Stars are brighter than normal. A long trek between rural towns in South Alabama is lit up by the constellations. The alignment of these stars provides a road map through the winding country roads where the street lights are non-existent.
A mustard yellow shaped vehicle weighing in at twenty-five thousand plus pounds winds through the open road. Up and down the valleys and across the long stretch of black pavement that connects the farms of local legends.
These farmers were the prom kings, the quarterback and the ones voted most likely to succeed by the senior class. They followed a path that was laid out for them far before they had been thought of in their momma’s belly. A four-year degree just wasn’t in the cards. Some of them played baseball at the local community college, but realized in the process that the classroom wasn’t their cup of tea.
The driver of that “cheese wagon” hadn’t known anything but Crimson Tide Football and Atlanta Braves Baseball growing up. An average athlete that couldn’t cut it at the next level was selected to guide seventeen young men to the first state championship in school history.
They swept through the district with little concern. The first and second round of the high school playoffs were much of the same. Citizens of the one stop light town began to talk of a dream that had outlasted even the best of athletes up to this point. The no named pitcher that hadn’t been recruited had been unstoppable on the mound and the summer farmhands who loaded watermelons throughout the grueling months of June and July had become stronger. This created a lineup that would threaten the deep ball on nearly every pitch.
The mixture of diesel fuel burning from the exhaust of the bus along with red clay, body odor, Copenhagen Long Cut and fresh cut grass mixed the air. The smell was similar to any of the other nights, but the sounds heard on the long ride back were remotely different than the first two series of post season play. Normal bus rides upon returning from a successful road trip would include melodies mixed with AC/DC, Metallica and Garth Brooks. Stories were told of dates with the Homecoming Queen and how the timid right fielder mustered up the courage to ask the captain of the cheerleading squad out for a night on the town. But tonight, things were different.
The only sounds that could be heard were the racing of that Cummins Engine along with the crickets stationed along the sides of those country roads hiding in the Bahia Grass. Opportunity had come and gone for the home team favorite led by the humble young special education teacher.
Many aspects were contributing factors to the fall of the best 1-A team in the state. The old men at the filling station who met religiously at 6 am each morning had their thoughts mostly centered around strategic decisions of their fearless leader. He didn’t pitch the star freshman pitcher in the first game of the series and in the third inning the lead off batter forgot to tag up on a routine fly ball that cost them the tying run. Either way the town along with the team were heavy hearted because of the potential of the talented group that had been miraculously positioned together for that school year.
Common knowledge was apparent of the mistakes throughout the game. Nearly every business in the town had closed down early in the order for patrons to make the two and a half hour journey across state to watch history being made. However, not many knew the background story of what went on during the few weeks prior to the playoff run.
Johnny was the pitcher that had shut down the previous state championship team down in the first round of the playoffs. However, his girlfriend had starting slipping around with another boy during the long stretched out months of spring during the games and practices. Johnny found out the day before the series. Adam had his doubts about his skills, but his drunk dad kept those thoughts turning. He wasn’t worried about making mistakes to disappoint his coaches or teammates, only for the car ride home. Turns out the pressure was too much and he made three critical errors in the decisive game of the three-game series. Momma and Daddy always know best. Adam’s Dad who favored the bottle and another parent of one of the kids on the team had disagreed on who should be allowed to play shortstop for the remainder of the season. Adam and this other athlete began to push each other further and further away during practices, bus rides and games. They had been best friends since they had started their high school career on the junior varsity team.
Take advantage of the time left in your high school career. Don’t let outside influences effect the culture built by the leaders of and on your team. Have fun! Not many people will remember how many games you won, but the memories made while playing the game.