Saturday, June 28, 2008

Every Step we take

From the moment of birth we take countless steps. The paths go off in  many different directions and will intersect with other paths, but the last step we take brings us all to the same place, our death..

Imagine for a moment that you were living in 1776, and that you walked through a door and found yourself here in 2008! Highways, cities, cars, planes, cell phones, computers,supermarkets, toilets!! You would be overwhelmed by how far we advanced, but not knowing how we came to the way we currently live, much of this could not be fully appreciated.

We must take the steps, as ordinary as that might be.Some directions we choose, and some are chosen for us. Each is with a reason, whether we are meant to understand it or not. The language of Nature has been open to interpretation since man took his first steps.

Now too retrace some of mine.....

Fifteen years ago to this day, I was dressed in a coaches uniform and was surrounded by my team of 13 year olds, waiting for me to deliver a pregame pep talk. "Guys! Look at me". I commanded. I could see their eyes were focused on the opposing pitcher warming up on the mound. I could hear the boys whisper,"look how fast he is throwing the ball". "Yeah," chimed another, "that's Maudy Hernandez, he hasn't lost a game yet!"..."YET!!" exclaimed Bill Riggans,also a Coach of the team. "Even Nolan Ryan loses games...the best pitchers in baseball always lose games, and today is Maudys turn!"

Bills delivery of inspiration was strong and blunt.He insisted that the boys could beat anyone they wanted to with blindfolds on. I was the methodical one, always giving them a plan of attack. I'm certain if we were alive  5,000 years ago, he would have been the one telling David to kick Goliaths butt. I would have been the one to suggest that he aim between the eyes.

Yes, Maudy Hernandez was one of the best players in our park (along with Jeff Keppinger who now plays for the Reds). Opposing coaches were always in unison in admiring their talents and seeing their potential.

The years rolled by,Bill and I coached a few more years together and shared many great times together. All along, his hopes were for his son to play as long as possible. However, his son Shawn, was never given the opportunity to play in any of his High School games. Against all odds, he walked on at College, and against bigger odds, was drafted by Tampa Bay!

Bill and I stayed in touch over the years and  we kept tabs on the boys that played with us and against us. We had lost touch with Maudy Hernandez until  last August, when his face appeared on news. Maudy, a detective was shot in the head while stopping a man who was driving erratically. We were devastaed. We knew him not only as a fine athlete, but as a wonderful, very mature young man,who was humble in his victory. No one minded losing to him. His parents and younger brother were fixtures at the park as they watched every game and attended each of his practices.

Maudy was clinging to life, his prognosis was dark.

A few months passed and Maudy was in the news again, against all odds he survived and was being sent home. It was time to take the long road towards redeveloping his life.

Last year, Shawn suffered a season ending injury and could not play for the Rays.This year, against the odds, he recovered, made the team and is thrilled to be playing for a first place team (this too is against the odds, Tampa has never had a winning season!)

A few days ago the Rays came to town, Shawn called to let me know there would be tickets waiting for me at the Marlin Stadium. As I walked through the stadium, chills ran up and down my spine, recalling the pint sized boy with huge dreams, and how his father insisted he could outmatch each and every Goliath that stood in his path.

Bill was seated, I approached and said "your heart has to busting through your shirt!" He smiled, "I can't believe I am here!" "Well", I continued, "you can strike this off your bucket list". "Bucket List? What's that?"  I asked if he had seen the movie "The Bucket List" and then began giving him a summary and equated us to the two main characters."Oh yeah, well then I might as well cross off seeing Shawn play at the Marlin stadium, but heck, I still have one long list of things before I kick any bucket!"

Just then our conversation was interrupted by the voice over the loudspeaker system. "Ladies and gentlemen, please draw your attention to the mound,throwing out tonights first pitch of the game is Maudy Hernandez".  Bill and I gasped, tears filled our eyes, suddenly being at the stadium that night had nothing to do about Shawn. Maudy dressed in a Marlin shirt raised his arm and fired a strike to the catcher! The stadium rose and gave a standing ovation. Flanked by his parents, Maudy slowly walked off the field . As he was passing the Rays dugout, Shawn Riggans stepped out. Maudy stopped and with a look that his mind was playing tricks he said "Shawn is that you?" Shawn nodded, the two boys embraced, Maudy exclaiming "I can't believe you made it!" and Shawn echoing "I am so happy you made it through!". Shawn, Maudy and his parents chatted for a minute, then exited the field. Just as I was wiping away some straggling tears, the voice came over the loudspeaker once again, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please draw your attention to  first base where tonights honorary Marlin is Hollywood actor and film Director, Rob Reiner!" (He directed "The Bucket List"). I looked up into the night sky and smiled "got it".

  Within moments of that event, a stadium representative appeared in front of us and explained that Maudy and his family would like for us to come up to his box and say hello. Despite the years that had passed, the memories of all were sharp as we recanted the good old days at he park.

If you put meaning in your steps, they are never washed away by the sea of time.

Bill and I returned to our seats and spent the remainder of the game "coaching from the sidelines". "Come on Carl" Bill screamed "This is your pitch-take it deep".  I questioned why Carl why was batting 3rd in the lineup as a matter of fact, I questioned the batting order. Bill said,"Well the Coach is only two rows in front of us, why don't we just walk in the dugout and ask!"  ....and as the ump called "ball four" giving the opposing batter a walk I yelled out, "ball four?..It was right there!" Bill questioned my judgement saying I was too far from the plate and didn't have an angle. "I don't need an angle...I know if I was in the batters box , I would have swung at that pitch!"   The dialogue continued and it felt like we were transported back in time. Retracing years of steps in the course of one night!

The game ended and as we exited, I could not help but muse on how and why I was there that night. How all the steps that I and others have taken would lead us to this moment...a higher moment. A moment where seeing the extraordinary within the ordinary occurs.

Once again I realized the importance of each step we take. "Fast Forward" doesn't work.It would be like falling asleep on Space Shuutle before it takes off and waking up when its landing in Houston!

There is meaning and purpose in everything and every step you take. Should our paths cross we will see each other at level not imagined.

Its a new day...time for another step. May you step with Peace~  Marc