The line-up

Three days after funeral services for my nineteen-year-old son, Shawn, I debated the wisdom of watching a baseball game. My normal job responsibilities as high school principal included attending athletic events. This duty proved exhausting, especially in the spring when numerous activities also claimed my calendar. But this was different. Regional play-offs included our baseball team, and normally I would have been excited. But I wasn’t sure I could tolerate the sight of all those teenage “hard bodies” playing for their shot at number one, a trophy forever lost to my young athlete.

Sitting in my dreary duplex, almost drowning in despair, I craved normalcy. The day before, we’d chosen a gravestone marker, and the process almost broke me. My tears simply wouldn’t stop, and today would be no better if I didn’t move forward. Maybe leaving my recliner to feel the sun on my face would spark some energy where there was none.

I managed to move the car from the garage and headed to the field. On the way, I reminisced about this team. They had been hardheaded, cocky, and prone to disciplinary problems. But we had finally managed a peaceful co-existence, and I was proud of them. I arrived at the stadium, found some of my colleagues, and sat behind them. Somehow, we fumbled through our greetings. Their woebegone faces portrayed their shock, their empathy, and finally admiration that I had come. We watched the game with easy familiarity and without the need to carry on long conversations.

Our team didn’t perform well. Their score remained low, and their enthusiasm and efforts notwithstanding, they simply couldn’t overcome a stronger, more competent squad.

Feeling the last threads of my composure begin to unravel, I said goodbyes to my staff, moved toward the parking lot, and called out “good game” to a few boys as they left the dugout. Just as I exited the gate, however, I heard a murmuring of my name. I stopped and turned around. At that moment, the entire team lined up outside the gate, came forward one at a time, and hugged me. As only teenage boys could do, they expressed themselves in their own way.

Suddenly, I realized the gift God had bestowed. Their warm embraces reminded me of Shawn’s. Just as I did when hugging his six-foot frame, I had to stand on tiptoe to reach some of them. They didn’t rush. No one jostled the other or told anyone to hurry up. They simply gave the gift of a teenage boy’s presence to a mother who craved one.

To this day, I can picture the sight of those dirty uniforms, the smell of sweat and fear accompanied by smiles and loving faces. I don’t remember the score or who we played or even a single name of our players. But I’ll never forget that line-up.

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The line-up