Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Back on the Road

“…Goin' places I have never been, places I may never see again...” (Willie Nelson)

Home is again a speck in the rear view mirror. This journey begins in the dark of a foggy April morning when the dew is heavy and a chill is still in the air. It is an equivocal time, one to balance leaving the warm place of last night for the uncertainty of today, tomorrow and the months to come.

I do not know what this journey will be. The first time, years and one hundred thousand miles ago, I thought I knew. I was wrong then and I have been wrong every time since. I have learned to take an open mind and to care only about what may be around the next bend. It is a discovery. I know that I will find the world old, new, fresh, wondrous, funny, sad, and absurd in the months ahead. I am looking forward to that.

As La Coachasita heads for the desert and first light, it is a peaceful time. I do not worry about what I may need and left behind or what may be ahead. There will be, if life runs true, some very good things, some boredom, and some uncomfortable moments. Aviators say about flying that it is hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror. I would like this trip to have only moments of boredom, interspersed hours of wonder, humor, and peace.

I am content to follow the slower traffic down the Interstate before leaving it to head east in the first light. I listen to the comfortable female radio voice that has wakened me for years now. I will not hear her and will miss her tomorrow. I always do. She is familiar, made mysterious by that voice and because she never mentions her name in these early hours. I always hope she will be there when I get back.

There is a world of possibilities waiting. I will see people I have never seen, others I have not recently, and family I want to see before they are too old to remember me, or I am gone and they are not. I wish to see the children, to enjoy them while they are not yet too old to be nearly always joyful. I am without a schedule as are they. We have a lot in common, the small ones and me. I know I will enjoy the trip if the same sense of wonder that they greet the world with is with me.

There are really two parts to this journey. I am out here alone now experiencing what the world may offer. There will be stretches of weeks such as this first when I will speak to not one person I know or have ever met before. Others will be with friends and family that will move and amuse me but will not be new. I look forward to them, too . What they think and feel now is different from what they thought and felt when we last met. It is a time to learn how they have grown, or not, and changed, or not. I will try to schedule my way into their busy lives when they can best be interrupted, for only the children and I have time and flexibility on our side.

I am pleased to be going, which means what is out there draws me more than the force that would hold me here still. I hope I will have the same enthusiasm for it, and the desire to chronicle it, when it ends as it begins.

As the sun rises and I turn east to face it, I move toward unmet people and unseen places. If history is the measure it will be, as the other trips, new experiences in places I have not been and may not ever be again.

As the others then, it will be a memory forever.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Prayer for Jim Adenhart

Outside the main entrance of Angel’s baseball stadium in Anaheim California, there is a brick replica of a pitching mound. It is built to the exact height and diameter the real one inside so the children may stand on it and dream. Last night it served as a memorial for the fans that gathered for the game that would not be played.

The previous night, at 7:05 PM, a young man last seen laboring in Tempe Arizona in the Valley of the Sun, strode with a confidence that belied his 22 years of age and his two months of major league experience onto the real pitcher’s mound inside the stadium. Over the next two hours, he pitched. In the end he would throw six shutout innings, leave with a lead, and win a major league game. It had taken him five years of arm rehabilitation to reach this night. While he had had what they call in the Major Leagues “a cup of coffee” with the team last year and been awarded a win, this was the night he proved he belonged here. He was so certain after his successful spring that “something special would happen,” he had talked his father Jim into flying in from Maryland to watch his first start of the new season. He left the game with that special glow of a winner, of a man who had worked hard to reach this place and now had tasted the sweetness of his dream. For all those years he had one hope and now he appeared to achieve it. He was going to be an important part of this Major League Baseball team.

At 3 AM the next morning, Jim Adenhart received the call. The young man that he had raised, loved, hoped, and prayed for, who had just touched the face of his dream was dead.

Nick Adenhart was raised in Maryland. He was the National High School Player of the Year when he was 18 years old and his life could not have been better when he heard something pop in his elbow during a playoff game. The pain that followed was both physical and mental. He saw the dream slipping away. Yet rather than accept that, he wanted to have his arm surgically repaired and, with his 3.2 GPA, was prepared to go to college and prove that he could still throw a baseball as he had before. He would no longer be the first player chosen in that year’s player draft and sign for a very large bonus, but to Nick that was okay. He would prove to them he still knew how to pitch in college and they would have to recognize his talent then.

The scout for the mid Atlantic Region of the Los Angeles Angels Baseball Club didn’t give up on Nick. He convinced the team to take him in a late round and Nick to rehabilitate under the team’s supervision instead of going to college. That began a five-year odyssey for through the Arizona Developmental League. He arm became strong as he worked those hard long days in the shadows hoping that one day he would be better than just “good enough to dream.” On April 8, 2009 he proved he was. In the late night hours of April 9, while riding with friends to a celebration of that fact, he passed through an intersection nine miles from the mound on which he had proven himself. The light was green and all was right with the world until a minivan ran the red light at an estimated sixty miles an hour.

Two hours later, Jim learned from the doctors that nothing more could be done for his son. He left the hospital. He went to the stadium which the team unlocked for him. He went to the clubhouse, sat in front of his son’s locker, and cried for an hour in perhaps the first of many private memorial services.

He returned eight hours later and met with the team as he had requested to thank them for being so kind to his boy, thanking the veteran players who had befriended him, the rookies with whom he had labored, the manager who had given him his chance, and the scout who had believed in him. The clubhouse attendant gave him the team jersey his son had worked those long hard five years to earn and had worn the night before.

When he was done, he went out on the empty field where the flags were now at half-mast. On this warm April afternoon he walked slowly to the mound and stood where his son had less than 24 hours before, looked up and then all around, heaved a sigh and walked to the tunnel to take Nick home.

No one will ever know how good a pitcher Nick Adenhart might have become. Yet he had one moment when he knew in all his youthful certainty that his five long years of hard work when no one knew his name had made him good enough to embrace his dream.

In your prayer to your personal God for Jim Adenhart, ask that he find that enough.