It was a frigid day in March, the trees were still recovering from the harsh winter and the streets were lined in slowly melting snow. Hank opened the door and stepped outside, wrapped his scarf tightly around his neck. It was the first day of spring training for the Titans, Hank’s high school baseball team. Man, it is just too cold for this, he thought to himself. It was Hank’s final year at Rock Hill High and he was starting to question whether he had his priorities straight. Baseball took up a lot of his time and since he was looking to head to college straight out of high school and not on a scholarship, he needed to reevaluate the importance of baseball in his life.
As he made his way down the streets toward school he started trying to think about what he really wanted in life. I need to focus more on my school work and study for the SATs. I’m not going to be playing baseball forever. I need to just do it. I need to quit the team. Hank mulled it over on his 2 miles walk to school. When he arrived he had made up his mind.
Walking straight back to the locker room he saw his teammates getting ready. There were old faces greeting him that he had grown quite close to over the last 4 years. There were also some new faces that were freshly beginning their baseball career, so full of hopes and dreams. Hank greeted all of them with a smile and then set his equipment down on the bench. How am I going to break the news to them? Hank thought. Then he let out a deep sigh, whispering under his breath, “coach”. Hank and his coach were very close. Since Hank lost his father when he was only 4 years old, Coach Johnson had been a father figure to him. The last thing he wanted to do was see the disappointment in his eyes.
“Daydreaming already, Hank? Don’t you normally wait until we are on the field to do that?” Mike, the team’s class clown, said jokingly.
“Ha ha ha, very funny, Mike.”
“What has our “Einstein” deep thinking in such profound thought?” Mike asked him in a pseudo-intellectual tone.
“Knock it off, Mike! Not today!” Hank said with an undertone of anger in his voice.
“Alright, man! Relax! What is wrong with you today?” Mike’s body language changed to a more concerned demeanor.
Hank hesitated as he was about to open his mouth and tell Mike what he was thinking. I can’t do it this way; he thought to himself, I have to talk to Coach first.
“It’s nothing, man. Everything is all good. I’m just cold and tired,” Hank replied trying to shrug the whole thing off.
“Alright, brother, well I will see you out on the field. GO TITANS!” Mike practically yelled in his face.
Hank started going through his equipment and picked up his helmet and jersey. He held them in his hands for a few minutes before he started to put them away.
“Hey, son, what’s going on? Not practicing today?” Coach Johnson asked as he walked into the room.
Hank immediately froze. Not even looking up from his bag he replied, “I’m just not feeling well, Coach. I think I’m going to head home.” Hank started packing his items back in the bag in an attempt to avoid any solid eye contact with Coach Johnson. It was a feeble attempt at avoiding the truth.
“Well… you sound fine to me. Why don’t you get suited up and get on out there?” Coach replied.
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to keep the truth from someone like Coach, who he looked up to in so many ways, Hank broke down.
“It’s just… I don’t think I can do this anymore Coach,” Hank spilled out quickly, as if saying it too fast would not allow the Coach to catch it.
“Well, if you need a new uniform or something, son, all-“
“No, no, it is not that,” Hank spoke cutting him off, “the team. I think I am done with the team.”
That last sentence was followed by an awkward silence that seemed to slow time. No one said a word. Hank tried to reach Coach’s face but it was useless, he was just sitting there, appearing to be pondering options, but in silence.
Finally Coach Johnson stood up and said in a commanding tone, “get that uniform on and let’s go.”
“But I just told-…,” Hank started to reply before Coach cut him off.
“I said, get your uniform on and get out on that field. Do you hear me, son?”
This time his voice was louder. The deep rich tones of his voice echoed across the empty locker room and shook Hank to his core.
“Yes, sir,” was all he could muster out.
Hank begrudgingly got dressed and ran out onto the field. His teammates had already started practicing. As soon as he made it to the dugout he heard his Coach yell for him. “Hank, you’re up,” he shouted from the sidelines. “But I just got here! It’s not even my turn yet!” Hank protested.
“It’s your turn when I say it is your turn, now get up there!”
Hank groaned and made his way up to bat. He stepped up to the plate and kicked his shoes against the plate. It has been longer than he liked to admit since he had practiced but it was like riding a bicycle, you never forget. He saw Mike, the pitcher, eye Coach and nod his head. Suddenly, out of nowhere a fast curve ball flew by him. Hank didn’t even have time to react and struck out. Planting his feet on the ground a little firmer he got ready for the second one. Just as the first one did the second one flew by him. Though he tried to hit it this time, he sorely missed. Normally at this point he would be getting heckled by his teammates but no one said a word. The final pitch came through with Hank pulling his bat back as far as he could and perfectly nailing the ball, sending it flying to the outfield. He threw his bat down and ran around the bases as fast as he could; pushed by the fuel of adrenaline and determination. When got back around to home plate it was there he understood. Coach knew him better than he knew himself.
Coach Johnson approached him as he was making his way back to the dugout, his team giving him pats on the back. “Feel better?” he asked.
“Yeah, actually, I do.” Hank replied with a revealing smile.
Coach Johnson knew what Hank needed. He just needed that feeling he got when hitting the ball and running the bases. He needed to remember why he loved baseball in the first place.
“If you need to work around your studies, Hank, we can do that, but don’t give up something you love.” Coach said in a hushed tone.
Hank just nodded his head. He did love it and would have regretted making such a snap decision.
“Now get on back out there, son! We got a practice to do!” Coach commanded him in his normal voice.
“Alright,” Hank said as he started to go into the dugout. He turned around and looked Coach directly in the eye, “Thanks, Coach.”
“Thank you, son,” Coach replied with a small smile and nod of his head.