Driving back home to Wheeling from Charleston on I-77 in the darkness Saturday night is a trudge of mind-numbing proportions. I had no desire to listen to music for fear of losing my semi-awareness in the lyrics, so I did a Sirius shuffle back and forth between my presets, remaining sparingly on CNN News, Fox News, and MSNBC just to hear a bit of the news of the world that I had missed while in Charleston for two days only to discover that not much had changed and that everyone is as cynical as ever. I landed on Howard Stern repeats for the duration of my drive, enjoying the conversations between Stern and David Letterman as well as Melissa Etheridge, both interspersed with a few hilariously raunchy comedic interludes. Howard Stern can be over-the-top sometimes, but some interviews with certain guests can be enlightening, not because I actually care about the conversations themselves but because they can channel the thoughts racing chaotically through my head, allowing me to process them to a conclusion I feel in my heart but am not able to articulate.
Remnants of the past two days and the recent weeks trailed backwards to moments in time as far-flung as two years ago. I flipped through pictures in the scrapbook of my mind, attempting to put them all together into what I was feeling. People do this at significant points in time. We dwell on those moments that are set in stone, those that give voice to the fading past, those that project visions of the future; we want to find meaning where others around us may say there is none, where others claim insights of their own that are similar to ours.
I am not even sure how or why I was pulled into this story. Two years ago, I learned my colleague and friend Jamey Conlin had a relapse of cancer, thrusting his life, the lives of his family and friends, the lives of students, and the lives of his team into a narrative that everyone tried to will to a suitable ending through sheer determination and dedication, one which would enable everyone to say they "did it," achieving something intangible for JC. We can all exist in our own realities, but when our own timelines cross, when expectations and dreams become one, we find there is more to the story than meets the eye. Three trips to the state championship tournament, three separate stories with a rotating and returning group of knuckleheads, three losses that all contain victories of their own kind. Remnants.
Beth Brown represented the majority of the senior parents in attendance there. She stood guard of both the game and her emotions, well above the stands where her parents who traveled from Vermont to be here sat. Her arms were crossed in nervous defiance of the slow dwindling of time, and she paced back and forth, wearing a groove in the concrete pavement in an unconscious attempt to stay present in this moment. I asked how she was doing, knowing the answer without even having to ask. "I just want them to do this, but I really want one more game because this is the last time I will watch Pat play baseball." How do you respond to this? You smile, give her a hug, say that she will never lose the memories, then encourage her to enjoy the moment.
I watched the game sitting between two other senior parents, Bob Furka and Lorraine Clark, both dealing with the final moments their sons would play on the diamond as high school students in their own unique way. Bob hid his enthusiasm (but not his pride) behind his sunglasses, tuning out the humorous chatter of those around him by plugging earphones in to listen to the game on Metro News while dodging errant warm-up throws from the other team and his son. He would pull out his camera to capture the press picture of his son Chris on the scoreboard. Lorraine Clark crocheted square swatches of yarn with an absolutely huge twine of white yarn resting in an upturned black umbrella beside her. She kept wondering if Dougie had made the sign of the cross and said his Hail Mary's each time he came to bat, quietly berating him when he successfully caught a fly ball because he was doing so one handed.
Levi Rine, an insanely funny and insightful fourth grader, made his way down to my front row seat during the game to point out a cloud formation in the sky to my right. "Hey, fifth cousin, look up there," he said while pointing to the sky. "It is Coach Conlin up there watching the game." I looked hard, struggling to see the image of Jamey in the clouds but not wishing to tell Levi I couldn't. "Wow, Levi," I agreed. "That is so cool." He left and I glanced back at his older brother Isaac who had been on this same field playing the past two years in this tournament, achieving his own victories while overcoming his own personal obstacles. I smiled uncomfortably, and I think Isaac knew that I just did not see anything there. Later Isaac slipped down and helped me focus better, pointing out that it was not his image but the letters JC in sky.
The thrilling championship game ended with Central on the losing end of a 4-3 score. I had prayed for a better outcome, hoping that this last group, many of whom had been members of Jamey's last team, would finally have satisfaction. It did not happen. I was worried about Bryan, the son of my childhood friend Lynn Courts. He had written a lengthy research paper this year in senior English, creating his own well-supported argument about what he perceived as the ill-conceived notion of giving participation awards. He made it quite clear that he absolutely hated second place trophies. Two years ago, the ever-intense Bryan attempted to toss the plaque into the garbage after the championship game loss. He was so focused this year and even asked me weeks earlier if I would write a blog about this year's game. I am sure he did not anticipate the content of this one but will hopefully grow to understand the point I am trying to make even if I do not.
Christy Costain looked so tired after the game, caught up in this loss. She held the CCHS blanket and maroon and white pom-poms in her arms. Her son Chris was out of commission for the latter part of the season as the result of an ACL tear that would require surgery. I know Chris wanted to be out there so badly, hobbling around and throwing the ball during warm ups. That cannot be easy ending your baseball career on an injury. After I spoke to Christy about how great a season it was, she said quite eloquently that she wasn't entirely sure about how she felt. "I know they wanted to win for Jamey, but I think "Keep the Faith" means something else. We need to keep the faith in all times, not just when things are going well. It would mean more to Jamey that these boys kept the faith when things are tough like this. That's what they need to remember." If she had a mic in her hand, Christy could have dropped it right then and there.
As the crowd gathered around the team on the pavilion, Isaac Basinger and his mother Amy stood together looking out at the site of his final moment in baseball. Isaac is one heck of kid. He was not a major player on the team, but Isaac did emanate the spirit of the team at every moment, cheering on his teammates and doing some quirky bizarre celebratory dances. Amy shared a touching picture of Isaac and herself on Facebook, commenting about the memories they made and the lessons they have learned. The picture speaks of so much that has happened not only on this day but throughout the years: the team, the community, but most importantly, the family. A picture like this speaks of the transitory nature of life itself and opportunities we have to take a beat, to breathe in the moments during which change occurs, to recognize not just where those we love have been but to experience the love we all carry with us regardless of where we will travel.
Remnants. We have these remaining when all is gone, when the dust has settled, when the tide has receded after a storm. There is a new horizon in store for each and every one of these players, actually for all of us when one part of our lives draws to an end. I set out writing today with the hopes that I would discover some words of finality for myself, but I may need to be satisfied with this, the remnants of these remarkable moments themselves and the promise that the ultimate meaning will actually develop over time.
Amy Basinger and Beth Brown
To the guys on the team, the coaches, and their families.
It is hard to include everyone here today but please know
that your hard work, thoughtfulness and dedication are inspirational.
Keep the Faith.