They wave you through the parking
lot, standing in that dusty sun. If youíre nice they let you park closer than
should, if you ask theyíll call it a Dream Job. Theyíre retired, did okay doing
something much more serious and trying. And now here, down South, waiting all
winter for Spring, which starts in Cactus and Grapefruit towns sometime late in
February. You like to think that some of them might have played. Some of them
watched, all of them listened. They work the parking lot but walk with the
swagger of an insider, knowing the players or at very least their cars. Season
after season, players come or they go, the best ones stay or at least the ones
that stay become the favorite ones. These old men, they donít even see the game
from this parking lot. But they listen. They listen like they did when they were
boys. It makes them feel like boys. And here, waving your car around under dusty
sun, or giving you a little grief because youíre leaving early, here, in the
Spring, every one is young.
That boy looks to be about seven so itís impossible for him to know how lucky he is. Not just for missing school, which, when feeling good, is in and of itself pretty lucky, but for being here looking through the window as those old men wave his dad and him around the dusty lot and for being the friend Ė not the son, but the friend - of his father buying a ticket, and sitting beside him near grass and under sun and speaking just like two men would, talking about who to like and whoís looking good, the boy still drawn to names and to numbers and his father drawn to those who attract his son, even when he knows better. But itís Spring, so one never knows.
I never would have guessed Iíd have lost a friend over money and it shocked me only a little less when I lost my centerfielder for the same reason. He said it was other things but after all these years we were close enough to know when he is lying. My pitcher left also, needed a bigger stage, this coincidentally around the time my own youthfulness ran out and I learned the hard way the difference between a colleague and a friend. That pitcher, he stops by the field and says hello to the old men who used to know him or know his car and then he says hello to the mates he left behind. He says he misses them and itís sweet enough but the old men will tell you he could have stayed if heíd wanted to.
Is it ten years since my father died? I watch the sons of the players he once loved. Itís been a while since Iíve forgotten, since I found myself wondering why we havenít spoken or what heíd like for his birthday, years after he was gone. Now I tend to be better at remembering. When he lived I never asked him about the things I want to know now. When he lived I didnít realize he would leave, or what heíd leave me. When he lived Iíd call him after the game and tell him what I saw: No Hitters and Game Sevens and his favorite play, The Triple.
Itís a year of rebuilding. I lost her and I lost him. I lost my outfielder and starter too. But itís Spring and there are new ones, and I tell you, they look Spring good.
And thereís hope and there is you, here now and getting me, getting this. And while my dad is gone heís touching you right now like he touched me, like he taught me to touch you and I feel you standing beside me looking out over that gravel and green and itís easy to believe that this, this: This is going to be better than it ever was.