just as strong today as it was twenty years ago. Individually, they get together several times a year for birthdays, weddings, even a funeral or two. But for the last several years, since Rocky retired (yes, Rocky went on to play pro ball until a knee injury forced him to retire), we all met at his place for a Fourth of July celebration. It is always fun to see each of my boys and catch up on what's going on in their lives.

All my boys have been successful. Included in the group are 2 lawyers, a judge, a doctor, a dentist and a teacher. Three military officers (a colonel, master sergeant and gunnery sergeant), a chief of police, a builder and an owner of a furniture store completed the mix. Oh yeah, we also have the most sought-after violinist in the country.

This year, as the celebration for the Fourth of July approached, I received an invitation from Tim to come to Boston for the Fourth of July performance of the Boston Pops featuring none other than Tim Conrad. Tim had reserved a block of fifty and wanted his whole extended family to be there for him. Needless to say, the whole team was there.

What a gathering. The years seemed to roll away as we caught up and reminisced in the lobby before the performance. I was introduced to new wives and cuddled new babies. I was with my boys and it felt great. Sherry Conrad came up to me, kissed me on the cheek and told me I would be sitting with her.

Finally, we were ushered into the hall and shown our seats. We settled in for what we were sure would be a fantastic performance. We weren't disappointed. They put on a rousing show featuring all the patriotic songs one would expect from a July Fourth show.

Just as we thought we were coming to the end of the show, Tim stepped up to the microphone to thank everyone for coming, especially his family, gesturing toward us with his bow. He said they had two more songs they wanted to perform and would segue from one into the other.

With that Tim went back to his place in front of the orchestra, rosined up his bow and dove right into "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". When Tim recited the line, "My name is Timmy, and I know it may be a sin, but I'll take your bet you son of a bitch because I'm the best there's ever been", our whole group went wild. The emotion spread throughout the whole concert hall. Everyone was out of their seats, waving their arms and singing along. It was a real hoot to see the Boston Pops orchestra in their penguin suits hamming it up as the devil's band.

True to his word, just as the last echoes of the song died down, Tim, alone, began playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". As the song came hauntingly off the strings of his violin, everyone in the hall began singing the words to the greatest song in sports.

However, I've got to say the people in Boston don't know the right words to the song. Everyone knows the proper wording is "root, root, root for the Cubbies..." not "root, root, root for the home team" as they sang it. Oh well, maybe they'll learn when the Cubs win the World Series!

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