Friday, July 22, 2011

An 11-Year-Old's Profile in Courage

It is a good collection of boys, my son Sid's Midway Stealth baseball team. Two nights ago, they lost a tough playoff game after winning their previous two. It was a season of wins and losses on the field, in the life of the team and in the lives of our families.

The biggest victory came with the biggest loss for one of Sid's teammates. It was an unparalleled profile in courage, not just for him but for all the boys.

I don't know how many times I have watched a sports telecast to hear how one of the participating athletes had recently gone through a terrible loss, loss of a parent, sibling, someone close. Commentators talk about the bravery of the athlete, how they fight through the pain and grief and continue to perform, to live. We feel for those women and men. The stories help us appreciate and admire them. At these times, we are reminded of the important things in life, that we are witnessing humanity even as we enjoy what is “only a game.”

Still, most of these athletes are, while relatively young, are not children. Sid's teammate, Patrick is 11. In the middle of the season, Patrick lost his dad to a long battle with cancer. Patrick is winning his battle with courage.

Patrick had been missing from games and practice for weeks. He was along for his father's trips across the country to visit important people in his life, saying his last good-byes.

Like a lot of us, Russ Connors shared baseball with his son, Patrick, as an act of love. We show our sons and daughters that this baseball love is about so many things of life, not just learning how to win, how to lose, or even being good at the game. It's about more than fun. It is about a list of things that is too long to share in one sitting, in one life time. It is about things that are too big for an 11-year-old to understand and bigger than many of us grownups want to contemplate.

When someone dies, someone close to us, even as adults, we are often at a loss for what to do with ourselves—with others. Somehow, as parents, we want to be able to prepare our children to do what we have trouble doing ourselves—hopefully before we pass. We want our kids to be a little braver and on a path that is more mature than the one we strode. Credit Russ, because at age 11, Patrick learned enough of this lesson in love, love for a game, but more love for his father, that on the day of his father's death, he knew what he was supposed to do.

That evening, under a solid gray overcast sky, Patrick, in full uniform stepped out of the car of a family friend, who met a couple of the coaches to formally and gently deliver Patrick and some important pieces of the story of the day.

The stories were shared with us by family friends, while Patrick and the other boys took their warm-up cuts in the batting cage and did their drills on the field. We learned about the time that Patrick spent with his dad in the last days. We learned about how they shared baseball. We learned enough to know why, even on what is likely the hardest day of his life, Patrick was playing baseball.

We are told that Patrick said, “This is where my dad would want me to be." There was little question of that. It was the place for him to be, for him, his dad, his teammates and all of us who needed that life lesson.

The Midway Stealth won that evening's game with Patrick closing out the game on the mound, pitching a great inning of relief.

After the game, coach Jay, brought the boys out to right field, as he does after each game. I don't know much of what he said. What he and coaches Allen and Jason have said in those team meetings over the course of the season has produced some lessons for the boys in how to be the important young men they have been for each other throughout the season. What he said definitely prepared the boys to be there for Patrick that night and beyond.

Days later, coach Jay organized a team presence at Russ' visitation, with the team attending together in their game jerseys. After, the coaches took them all to Dairy Queen, a due summer salve and just reward for stepping up on a difficult day—because just as life and baseball are important, treating ourselves along the way is, too.

Russ said, “Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. To live without love or joy or meaning or hope would be the far greater tragedy. And there’s the faith in resurrection to which Christians can confidently rely on.”

I think Patrick worked out some of that resurrection the night of the game. That night, he played in honor of is dad. His teammates played in honor of Patrick. The team played the rest of the season with an “RC” on their hats.

This story has made me cry only a few times. Just a few. It has made me quite proud of my son and a group of boys with whom he shared a great season of baseball. And this is one of the reasons why baseball is important. 



Joe said...

You have captured so very well the feelings, the courage, the honor that I saw another young man and his teammates exhibit. Well said - evidenced by my sitting in my cubicle, blinking back tears.

Clarence said...

I'd like to lean over your cubical wall and saying thanks.

Dangerous Linda said...

beautiful story and presentation. thank you, clarence.

Eileen McGunagle said...

I am Russ's niece and Patrick's cousin.
Thank you so, so much for this beautiful story.

marilyn cahalan said...

Thank you Clarence for the wonderful tribute to Patrick and Russ. I'm Patrick's aunt from Indiana and was able to stay with their family until last Monday. I saw you and Sid at several practices and games. I'd say Sid is lucky to have such a involved and insightful dad, too.

Clarence said...

Eileen and Marilyn,

Thanks for sharing. Glad I got the chance to know and share this great story.

If you know others who wanted to comment on this, they can go to the other site, There are also other baseball stories that I think Russ would have appreciated, (select "Baseball" on the drop-down menu of Categories.)

Jay said...

One week prior to Russ Connors passing, we had a team meeting. In the middle of right field on a beat up baseball diamond, we all sat in a circle to discuss where are team was at.
P.C. (as we affectionately call Patrick) was not there. He was on vacation with his family. The discussion was, “we are a good team, but we are not playing like a good team… we are not playing as a team.”
Everybody in the league knew we were the team to beat, but the results of our previous games were not indicative of that. I told the kids that to play as a team we need to be there for one another. We need to applaud things that go right and support teammates when we make errors. We need to encourage one another and lead by example. If you were watching from a distance you would have though we were a bunch of bobbleheads as the kids nodded after everything I said. The mood got quite a bit somber when I began to discuss Patrick’s situation. Many of the kids did not know what was happening and probably thought that Patrick was missing from so many practices because baseball was not his game... so far from the truth! I told them, Patrick’s dad had terminal cancer and may not make it through this season. Many of kids’ mouths draped open in disbelief. I told them that Patrick is going to need his teammates to rally behind him. This is what a team is about. We went on to talk about what we can do to help Patrick. At the end of the conversation, I recall “Hammer” stating. “Coach, today is the day that we come together as a team.” The team unanimously agreed. We went on to win 6 games in a row. We fell short in the playoffs, but not as a team. I am very proud of the boys on our team. They have raised the bar on what to expect of a baseball player, a teammate, and most importantly a friend.

Coach Jay.

Sara Merz said...

You made me cry! Touching.