Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Morning thanks--Hector

Once upon a time, when we played Gibbsville, Coach said it would be trouble because they had a pitcher, some Van Stelle kid, who was so big he could eat a bale of hay. I'll never forget the line. It meant he could throw heat, and heat, to a 12-year old kid, was fearfully scary. Coach would say whacky things like that as if out of nowhere, unlike a lot of our fathers, who were more reserved, more, well Calvinistic.

Somehow--I don't know how--I knew he'd actually been a coach, a real high school coach, at some high school somewhere in the state; and I knew that whole gig hadn't worked out. I didn't know how or why exactly, but I knew that Coach had left behind a wife when he'd quit that school and come back home to live and lay brick. He was divorced, which meant, at the time, that he wore something approximate to the awful mark Cain had as he roamed what was once Eden. It was as if he were Catholic, in fact. The man was divorced.

No matter. He knew baseball, and he loved us.

I remember crawling into the back seat of his car and seeing empty beer cans on the floor. It's not that my father didn't like a drink now and then, even grandma--but the back seat chaos, Schlitz cans clanging, made it clear to me that Hector was more than a step beyond a good Christian's comfort zone. He stopped at the bar in the middle of town, too. We knew that. Reguarly, too. He smoked, but then so did just about every other male his age back then.

Once in awhile, he'd cuss--no real blue tirade, just drop a shit in once in awhile in a way I knew my parents wouldn't like.

No matter. He knew baseball, and he loved us.

He was a wonderful, warm-hearted man, a sinner. He'd had more than his share of troubles, some of which, no doubt, he'd probably brought on himself. But he came out every night and threw batting practice. He was a southpaw. He'd run us through some drills. He was the first coach I ever had, and I thought he was absolutely wonderful, and so did all my friends. We were pee wees, the littlest of the little guys, and he was our hero.

Way back then already, sitting in that back seat, those Schlitz cans clanging beneath my feet, I had this uncomfortable feeling that I wasn't supposed to like him. And I knew somehow--age 12--that the world a good deal bigger than the one drawn up in Sunday School. This boozer who was divorced, this guy with the salt tongue, he loved us. And that beat all.

He was, I suppose, in more ways than one, my first coach. Yesterday, as if out of nowhere, he came back into my mind from the third base line of a dusty diamond a half century ago, that scorebook under his arm, his cap pulled over his forehead. For him, and the memory, this morning, I'm thankful.


Laura E said...

I can see him, hear him and see all those beer cans rolling around in the backseat. Great post!

KLomp said...

He was the closest thing we had to major league baseball. We all had respect for him. At the time we may have not forgiven him of his problems, but we overlooked them, because he was COACH. Beer cans or not, we are ALL sinners in the sight of GOD. Thank GOD for HIS SON & GRACE! We can never earn our way to his heaven. NOthing we can do, say or wish can get us there. Only the BLOOD OF JESUS! Thank you Jesus for giving us Hector, and reminding us that none of us are perfect.

Cherie said...

This was beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I remember my first pee wee practice with Hector. I was the oldest kid in my class and had to play with guys who were one year ahead of me in school.

My first practice brought out my biggest fear about playing hardball... getting hit in the head...

Big ole Tommy Daane [who looked like Goliath to me... a guy 4-5 years older than me... probably shaved...]fired one into second base and nailed me square in the melon as I was in my slide. I saw stars and it hurt... I cried.

Hector ran out there and was as gentle as a lamb with me. He called me Trip...tough ole Hector had a soft side that not many experienced but that night I did. He told me I'd be okay and told me to rub the knob the ball left on my aching head... I made it throughthe was a right of passage... I had cried in front of the 'big guys' and Hector made me feel okay about it.