Somtimes life takes funny little twists and turns that you suspect are more providential than they are coincidental. Last summer that happened to us in a true incident involving our oldest son, Kyle. The story follows:
I squint out toward the on-deck circle through the chain-link backstop. Kyle looks confident. He taps his cleats with the bat. I size up the new pitcher. He’s a good pitcher but Kyle can hit him. I hope he does.
The Utica coach hollers out to the mound in a voice you only use with your own children. Must be his son. I read the name on his shirt; “O’Hara”. It’s a familiar name but I can’t quite place it.
The coach paces his dugout like a caged lion. O’Hara is turning up the heat on his boy, “Blow it by him Randy! Come on, throw hard!” I smile. Kyle likes fastballs. “You got better stuff than that!” he belches out. The pressure is too much for the boy. He walks Joey.
I hear my son’s name over the PA. “Kyle Pierpont at bat.” He strides to the plate and digs in. He takes a couple practice cuts ending each swing with the end of the bat pointing at the pitcher. He looks out evenly toward the mound, not mean but sober, just like I taught him. O’Hara’s kid stares back. The stubby coach growls at his boy; “Come on Randy, you got a guy on first. Lets turn two and go home.”
We’re down a run in the bottom of the ninth with one away. A hit here keeps us alive in the tournament. A win sends the Utica All Stars home until next year. “This kid can’t hit ya’ Randy,” he yells, “Put it to him, Put it to him!”
Then I recognize the coach’s voice. It’s been a very long time. 1972. The Utica Jr. High locker room. This guy is slamming a fella’ half his size over and over into a bank of lockers. “Don’t ever touch my shoulder pads again. You hear me? You hear me?.” Every other word a profanity, he spits the words into the guys face. I’m new. I try to keep a low profile. I don’t want to cross this gorilla. It’s too late. O’Hara sees me. “Look,” he shouts, crossing the room toward me, “nobody touches my stuff, ever, you got that?” “Sure”, I mumble hating myself for not being able to stand up to him like John Wayne. I’m 110, he’s at least 200. I have the profile of a P.O.W. His muscles have muscles. My ears are red and I try to keep the other guys from noticing that my hands are shaking.
The pitcher’s dad is the same Gary O’Hara, Junior High thug. He had a full beard when he was still in the seventh grade. He had a foul mouth and a matching odor. He was a one-man mafia. I can’t believe how small he looks today. He towered over me then. He brutally bullied me every time he caught me without adult protection. The guy terrorized my entire seventh grade year. I never left the house without fearing I would run into him. I was relieved when our family moved from the area.
I’ve thought about O’Hara often in the last couple decades. I always tried not to feel resentful about the way he bullied me. There must have been reasons for his bellicose behavior. I forgave him and in my heart I wished him well, but I figured he was probably in the State “Pen” by now.
In a funny twist of fate my boy faces his boy. O’Hara calls time and goes out to the mound. He asks for a new ball. His boy turns from side to side. O’Hara moves back and forth in front of him staying in his face. The kid nods at his dad. Apparently satisfied he turns and shuffles back to his cage. The kid adjusts his cap, takes the sign, and goes into his wind-up. Kyle likes to hit the first pitch. He crowds the plate. The ball comes in low and kicks up dirt in front of the catcher. Joey starts toward second. The catcher throws off his mask and dares him. Joey’s back. The kid gets back on the rubber and readies to throw. “Blow it past him Randy, he’s not a hitter, he’s a looker,” O’Hara yells.
I think of what it took to make Kyle a hitter. One hundred pitches a day using the barn for a backstop. That old pain in my elbow. All the little brothers and sisters shaggin’ balls out in the bean field. A wheelbarrow full of quarters at the batting cage. Those interminable T-ball games when he was little. Working out in the snow when spring was late making up its mind.
Suddenly, he solid “thoink” of the bat hitting the ball brings me back to the game. A line-drive, the ball rockets into right center and ricochets off the wall. They throw to the plate but Joey scores. Kyle comes into second standing up. Adjusting his helmet he turns and looks to me. A little smile crosses his face. Kyle goes to third on a passed ball and scores the winning run on a sacrifice fly.
I don’t resent O’Hara. I feel no bitterness or hostility toward him. I haven’t for years. But while I walk to the car with my hand on Kyle’s shoulder I think how nice it would be if all injustices worked themselves out like this one.