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September 26, 2013

Remembering a tough coach who taught valuable lessons

(Continued)

It took one game for us to do it.

Playing at Timberlane, and down a run, I was on first base when my teammate Sean scorched one to the right-center gap. I was the slowest guy on the team. I took off for second, headed into third and got the wave to head home. I glanced back and saw this was going to be a close, real close, play at the plate. If I was fast or anybody else was running, this would have been an easy score.

The relay sailed in, the catcher caught the ball, crouched down and remained motionless for a split second. He was unprotected, no longer wearing a mask. I was chugging as hard as I could. If I slid, it was going to be an easy out. The only other choice (the fun option) was to try and run the catcher over. The kid expected a slide, but it never came. The collision was intense and the impact was perfect — the detonation of one body slamming into another. The catcher’s head snapped back, he flew three feet and landed on his side. As I stepped on home plate and started jogging to the bench I saw our coach jumping, screaming, thoroughly elated. I turned back and saw the ball had popped out of the catcher’s mitt. The umpire, Bill Pike, gave the safe sign. My teammates must have been happy, but I didn’t see what they were doing. Coach was hugging me and slapping my back.

That was his favorite kind of run — intense, risky.

We won a lot of games that hot summer. Coach screamed and we laughed inside. He never stopped battling. It was a good lesson for a 14-year-old: Don’t give up, keep hustling and stay focused. You’re never truly out of any game.

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