The Coach only knew one of the forty-eight kids in the park commission summer baseball draft. With his first pick, he drafted that one kid, and then started drafting by shirt size because that’s what he was told to do by another coach in the room. A couple rounds later, the Coach drafted a Kid (shirt size Large) when all of the other coaches in the room started hooting and hollering.
“That’s the best kid in the league,” they said. “He was absolutely dominant two years ago in Boo Boys,” they said. Great, the Coach thought. Why didn’t you draft him? How good was this Kid?
Two weeks later, every player had been to practice except for the Kid. Night after night, the Coach would call the Kid, and after a few minutes, the Kid would promise to be at practice the next day. But nothing ever changed. No Kid. The Coach asked the team about him every day, and they just shook their heads.
One of his other players pulled the Coach aside one day after practice and whispered, “You know, he don’t come to practice ‘cause he don’t have a ride. His mom is working, and I ain’t never seen his dad. He ain’t gonna tell you that, but that’s the reason. He prolly don’t think anyone wants to come get him.”
The Coach called the Kid that night and told him he would pick him up the next day. At 4:45, the Coach drove across town, pulled into a strange driveway, knocked on the front door, and out walked his newest player, The Kid was bigger than the Coach, and the two shared a half-hearted handshake.
The Kid was dominant. He was easily the best player on the team, if not the entire league. The Coach picked up the Kid every day for practice or games, and brought him home afterwards. The two of them were quite a sight — one, a 25 year old white man and the other, a 17 year old black kid. The Kid rarely said a word to anyone, but the Coach was determined to make him talk. The Kid was hesitant initially, yet after a week or two, he began to speak. It might have been a talk about nothing, but it meant everything to the Coach. A friendship, or at least something more than a taxi service, was forming.
For three months, the two of them rode together and talked. They laughed sometimes, and other times, they complained about the game or the umpire or the weather. But mostly they were just together. Finally, the season ended and there was no need to pick up the Kid any longer.
“Take it easy,” the Coach said.
“Aight, Coach,” was the response. The Kid walked inside his house just like he did every other evening.
Three Decembers later, the Coach was working in his office late one afternoon when the phone rang.
“Hello,” the Coach said.
“May I speak to John Cox?” a familiar voice asked.
“This is John Cox.”
“Sup, Coach. This is ___________.” It was the Kid. Only now, the Kid sounded more like a Man.
“I just wanted to call and wish you a Merry Christmas. I’ve been meaning to see you since I came home from college, but I haven’t done it yet. I was just calling to check on you.”
I was literally in tears. I’d love to see you, I said.
Their relationship was never really about deep talks, so they sat in awkward silence for a moment or two before the Kid spoke again.
“Well, um, Coach, it’s been awesome talking to you. Hope you and your wife have a good Christmas and um, I’ll try to come see you soon. But if I don’t, thanks for everything. For real. Take care. Bye.” The line went silent.
I don’t have deep thoughts or words to solve racism or hate. I don’t have many answers to the hard questions. But I have these two foolish beliefs — people are inherently good and everyone deserves a chance. Our similarities bind us tighter than our differences split us. Our country could learn this lesson from the playing fields of our youth. Colorblindness is never clearer than at this level of sport where children, from completely different walks of life, all come together for a common goal without any regard for social class or skin color.
In other words, maybe it’s time for everyone to be a Kid again.
- Originally published in The Bolivar Bullet newspaper on June 17, 2020.