Thursday, May 24, 2012

Losing Lake

We all know that none of us is promised a tomorrow. But sometimes we get so caught up in living life that we fail to appreciate what a gift it really is. We take our days for granted until something calls our attention to it. The Bobcat family got one of those wake-up calls on Monday.

The news reached me in a text message. Coach Lake had been in a motorcycle accident early that morning, and he had died. Just like that. One minute everything was fine, and the next, I'm feeling tears burning my eyes as I stare at the words. It's hard to know what to think much less find words for such a tragic loss.

Billy Lake has been a volunteer assistant coach at Woodland for three years. Anyone associated with small schools knows how vital volunteers are to their athletic programs. Lake was no exception. Woodland's coaches work long hours on and off the field. They sacrifice much of their time to preparation, practice, field maintainence. Few truly understand how much they do. Not one of them is compensated adequately for his work, but some, like Lake, give their time and talents asking nothing in return.

Coach Bailey spoke of Coach Lake saying that he was an integral part of "what we do". Lake wasn't always the most vocal of the staff during film or planning, but when he did contribute, he was always right on. The position players he coached got to know him well and respected him greatly. He loved the team and the game. And we was happy to be a part of it.

The thing that stands out in my mind is his presence on the sideline during games. The atmosphere is tense. And the coaches are working. There's so much to do, so much at stake. And you can see it on the coaches' faces. Not that Lake was any less intense, but one thing made him stand apart from the others. It was the smile he wore, stretching from ear to ear. Because no matter what was on the line or how outmatched we were, Coach Lake never lost sight of what a blessing it was to be there. He enjoyed those Friday nights. That staff and those players, they were like family to him. Not like family...they were family. And that family is left grieving the loss of one of their own.

All baseball season, Coach Bailey talked with the guys about making the most of life's opportunities, of enjoying every minute on that field. Because you just never know which time will be your last time out there. Losing Lake reminds us of just how true that is.

Time waits for no man and the Bobcats will move forward. Summer workouts will start soon and the 2012 season will be here before we know it. It will be tough for the players and coaches. They will lean on each other. They will do what families do and help each other through this difficult time. Coach Lake will be greatly missed. No doubt his absence will be felt by everyone as the team takes the field this fall. And with heavy hearts, those guys will play their hearts out, because that's what they do.

Honor Coach Billy Lake by spending your time doing what you love with the people you love. Live every day like it's your last. Never take tomorrow for granted. And smile.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Bigger Man


That's how many times  Devin was hit by a pitch during the 2010 baseball season. That's right. Seventeen. It was enough to make him forego the 2011 season, waiting for the pitchers to get one year older and hopefully gain some control of their pitches. Not a bad idea.

Devin has been working extremely hard this year and has really been enjoying baseball. He's learning so much about the game and about himself. Saturday, he learned a  valuable lesson. And, I learned something about him. 

We were about halfway through a tough game with a pretty good team. Down 3-2, the tying run crosses the plate on a close play. The umpire calls "Safe!". Immediately, the fans (or a fan) from the opposing team start insisting that the runner never touched home plate. In response, the umpire places his foot firmly in the center of the plate, as the runner had done, to show that he had, in fact, touched the plate. This wasn't the first complaint from the visitors' side. Far from it. Despite the challenges and arguments, the runner was called safe. And, number 22 was up to bat. 

Devin steps into the batter's box, taps the bat on the plate like he does every time, and gets ready for the pitch. Only, it's not really a pitch. The kid on the mound rares back, lets the ball go, and throws it right at the batter. Devin tried to move, but he could not get out of the way fast enough. Number eighteen caught him right on the wrist, hard. He's shaken up, but he takes his base. The next thing we know, two men from the visiting side are going at it. After exchanging words, one of the men and his wife move to Woodland's side to watch the rest of the game. 

I was worried how being hit by the pitch would effect Devin. He'd fought through his fear of being hit all season. He's handled it well, not running out of the box every time a pitch comes inside. I was afraid that this would bring back those memories of the 17 other times he's been hit. I wouldn't have to wait long to find out, though. In the 5th inning, Devin is up again. He stepped right up to that plate and hit the first pitch right back at the pitcher. The pitcher couldn't get to it fast enough, and by the time the shortstop fielded the ball, Devin was standing on first. He could have been scared. He could have been nervous. But, he stepped up to the plate like a man. Good for you, Devin.

After the game, a woman from the other team caught Devin as he was heading out with his team to hear what the coach had to say. She wanted to apologize. Choking back tears, she struggled to get these words out, "I'm sorry you got hit, and I'm proud of you for staying in there. And, I want you to know that we're not all like that. Most of us would never want to see a player get hit on purpose like that. I'm so sorry."

On purpose? What? I talked with the couple and found out that the reason they had moved to our side, the reason the two dads were arguing, was because the pitcher's dad told him to hit the next batter in retaliation for the bad call at home plate. These parents were very frustrated and upset. They hoped baseball would help teach character. What that pitcher did, what his father wanted...that isn't what 11/12 baseball is about. You don't purposely hit a batter for no reason in any league. I can't even wrap my mind around what would make someone think that was okay.

Devin asked his dad why the pitcher would do that. And Coach explained that he never should have, that it was wrong. And he told him that what that pitcher did didn't mean anything compared to what Devin did when he got back in that box on his next at bat. Even if he'd struck out swinging, he would have been proud. But, Coach told him, the fact that he went to that plate and swung that bat without fear or hesitation showed what he was made of. He's going to be alright. And so is the kid whose parents stood up for what's right. Sadly, I can't say that about the pitcher. 

Again, I've been reminded how important sports can be for teaching our children things like integrity and how to deal with adversity and so many other things. They learn what to do and, sometimes, what not to do. They learn what they're made of. And we see it too.