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The visiting team was ahead 2 to 1. It was the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and runners on second and third. The count of 0-2 put the batter in the hole. He was one strike away from ending the home teams run in the playoffs. Their catcher called time and went out to talk to his pitcher.
"C'mon Sammy focus," I yelled encouragement to the batter from my coach's position on the third base line.
The youngster stepped out of the batter's box, turned and smiled at me. He nodded his head and took a few practice swings waiting for the catcher to return to his position behind the plate.
That smile is just like his mother's, I thought. She could say more with a smile than a lot of people could with words. Sammy's smile showed he appreciated my encouragement and understood my instructions; it also showed his confidence. He turned and gave the pitcher a smile and this one challenged the pitcher. It said do your best but it still won't be good enough.
I could read Sammy's smiles and recognized his mother in him because Sammy Gerard is my son. My daughter Maggie is in the stands cheering for her younger brother; she never lets him forget that she is the oldest.
My son feels he's too old to be called Sammy; he prefers Sam or Jr. He may be right. Sam Jr. at 15 is just two inches short of my 6' 4. He has my dark hair and blue eyes but his smile is his mother's. Sammy hasn't filled out yet but he'll match my 225 pounds when he gets his full growth.
Maggie, who at 16 prefers to be called Margaret, is tall for a young woman at 5' 10. But she takes after her mother with light brown, almost blond hair and big brown eyes. Margaret also has her mother's slender but athletic build. Like her brother she also plays ball, both softball and volley ball and we'll be at one of her games tomorrow afternoon.
Their mother, my wife Carol, is not in the stands. In fact I don't know where she is. She left us. I came home from work one day and found the kids with my mother, watching cartoons in the family room. Mom quietly pointed to a note from Carol propped up on the breakfast bar that separates the kitchen from the family room.
The note read:
I'm sorry but I can't take it anymore. You and the kids are turning me into an old married woman. That's not what I signed up for. I'm only 35 for Christ's sake. I can't and won't be made into a soccer mom.
There is a signed and notarized divorce decree on the night stand beside the bed. There is also a signed power of attorney giving you my half of the house. I've taken the savings and checking accounts, my clothes and my car. The equity in the house should be worth a lot more than that. Those things and out of this prison of a marriage are all I want.
One last thing, you're a good man. We had fun going to parties and taking trips before the kids came. Then you wanted me to become a stay at home wife and a mother. That isn't me. I have to have excitement and adventures.
Don't come looking for me. Even if you found me there's nothing you can say or do to change my mind.
Mom told me, "She called and told me she was leaving and someone had better come over and watch the children. When I got here Maggie and Sam were eating cookies and watching TV; Carol had already left."
Mom's face was red with her anger. She tried and almost succeeded in keeping her voice calm. "What in the world was she thinking leaving two little ones alone?"
My Mom and Dad had tried to be friendly to Carol and welcome her into the family when we got married. But I could tell they weren't real happy with my choice of a wife. I knew their feelings because Dad warned me just two weeks before our wedding.
You see Carol had a reputation when we met as a, well as the English call it, the village bike. Anyone could ride if they bought her dinner and a few drinks. Sometimes dinner wasn't necessary. But after our first date she changed. They village bike had retired and I was the only one riding.
About six months after we started dating Carol told me she was 2 ½ months pregnant. My Dad suggested I have a paternity test done to make sure I was the father. "After all, celibacy hasn't been one of Carol's strong suits," he said.
In the twelfth week the test proved that I was the father of Carol's baby. I was in love with her so marriage was the next step. Our daughter Maggie was born and was perfect. A year later Sam Jr. came along and I thought Carol was happy with our family for six years. Then she changed almost overnight.
I'd noticed that Carol didn't seem happy for the last month or so but she refused to talk about it when I asked her what was wrong. About three months earlier she had started going out one night a week with women from where she worked. That's when she became unhappy. I found after the fact that it wasn't just the girls from work she was meeting.
We never heard from Carol again. The first year was the toughest. How do you explain to children that are 5 and 6 that their mother doesn't want anything to do with them. There were many nights that I had two little bodies snuggled up to me in bed. They knew their mother was gone and were afraid that I would disappear too.
It took a couple of months but I finally convinced them that no matter what I would always come home to them. No matter what, I would always be there with them. Soon they were able to sleep in their own beds without nightmares; or at least not too many of them.
I've taken care of Maggie and Sammy for the last 10 years with help from my mother. My social life, what little there was of it, was put on permanent hold. Taking care of my children was more important than my love life.
Now at 16 and the woman of the house Maggie made it a point and Sammy backed her up, to tell me I should date. Or "get a life" as she says. Maybe they're right, now with them almost grown I can begin to think of myself a little.
The crack of the bat pulled me out of reminiscing about the past. Looking up I saw Sammy's hit rocket into the outfield. The line drive seemed to have eyes as it hit the gap in right center field and rolled all the way to the fence.
The two base runners scurried home scoring the tying and winning runs. Sammy stopped at second base with a walk off double to win the game. The boys ran toward Sammy and mobbed him as he trotted toward home plate. After celebrating for several minutes the team lined up single file to shake or slap hands with the losers.
As the two teams filed by each other a chorus of "good game or nice game and even a few good lucks" passed between them. I smiled as I walked over to the opposing coach and shook hands. Right now Sammy was a home town hero. Every boy, hell every man, should feel that happiness, that glory, and that sense of achievement at least once in his life.
I gathered up the team's equipment and started to cart it to my Ford Expedition; it would take at least two trips to stow the gear. Much quicker than I expected Sammy came to help me carry the loads. I smiled at him and couldn't help myself; I pulled him into a hug. "Good job son. I'm proud of you," I told him.
He hugged me back for a few seconds and then stepped away embarrassed as only a 15 year old boy can be.
"Dad, I'm too old for that," he protested with a smile on his face.
"You're not too old for me to hug you," Maggie said as she grabbed him. She kissed his cheek and giggled when he wiped the kiss off.
"Hey Dad, do you think we can give Justin and his sister, Beth, a ride home?" Sammy asked and then continued very fast without waiting for my answer the way boys will do. "Their mother was supposed to be at the game but she didn't make it. They've got money for a bus or taxi but they'll miss the ice cream if they have to go right home. They only live about a mile or two from us."
Sammy waited for my decision with an expectant look. Justin Reynolds was one of the boys on the team I coached. He played center field and was a nice young man about Sammy's age. I hadn't met his sister but had seen her at the games cheering for her brother.
"Sure, not a problem," I replied. "Go get them. We'll meet the team at the Dairy Queen and then give them a lift home."
I had started a tradition when I became the coach of the team. After every game, win or lose, I would treat the boys and their parents if they wanted to come to an ice cream feast at the Dairy Queen. It was a way to reward the boys for their hard work and dedication. Sammy ran off to gather up Justin and Beth.
I could afford the cost of ice cream a lot easier than some of the parents. The kids on the team were all from working class families who sometimes found it hard just too met life's needs. Most of the parents, men and women, worked to make a good life for their family.
Being the owner of several, 5 to be exact, auto parts stores in our city, I was a little better off than most of the parents. I wasn't rich but I was more than comfortable. Ergo my sponsoring the team and footing the bill for the after game ice cream. I also made sure there was bottled water and Gatorade at all of the practices and games.
Maggie stepped closer to me. "Their mother probably didn't show up because she's having trouble with their father," she informed me. At my questioning look she said," Their parents are divorced but their father sometimes comes around causing trouble. I bet that's what happened this time."
.... There is more of this story ...