My daughter rarely cries.
A week ago, though, after I picked her up from high school tennis practice, she sat in the minivan and sobbed.
She had made the varsity tennis team, not just as a freshman but as a 15-year-old who really had only held a racket in earnest for about six months.
Li’l Diva’s coach just told her she needed to be in uniform and ready to play in the next day’s match. And in the one on Monday. This Monday. As is today.
I was so proud, and told her so. But she knew and I knew what would come next and that tears would follow.
“So, I guess I have to find someone to take your ticket to Opening Day, huh?” I said.
That’s when the sobbing began.
Today marks only the second time in Li’l Diva’s 15 years of life she is missing the annual family excursion to a baseball home opener – Opening Day, the most optimistic of days of any year for me regardless of how weak a lineup my team fields.
The first time she missed an opener was painful, literally for her because of an infection, emotionally for me. This time, though, this was a special reason. A good reason. A reason I hope she understands the significance of, if not now then some day.
Li’l Diva has had her share of hardships in life since she was diagnosed at age 2 with Juvenile Myositis, a rare autoimmune disease that we have seen take the lives of a handful of the hundred or kids we’ve meet with it over the years. Except for the blip of one long summer, JM has never been something to slow her down since that first year when the doctors gave a name to the thing that was making our little girl weak, swollen, red and unable to move.
Though it all, though, she’s been a trooper. She is as tough as they come, holding back the tears and accepting what she must most of the time, be it shots, hours of IV meds, airplane trips to the doctors or – maybe the worst for a young kid – staying indoors, out of the warm midday sun that too much of could trigger off her condition, while her friends are out at the beach or playing in the pool.
We have done every thing we could to made sure her disease never limited her. She took dance classes (five a week these days), guitar lessons, goes on trips to ski mountains and explore crowded theme parks, played soccer for many seasons, et cetera and so on.
When she wanted to play tennis, we found an instructor who’d do lessons late in the afternoon to limit the sun exposure that could trigger a flare of her disease. For this spring, to tryout for the high school team, we outfitted with all the UV protective long-sleeve shirts and leggings we could find and received promises from her of handfuls of thick white sunscreen to come.
And now she’s made to the big time, or as the major leaguers we’ll watch this afternoon call it, The Show.
Not The Show in Citi Field that her mom, brother and I will watch from afar, dozens and dozens of rows from the action on the green grass, from high up where the westbound jets buzz our ears and the clouds graze the buttons atop our blue and orange ball caps.
My daughter made The Show of her life, by her own doing, by her own tenacity.
“But I really wanted to go,” said the girl, who so long ago stopped giving in to my promissory notes for gloppy neon orange sauced nachos in exchange for sitting with me at game with me during the other six months of the season. “I wanted go.”
It’s OK, little girl growing so fast. Life is full of hard choices. Difficult choices. This is not one of them.
There will be many, many more Opening Days in our future. But this is special not because you aren’t there but because of where you’ll be. This is your Opening Day and yours alone. I couldn’t be happier.
And with that, the “Always Home and Uncool” offices are closed for our most glorious of national holidays.
It’s baseball’s Opening Day.
+ + +
Today you'll dig in the closet for your glove and snap a ball into it while sipping your morning coffee.
Today as the toast comes out of the toaster, you'll still remember how to execute a perfect "pop-up" slide.
Today you'll drive to work and admonish yourself to "keep your head down" and your eye on the road.
Today your team will be in first and planning to stay there.
Today you'll end your contract holdout.
Today you'll still be able to turn the double play.
Today you won't lose a business deal in the sun.
Today you'll find yourself rotating your arm around your head to stretch the shoulder and keep it loose.
Today someone asks if you'll be at the meeting and you respond by saying, "Let's play two."
Today you spend an hour in the attic with old baseball cards and dusty Sports Illustrateds.
Today sunflower seeds strangely find their way into your back pocket.
Today you find yourself muttering something about "Bill freakin' Buckner."
Today you'll think of wearing a black suit to match the eye black.
Today you'll have the steal sign.
Today you slip up in a meeting and mention "our sales team ... vs. lefties."
Today a hot dog and peanuts for lunch will sound about right.
Today you tell a co-worker to "warm up."
Today the only strike you'll know about is above the knees and below the armpits.
Today you'll wear your jacket only on your pitching arm.
Today you'll buy two packs of gum and stuff them in the side of your mouth.
Today, during lunch, you'll wonder why Coke doesn't come in a wood can.
Today you'll scratch yourself and spit for no apparent reason.
Today you'll wonder why stirrup socks never caught on.
Today you'll be the rookie looking to make it big.
Today you'll be the wily vet with just a little something left.
Today you'll look for the AM dial on your radio.
Today your glove is hanging off the handlebars of your bike.
Today seems like a good day for an ice cream before you head home.
Today is box scores and "Baseball Tonight."
Today is Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera.*
Today your first coach is cheering. Still.
Today mom's watching.
Today dad's in the backyard -- with his glove.
Today it'll still be a kids' game.
Today you'll be a kid.
Today is Opening Day.
Poem: “Today” -- By Greg Shea, Copyright © 2000 The Closer (*Player names update for 2015 by me)
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