Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Real People I've Known #28: Softball Nomad Part 1

To be honest, I will probably never remember how we met. Really, I can't think of anyone who was sure where he came from. All I know is that one day he was there and that is really what matters.

It all started my junior year of high school when I agreed to play for the church softball team during the summer. Judging by the tarnished trophies around the church, the team had been really good at one point but had fallen on hard times. The season I joined was special because it was the first time in four or five years we had fielded a team.

We got together for maybe one practice before league play began, nothing major. After all, I knew pretty much everyone who was on the team.

That all changed at the first game when he showed up - the Softball Nomad....

I was warming up with Brian, my brother-in-law and soon to be de facto coach of our squad, when the Softball Nomad ambled up to our team. Having no idea who he was, I asked around for someone familiar with him - no one had a clue.

No one knew what to make of him. I mean, here, standing before us, was the 45-year-old incarnation of David Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey's mustachioed character from Dazed and Confused, wearing jean shorts an old t-shirt and neon Nike running shoes. Everything was there including the slow Southern drawl and the boyish twinkle in his eye. He was wiry and tanned. The age showed at times.

We were friendly to him as we would be with anyone else, but I think that deep down we smiled and nodded waiting to see another middle-aged guy who was good at softball once.

If you have played on a non-competitive sports team, you will understand that when someone tells you they play a certain position, you have to take their word for it. You might have a sneaking suspicion that the 300-lb slug you just added to the team is not in fact a wide receiver... Anyway, Softball Nomad said in no uncertain terms that he wanted to play Centerfield. We had no choice. When Softball Nomad tells you something, for some weird reason you listen.

There was nothing very memorable about the game (with the exception of me throwing the ball over the dugout...twice) particularly because the other team scored about 100 runs an inning. Seriously, it looked like that old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Then something amazing happened. A soft line drive hit towards center looked like it was about to fall in front of Softball Nomad.

All I remember was the flash of neon Nikes flying through the air and the Nomad going down in a heap. The team let out a collective groan that said "dang, I hope he signed his insurance waiver". Fifteen guys and our three fans all had that split second of gut wrenching anguish knowing there is going to be a mangled middle-aged man out there. Before we could grasp the gory scene though, Nomad jumped to his feet threw in the ball and ran back to his position. No harm no foul.

Collective silence.

After the game, the self-effacing Nomad would only say, "Well, it's like I always say, 'As long as nobody got hurt that was as good as a victory.'" With that, he evaporated into the darkness as silently as he arrived.

Fortunately, the Nomad would magically turn up for every game. Always arriving an hour early to go through a stretch routine only qualified yogis are capable of pulling off, the Softball Nomad appeared and disappeared without warning. At the end of the season, he drifted into the ether only to return each spring.

Over the years, we got to know him better - as well as you could know him - but on some level he was always just the Softball Nomad.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goodbye Neil Diamond...

"There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. My ex-wife loves him"
- Bob Wiley, What About Bob

I would have to respectfully disagree with Bob. There is a third type of person - people whose car is named Neil Diamond....

My life changed forever August 1, 2010. That was the day I left a sizeable part of me in Little Rock as I left for the East Coast. When most people say they left a part of themselves, they mean something vague and abstract like a heart or a memory. No, in my case, I mean I left a literal part of me, some might say the best part....Neil Diamond.

For the first time since the summer of 2003 when I left for Fayetteville, I don't have my wingman by my side. For the last seven years, I have torn up the countryside and stolen the hearts of young ladies driving my surface-of-the-sun-yellow Jeep Cherokee. In seven years and 100,000+ miles, I lived a 1,000 lifetimes with Neil Diamond.

But the road came to an end two weeks ago.

That morning, we drove Neil with one final load of cargo to meet Steph's parents with our U-Haul. After we made it back to my boyhood home (aka my parents house, I decided I am going to start calling it so when I am famous it doesn't sound so awkward), I made up an excuse to stay outside while Stephanie ran inside. Once I was alone, I took a moment to listen to the Neil Diamond cassette tape in the tape deck of the Jeep which gave Neil his name. One final time, I blasted "Forever in Blue Jeans." I hate to admit this, but I didn't cry. I wanted to, but the lyrics were too uplifting.

Anyway, after one last goodbye, I handed over the keys to my mom. Neil sat in the driveway like a champ waiting for me with the look in his eye Old Yeller had before he got capped by the older brother. Neither of us wanted it to end, but it was time to go our separate ways.

After a final family lunch and a round of goodbyes, we hit the road on our long trip to DC. Now, two weeks later, a day has not gone bye that I have not just wanted to climb behind the wheel of that two-wheel drive stallion and drive off into the sunset.

My day will come, but until then I hear the words of our final song ringing in my ears:

"I'd like to say, We do okay, Forever in Blue Jeans...."