They rolled in. At a pace that mortals should not be able...
On a cool, windy spring afternoon, kids are scattered all over a baseball field. They are teenagers, sure. 15, 16, 17, sometimes even 18 years old — but still kids.
And the adults that make an impression on them are not just the coaches they listen to. Other adults are around too — shouting words of encouragement, pleading their case when the kids cannot, and keeping things in perspective before and after a game.
High school basketball and football are filled with myriad faces that blend into bleachers filled with fans. Baseball, though, is more solitary. Memories of baseball parents who were always there from the time I was 8 and 9 years old are etched into my mind as if it was yesterday. While there are very few specific games I remember, I remember the people who were always there.
In high school they were always in one of two places. The first was to the inside of the dugout, behind the on-deck circle. From this vantage point, the view of what was going on behind the plate was clear. Guys who sat here were INTO the game: bringing their own chairs, monitoring balls and strikes, and vocally supporting every player during the game.
The other place where some of the dads often stood was down the line from the dugout. These fence-leaners apparently did not care for sitting at all. They leaned in on the fence — Dave, Tom, Bruce, Steve — just to name a few — matching the vantage point of the players up the line in the dugout, chewing their sunflower seeds and making quiet conversation. My father was always one of these guys.
During my senior year, a sophomore played third base for most of the season. His name was (and still is) Justin. At 15, he was as big as any senior and was a masher. Unlike some of us who never figure out the secret to hitting a ball a LONG way, Justin hit long, towering fly balls that would have gone over any fence except the one at Coast Union High School, which didn’t exist.
And, during that season, there was an addition to the group down the line. I can imagine Justin’s dad, Scooter, leaning over that fence with the others. Some of the fence-leaners were loud and vocal in their encouragement. Scooter was one of the quieter ones. Encouraging everyone in his quiet way. Jeans. Hat. I’m not sure if I’m just imagining the tucked-in polo or if it was actually there.
I am sure, though, that he was there. Every game. Posted up on the fence with the others. Next to Justin and I, who played third base and shortstop together for much of the year. Through every decent play or error that we made, the group was there.
I don’t know how many adults have a realization of the simple impact their presence can make.
I haven’t seen Justin in probably 10 years. When I heard that Wade Rhoades passed away, I didn’t know who that was until they said Scooter. And all I can think about this morning is that group of fence leaners. And how lucky we all were to have them there.