I can still remember the first time I stepped onto the field when I was four year olds, because it was a life changing moment in my life. It was a muggy summer afternoon in south Florida, my Dad took me to the field an hour early so I could get some extra practice before tryouts. The palms of my hands were drenched in sweat from how nervous I was. As tryouts moved along it felt like billions of butterflies were flapping around in my stomach and I was ready to throw in the towel and walk away. My Dad had to pull me to the side and reassure me that we practiced this thousands of times and that I’ll be fine. As much as I tried, I was still shaking as I was about to walk onto the field. To this day I still remember my dad pulling me to the side and whispering to me,“ Stay focused out there .” Since that moment I must have heard that slogan millions of times from him, but it never gets old. As I stood there on the mound ready to pitch, I saw my Dad, standing there behind the press box cheering me on. At that very moment I saw a look in my Dad’s eyes that only a father and son could share. A look that seemed to spark a fire in my soul because I knew my father was proud of me.
My new second home was the baseball field. Whether practicing or playing games, the baseball field was the place I wanted to be. My Dad was at my side, coaching and cheering the whole time and that is the place were him and I started to developed a life long companionship. This man knew every aspect and every rule to the game and could change a decent player into a super star in weeks. He would have work every day until six, but after that he poured his heart into helping me develop as a young baseball player, but more importantly as a young man. He instilled in me a passion for the game that no one can take. We would spend hours on the field practicing and preparing for games and those were some of the happier moments in my life. As time moved on my Dad and I started to drift apart and have very different opinions about life.
I can still remember the first time my Dad and I bumped heads. It was over whether or not I could skip a practice to go to the craziest party of the year, which I had been planning to go to for weeks. All my friends and I had gone out a week prior and purchased pimp outfits so we could win the best costume contest and pick up a few ladies. The coach called the practice because we needed the extra work after losing the first game of the season by ten runs. At the young age of fifteen, I believed it wasn’t my fault we lost because I was the only one of the team that could hit the ball or do anything right. So as the time comes to go to practice I put on my baseball uniform and put my pimp costume in my bat bag and take it with me. I had my older brother’s friends pick me up at the corner and take me to the party instead of going to practice. I remember sitting in that 1985 GMC pick up truck and just thinking how much this is going to kill my father if he found out. As I arrived at the party I noticed that everyone was drinking out of little red plastic cups. The moment I stepped out of the truck my friends were stumbling over to me and handing me a cup. I had no idea how much to drink because it was the first time I had ever been in this situation. The first thing that popped into my head was once again my father and that damn slogan “stay focused.” Then I thought to myself, one night of partying isn’t going to kill you.
The next thing I remember seeing is my father standing over me in the hospital. Apparently after 5 beers and a couple keg-stands later I passed out in the neighbor’s back yard and all of my friends didn’t know what to do so they called my Dad. Even through all the alcohol in my system and blood squirting out of my nose, I saw a look of disgust on my Dad’s face. The look you get from a parent that just sends your heart smashing into millions of pieces. I had lied straight to his face about going to practice and he found me passed out in my own vomit.
I spent many vigorous years trying to earn my father’s trust back, but nothing ever seemed to be good enough. I was growing older and my life with split between baseball and my girlfriend. My father and I grew apart over the years and he lost his job in south Florida, were our family was living at the time. He decided it was best for him to move back to New York and get a job bridge painting there to support the family. So I only got to see him for one weekend out of the month, but I was normally too busy with baseball or my girlfriend to even bother going out of my way see him. He never cared to call and ask me how’s school going or how life’s treating me. The only time I ever seemed to get a phone call from him is after a game. Even then the phone call was rather brief and he would just ask the routine questions of: “How was the game, How did you play, and did you win?” But at the end of every conversation he would say if “You really want it, you have to stay focused.”
As time passed the conversations got shorter and I would be lucky if I got to see him once every three months. But there was this one day when my world was flipped upside down and it seemed like I had a purpose in life. It was the day before the championship game my senior year of high school. I was in physical therapy for my arm twice a week and it hurt every time I threw the ball, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from pitching this game. The coach kept reminding us at practice of his glory years when had won the district championships when he was in high school and what an amazing feeling that was. All of that puts an enormous amount of pressure on the starting pitcher because if you fail, the whole team does as well. It was the night before the game and I was tossing in bed all night because it felt like the pressure of the whole world was on my shoulders. Then all of a sudden the phone rings and it’s my Dad wishing me luck and telling me to relax and if I stay focused only good things will come. This was the first time in my life at the end of the phone call he told me how much he cared about me and how I meant the world to him. As soon as I was off the phone with him my body was completely numb and it reminded me of my first day of try outs when my dad let me know what every thing was going to be alright and there’s nothing I can’t handle if I set my mind to it. I finally realized it that when my Dad said to me at the end of every phone call “Stay Focused.” He was really saying I would do anything in the world for you and if you keep your mind right you can achieve anything.
The game the next day was scheduled for a 9 am start, but I was there at 7 am because I knew if we lost that game it might be the last time I step onto a baseball field because I needed surgery on my arm. It seemed like only seconds had past, and the game was already half way over. I had just thrown the last pitch of the inning and I was ready to give into the pain of my arm. As I was walking back to the dugout I looked up and noticed my Dad sitting in the stands. As I sat on the bench I realized that he had drove all
the way from New York down to south Florida just to see me pitch. From that moment on till the end of the game, I would look up to see my father sitting there and that helped me press through the pain and finish the game. It seemed to give me that extra boost that I needed when times got rough during the game. I remember looking into his eyes and it reignited that flame inside me and I knew my Dad was proud of me. We wound up winging that game, but that doesn’t mean a damn thing to me anymore. The only thing I remember about that game was that look on my Dad’s face. You know the look I’m talking about were everything in the world just feels so right.