It’s odd how this life works. People come, people go. Some stay longer than others. Some leave a profound impact on your life. Others you’d swat away like a fly on a hot July afternoon. Sometimes the imprint someone leaves on your life is positive, sometimes it’s not.
I’m one to believe that every person comes into your life for one reason or another. Perhaps not to be long lasting or life shattering in their presence, but yet always a reason for your paths to cross. Every meeting is an experience, something to learn from, and something to value.
I found out last night that my first high school coach passed away the other day. I read the facebook post in shock, tearing up at the news. As I mentioned…. It’s interesting how this life works. I lost touch with Coach years ago. In fact, he was only my coach for one softball season. One. In my whole young adult career of playing the game, one season is a blip on the map. But, not this one.
I was a freshman in high school. I was “pretty good” at the game. I mean, who’s really good in middle school anyway?? I knew I loved to play, and that was enough for me to work hard. But, freshman year forever changed more than just my ability to play the game. I was changed forever.
I knew nothing about high school ball. The season began, and all players of all levels practiced together for the first week of the season. I went to a very small school, and assumed, like all freshman, I’d make JV, play for a year or two, then eventually earn a seat on the Varsity bench. I showed up every day and I practiced.
I learned a lot in that first week. Techniques I never knew. Skills that started to click. It was fun! But, I was one in the crowd, taking it all in. I will never forget the last practice of that week. Coach pulled me aside before announcing line ups. He told me there was a spot open on the Varity team. Short stop. And the job was all mine.
I was blown away. For those of you that don’t follow baseball, short stop is a big deal in the infield. On our team, the short stop “ran” the game. Always had to know the ball count, always had to announce where the next plays were to be made, had to cover second and third, was the one that had to have a loud mouth and communicate encouragement, feedback, moves. The job was all mine. As a freshman.
To say I felt intimidated was an understatement. I was one of two freshman to make the cut. The other was my best bud, a very talented pitcher. I felt I brought much less to the plate than she did (no pun intended). I just worked the infield!
I loved every second of my freshman year softball season. I learned so much about the game… but, more so, I learned so much about myself. You see, Coach just had a way of getting it out of you. He would push and push and shove and get emotional and push some more. People used to say he was crazy, and he probably was. Throwing his arms around, yelling at third base, lecturing the team about getting it together. But, in hindsight, the criticizers are always the people afraid of working hard to see what could come out the other end if they did.
He forced me out of my comfort zone, I think for the first time in my life. He expected more from me. Always more. And he wasn’t afraid to demand it. He coached with passion, with enthusiasm, with such a love for his players and the game. He had goals – State Championship. Keep your eye on the prize. Work, hard, earn your spot, then work harder to keep your spot.
Somedays I hated him. Really hated him. Who was this crazy guy and why was I jumping through hoops for him?? To this day, I’m honestly not sure. I honestly don’t know what separated him from any other coach or teacher, but he got to “me.” Down to the core, he lit me up, drove me to the edge just to show me that it wasn’t the edge at all. Showed me that hard work does, in fact, lead to results. I learned I could dig deep, and just when I felt like I was tapped out, there was more to uncover.
I owe a lot to you, Coach. As a freshman in high school, you unleashed a beast inside of me that has yet to be stopped. You were the one that told me I could do anything. Anything. Just do it. Right now. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. Play the part. Do the work. Results will follow. And they do.
I only got to play for Coach for one season, then I moved and changed schools. But, it was one hell of a year. We made States. I played every game. I was named a top all-state shortstop in New Jersey. I was the MVP of the year.
I was humbled by the experience. If only all young people got to experience the likes of Coach, I imagine the world would be a very different place. In just one short season, just a few months out of my whole life, changed how I approach the world.
Rest in peace, my friend. I hope you know just how many lives you’ve touched, and how yours seemed to end too soon. Till I see you on the other side, I’m going to keep crashing through walls, just like you taught me. You made me a better person – a person that lives passionately. Thank you for showing me who I really am.