Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My glad reunion with "Joe"

John Greenan and I were attempting to find our way into a meeting last Friday at the Jubilee Center located just north of Fair Park.

I attempted to open what turned out to be a locked door. As we started to go around the building to another entrance, the door opened.

A strapping young man with a big smile greeted us.

As I began to explain what we were doing and what we were looking for, the young man pointed his finger at me and asked me, "Did you ever coach baseball?"

I stared back at the young man for a moment before I recognized him.

"Yes, I did, and you were on my team, weren't you? Tell me your name again." I asked.

"Joe [not his real name]," he replied.

A flood of memories rolled over me. The purpose of my presence for my meeting evaporated in light of our little "team reunion."

Joe, like all of the other 4th and 5th graders who played on the O. M. Roberts Rangers, as a part of the Texas Rangers Rookie League about 10 years ago, had never played organized baseball until those two amazing summers.

It turns out that Joe had been at Texas State University until family matters forced him back to Dallas where he is attending community college this semester.

"Coach, I had a baseball scholarship to Texas State, but decided to to play football instead," he informed me.

We reminisced for a moment about those two summers and the adventures of our little band of ball players. Co-ed baseball--boys and girls. It was a real hoot and a lot of fun!

John asked Joe what position he played. I think John meant when he got the offer to play at Texas State. Joe went right back to those summers with his answer.

"He put me in the outfield because I could run and moved a girl to first base!" he replied, still a bit indignant it seemed to me.

"Weren't you the player that took a line drive to the face?" I asked.

"Yes, I was!" he recalled.

"I remember, Dr. Jim Walton sewed up your lip," I reminded him.

We talked awhile longer and then he informed us that our meeting was through the door he had opened for us.

"Do you work here at Jubilee?" I asked as I entered the building.

"Yes sir, I do," he said.

"Are you AmeriCorps?" I asked with a sort of dawning realization.

"Yes, I am!" he said proudly.

"You're a part of the Central Dallas Ministries' AmeriCorps team and I didn't even know it!" I exclaimed. "You've made my day, Joe!

We went into our meeting and Joe went outside to supervise the after-school activities of a good-sized group of elementary school children.

It was hard to stop thinking about him and our experiences from so long ago.

I remember those two special summers. We had about 20 games during the month of June, all day games. Then, the season ended with a big tournament at the Rangers' Ballpark.

But, much more than baseball, I remembered Joe.

I can still remember the crack house in which he lived with his grandmother and other family members. I thought of how badly I wanted to get him out of that house. He was just 10-years-old when I first met him. I talked to him and his grandmother about the possibility of him moving in with us since we lived just down the street less than a mile away.

But, he would have none of such talk.

"Coach, who would take care of my grandmother if I wasn't here?" he explained.

So, he stayed put and I tried to stay in touch after the last season of baseball.

About a month later, just before the start of school, his grandmother's house caught on fire and he pulled her out of the blaze to safety. Little Joe pretty well knew what he was talking about.

Over the years, like with most all of those players, I lost track of him.

As we embraced on Friday, I just had to tell him one more time, "Joe, you've made my day!"

I got his phone numbers. I'm looking forward to a longer visit.

I've always known that baseball is much more than a game. Seeing Joe again made the case for me one more time.



lee said...

For all of the stress and aggravation with the system that you deal with every day, this must have been a very refreshing moment, well deserved.

Anonymous said...

Now that's planting acorns and coming back to find oak trees. Great story!

Frank Bellizzi said...

Sweet. I know you're looking forward to that longer talk.