Over the summer while playing a home baseball game, I was chatting with one of the umpires while the grounds crew was getting the field ready for play after a brief rain shower.
This guy was a throw-back; an old school guy who looked like he lives life with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. His face was weathered with deep wrinkles from years in the sun. His character, which didn't take but more than 10 seconds to discern, was a direct reflection of his appearance--rough and to the point. He was probably 60 or 65 but looked easily twenty years older.
His words were hidden with insight from an "everyone can kiss my ass" point of view. Each thought was beautifully ochestrated with an incredibly abrasive tone that made you wonder how he could hold a job. The topic didn't deviate too much from baseball,. Yet, like a carwreck on the roadside, his words sucked you in. I just stood and listended. Granted, it might have all been a show but it didn't matter. It was great entertainment as I passed the time until the start of the game.
Just when it seemed as though the conversation was getting dull, he drops this bomb on me as he walks away:
"...When ever you're ready coach, give me your lineup?"
My throat immediately sunk into my stomach.
What the hell did he say? Did I hear the word "coach" in there somewhere?
My dad was a coach not me. Nothing against my dad or coaches but I wasn't a coach.
This guy really had no idea that I was a player. His gruff nature wasn't a show; the oldtimer ump just plain didn't give a damn. Didn't he remember that I had three hits in the first game and pitched two innings...the game that he was "UMPIRING" behind the plate?
Needless to say, I was pissed. I promptly went oh for four with two strikeouts in the second game due to his slander. Although his intension wasn't to berate me, the fact that he referred to me as "coach", while having some merit, was very unsettling. As far as I was concerned, the word was in lights above my head for everyone to see! I felt like an aged Connie Mack standing on the top step of the dugout after managing for 50 years. The whole concept really bothered me.
It didn't hit me until later that day that maybe this guy was onto something. Was I getting too old, too slow to play at this level? I still contribute and my hitting is fairly consistant.
It finally hit me while driving a few nights later from another game. I really wasn't having as much fun as I used to. Maybe it was the fact that I didn't play well the game before. Maybe this will pass and I'll feel different tomorrow. No, this is more than that. I couldn't concentrate on the game like I could in the past. Fastballs seem a bit faster. I wasn't as fluid on my feet. The game itself was speeding up because my reactions are slowing down. Maybe the title of "coach"DID fit me more than "PLAYER".
All of these thoughts raced through my mind on that drive home. Yet my conclusion remained the same.
So after 28 summers playing baseball counting high school and college, its time to walk away.
My wife asked me if I was sure? She kept telling me that I didn't have to quit. I told her that this season would be my last; my decision wouldn't change. It was final.
My son will be four next summer. Tee-ball is around the corner for him. Its time to be the dad that teaching young kids how to hit and field ground balls. I still have the first picture of my dad coaching me in my first year in tee-ball. I can't wait for my first picture with my son during his first year playing ball.
Will coaching take some getting used to? Sure.
The feeling you get after getting a basehit up-the-middle on a 0-2 fastball middle-of-the-plate-in, off of the meat of the bat when the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth is something that you only experience a few times and you NEVER forget it. Coaching my son will feel like same experience only it'll happen each day.
All it took was one word for me to realize that it was time to move on and it came from a grizzled umpire who smokes two packs a day: