The gravel crunches under my shoes as I step out of the batters box with bat in hand. I notice the outfielders moving in as I take my stance at home plate and face the pitcher. “Easy out,” someone shouts from the infield. My confidence evaporates as I steady the bat, poised to swing. I glance at the stands filled with parents cheering, but my father isn’t there. He’s never made it to even one of my games, but I still hope someday he will.
The pitcher delivers a fast ball across the plate. I swing the bat. Nothing but air. “Strike one!” The umpires snaps in a gruff voice. I want to glance at the stands again, but I force myself to concentrate on the next pitch. “Strike two!” The umpire yells. I just want to get on base for once. “Wait for the pitch,” the coach yells. I restrain myself on the next pitch. “Ball one,” the umpire calls to my relief.
But I can’t hold back on the next pitch. I swing and feel the ball clip the bat, then rise toward the sky. The bat slips from my hands as I instinctively sprint toward first base, unaware that the ball is sailing straight up, past the foul line. I run with all my might, but my heart sinks as I hear the ball smack a glove. “Out!” The umpire shouts. I drop my head and return to the bench. I know this will be my last time at bat.
A few innings later the game ends. We lost again. Our opponents smile and give each other high fives. All I could think about was being a loser on a losing team. I trudge toward the now empty bleachers to wait for my brother to pick me up. He’s usually late. I pass parents reassuring my team mates, “It’s okay.”
I start to climb the rows of seats on the bleachers when I notice an older man sitting on the top row. “Dad?!” I utter. He gently smiles and motions to me to join him. I climb the bleachers and sit next to him. He gives me a hug and says, “It’s okay, son.” I look at him in disbelief. “How long have you been here?” He gives me a loving grin. “For the whole game, he replies.” I shake my head, “But I didn’t see you.” I look into his eyes and feel a warmth I’ve never felt before. “I’ve been here for every game,” he says.
I’m skeptical about his comment, but his face speaks truth. “This is part of your journey, son; part of making you into the man I want you to be.” Such wisdom, but It doesn’t make sense to me. “But I’m no good,” I insist. He smiles and puts a hand on my shoulder. “I made you to be so much more than a baseball player.”
Suddenly a car horn blares. I turn to see my brother pull up with the car. “That’s my ride,” I say as I turn back to look at my father, but there’s no one there. Tears well up inside of me as i step down from the bleachers. I climb into the car with my brother. He turns to look at me. “Who were you talking to on the bleachers when I pulled up?” I close the car door and look at him, “My Father.” My brother frowns. “Dad? Dad’s at home!” I smile at him, “I was talking to God my father. He hasn’t missed a single one of my games.”
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep.” – John 10:14 (NIV)
#Retrospective — This post originally published July 23, 2019.
© 2019 CGThelen