This & that: 2 shoeboxes

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FEATURE – Basketball is the king of sports in Indiana. But the first organized team sport I played was baseball. I don’t remember much about my first year except I don’t think I played very much. Or at least if I did, there were no spectacular catches or extra-base hits that stuck out.

The second year I played was far more memorable. My team won a lot. I started every game. I am sure of it. I was the catcher. We did not have a backup catcher. Anyone who has put on catcher’s gear in the sweltering heat of summer never forgets it. I did it in 90-95 percent humidity. And I loved it.

Growing up the youngest in my family — or in my case tied for the youngest — came with its own pros and cons. A definite con was the “pass me downs.” My mother was good at making small budgets stretch. That usually meant that most of my clothes were worn by older siblings first. With a twin brother and another brother not even one year older than us, we also could wear clothes the same size.

About two or three games into my second season a man who I did not know came into our dugout. It was clear that the coaches knew who he was as did several of the other players. The game was just beginning and he was giving tips to different players. He came to the end of the dugout where my brother and I were sitting. He asked us our names but instead of offering us tips only, he asked us our shoe sizes.

We didn’t know. Chances are we had not been into a shoe store lately to get our feet measured. It was highly probable that the shoes we were wearing were not in the best shape and maybe not the exact size either. Right there he had us kick off our shoes so he could look at them. Then he disappeared.

A few innings later he reappeared … with two shoe boxes containing brand new cleats. He put them on us and laced them up just like he worked at a shoe store.

It is hard to describe that moment but let me just say it is one of my happiest childhood memories. With the new cleats I thought I was faster than Speedy Gonzalez.

After the game I remember being quizzed by my parents. I think it was probably fortunate that we did not know the man’s name. In fact I could honestly say that I had never seen him before that time, or at least I did not remember him before that time. I was worried that my parents would make us return them. But that never happened.

Nothing was ever said about it after that day. (I would realize much later that the man probably had to drive a considerable distance –15-20 miles – just to get to a shoe store.)

I did see the man many times after that day. He was a fixture in Pittsboro Little League sports. He was never my coach but he coached several other teams. His name was Bob Williams. He was the kind of man who not only took an interest in developing young kids but remained an avid fan as we grew older and played in junior high and high school.

My first foray into little league coaching came as my two boys grew to that age. My wife asked if I would be interested. I told her to put me down as an assistant because I was just starting my private practice. When I showed up to the coaches’ meeting, the league director handed me a roster and said, “Here’s your team.” I immediately corrected him and said that I was only prepared to assist; to which he replied, “You’re all we got.”

It was only tee ball and I can honestly admit that no one ever compared my coaching prowess to Sparky Anderson. But borrowing from the examples of Bob Williams and the many other Little League volunteers that were vital in my formative process, I did everything I could to make that team and the later teams I coached a positive and growing experience for my players.

Like many things in life, the greatest beneficiary is the person that is actually sacrificing the most. I am sure that was true with Bob Williams as it was with me later in life.

Darren Cole is a developing columnist and otherwise sports writer for St. George News. Any opinions given are his own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: DCole@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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