By Erik Harris
North Jefferson News
COMMENTARY — It was just another 1993 Toyota pickup with two-wheel drive, 113 horsepower, dark blue paint and a dented-in rear bumper. But to Dad and me it was “Ole Blue,” and it was our three-mile transportation from our house to the park.
For the typical father and son, baseball impacted their life for a few months of the year; they would catch the spring fever until it died off with the approach of summer. Not Dad and me. We spent our summers in places like Southaven, Miss. With me playing and Dad coaching in Dizzy Dean World Series tournaments — a regional version of what ESPN airs every August. To us, it was the Fall Classic, and nothing else mattered.
Of course my mom and sister would come along with us. They were my biggest fans. I would gaze down the third base line fighting the Mississippi sun to see Dad giving me the signs. He would touch seven different parts of his body, all to say, “Swing away, 'E.'” As I dug into the right handed batters box, I would block out all the chatter and stare back at the pitcher as I twirled my bat around; before the delivery I would hear my little sister yell out from the stands, “C’mon Bubba, you can do it.”
The tournaments would end and our team would head back to Birmingham where other kids would hang up their cleats and go back-to-school shopping. For Dad and me, it was back to Ole Blue for a quick drive to the park to improve arm strength and tweak my swing.
Nothing from blisters on my throwing hand, to freezing weather, to thunderstorms could stop Dad and me from working on baseball. I remember one night a tornado came through our area. We all went down in the basement; my mom, sister and I were terrified. Dad casually walked down the stairs with my bat and directed me over to his homemade batting station for a round of batting practice. He calmly said, “drive down on the baseball.” Needless to say, I quickly forgot about the tornado. We gabbed the night away, discussing fundamentals and swinging my arms sore. By the time we surfaced, the storm was a distant memory and my bedtime was long forgotten.
In seventh and eighth grade I walked up to a list taped to the Bragg Middle School gym door and scanned it up and down, only to realize that my name was not there. My fears became reality; I failed to make the team. Many of my friends had developed facial hair along with seven-inch growth spurts, while I remained trapped in the same body I had in the sixth grade. My slow development robbed me of any shot of making the Rocket baseball teams.
Just when I wanted to break down and give up, Dad was there to keep me focused, keep me working harder than ever. We never talked about failing to make the team. We simply did what we had always done — grab the bucket of balls, Dad’s fungo, and my bat bag and load up in Ole Blue.
High school rolled around and by then I finally had grown. I had also developed some speed thanks to Dad’s fungo drills, and I ended up playing at the varsity level from my sophomore year through my senior year, thanks to Dad. I went through two different coaches in high school, but I always saw Dad as my head coach.
I want to have a boy of my own one day. I want to teach him what I know about baseball, how to always persevere, how to always stay focused on what’s important and how to never give up.
I want to be his third base coach after he drives a single into left center field. And I know who I want talking to him on first base.
Erik Harris is a sports correspondent for The North Jefferson News.