Every Kid Deserves To Be a Hero

baseballsLike many parents in Fremont, Ohio I have spent many late nights at the park watching my kids play ball.  Having my wife be at one game while I was at the other and then switching after three innings so that we could both see our children play are great memories.  My kids are now all grown and not playing ball anymore.  I miss those times. They went by so quickly.  For the past few years, I just drive through the park to get the feeling again.  Everytime I do, the memories flood my mind.  Often, I am taken back to my playing days… a long time ago…

As a kid, I loved baseball.  I would play it as often as I could.  Game days were the best. I usually spent most of the day dreaming of playing in the game that night.  Back in 1972, the ultimate sin on game day was the fact that we were forbidden to swim. ( Is that still a rule?) So, since I could not swim, I would play out the game in my mind. With my wiffleball and bat in hand, I took my place in my backyard playing out the many different situations of the game. In my mind it was always me that was up to the plate at the crucial time…and like always it was me that delivered the mighty blow to win the game.  I would be carried off the field in honor of my athletic feat.

Who of us hasn’t dreamed about the getting the big hit, scoring the basket or catching the pass for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game to secure the win for your team?  I believe that it’s every athletes dream that has ever played the game.

On a hot July day in the little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio something happened that I have never been able to forget.  It has been 36 years since this event and it feels like it was yesterday.

Here is what happened…

It was every boy’s dream.  We were playing a big game on that hot July day.  We were playing the best team in the league.  I did not start the game that day.  I was charged to sit the bench until it was time for me to get in my required one inning of play.  Don’t get me wrong, in my backyard I was always the hero, but in reality I was content to get my one inning and maybe one at-bat.

It was a very close game.  We had the lead 4 to 3 in the top of the sixth inning.  The coach had no other choice but to put me in the game.  I was sent to my usual place in right field and just prayed to God that I would not have a ball hit in my direction.  I did not want to be any part of losing the lead.  I would just be happy to be able to celebrate with my teammates after the game. Three outs and we would win the game.

The events that caused our lead to dwindle had nothing to do with me.  Not a single ball came in my direction.  The other team scored two runs in the top of that inning.  We now were losing 5 to 4.  As I ran to the bench after we got the third out, I looked up and saw my coach looking down at the score book.  Then it hit me…I may have to go up and bat!!! I went over and looked at the score book and saw that I was scheduled to be the 5th batter.

“Ok, maybe we can score two runs before I have to get up to bat.” I was hoping in my mind.  But fate would have it’s way that day. To my dismay, I was going to have to bat.  We had one man on second base and one on third.  Two outs and now it’s all up to me.  I reached down for the 28″ bat I used and started my way into the batters box. I am sure the sound of my knees knocking in fear could be heard in the stands.

RLLBI closed my eyes and reached deep down inside and gathered all the courage I had in my body. “I can hit this guy,” I thought to myself.  All I needed to do, was keep my eye on the ball. After all, I had done this a thousand times in my backyard.

Just a hit…a hit would at least tie the game.  If I hit it well, maybe I could score both of them and we would win the game.

“Don’t over-swing…just make contact” I told myself.

As I dug my cleats into the dirt, I tried not to show my fear.  I also did not want to look too confident. I only wanted to be the hero.

I settle into my standard Johnny Bench batting stance.

(NOTE: I am an Indians fan.  I have been my whole life, but back in 1973, there wasn’t a whole lot of players on the Indians squad that young boys would try to emulate.  So, just like about every other kid I knew, we took turns trying to look like Joe Morgan or Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds)

First Pitch…  here it comes…  right down the middle…  it’s perfect… I grip the bat harder with my hands and start to swing and I suddenly stop myself.

“STRIKE ONE!!!” the umpire bellowed.

I didn’t want to seem too eager…”Make him pitch to you” I told myself as I stepped out the batters box.  I reach down and grab a handful of dirt and rub it into the bat.  I would be ready if he threw another pitch like that.

Next Pitch…  here it comes…  it’s perfect! SWING

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, my memories begin with the crack of the bat, and the sight of the ball rising high into the crisp blue sky of summer. My mind raced…  “It was perfect and I got all of it!” I thought to myself.

Then something happened that had never happened before.  I don’t know why I did it but I did…

I put my head down and start to head to first base.  I was sure it was gone and I started go into my  backyard “home-run trot” around the bases.

As I round first base, I  keep my head down and keep on my trot around the bases. Thoughts of being a hero were rushing through my head.  I couldn’t wait to hear the cheers from my teammates, coaches and fans. It was exactly how I played it out a few hours before in my backyard.baseball

I reach second base,  my teammate is still standing there.  I wanted to tell him to run, because I just hit a home run.  But the look in his eye told me something was not right.  He was looking at me like I was the village idiot. Then suddenly I hear the sharp laughter of the fans, not to mention the cries of laughter from the opposing team.

“What happened? There is NO WAY that they caught the ball,” I thought to myself.

Then it hit me… no, they didn’t catch the ball… it fell well short of the fence and in foul territory!

I stop my trot around the bases, hoping to find a place to disappear.  There is no escape from the laughter of the opposing team and the snickers from my own teammates.  I pan the crowd to see who exactly saw this and to my dismay…just about everyone.

I look to see my coach just shaking his head…

I really don’t remember the last pitch.  Just the umpire yelling out, “STRIKE THREE!!!”

I have told this story over the years with many different endings. Sometimes, it’s another player who does this embarrassing act.  I then get to make fun of him. Sometimes it’s me.  I usually get a hit to tie the game.

Not often, but sometimes I tell the story as if I hit the home run to win the game.  I tell the story with as much conviction as any story I have ever told.

So, maybe it’s not exactly what happened.  But that’s the way it should have ended, and that’s the way I like to remember it.

And if dreams and memories sometimes get confused… oh well… that is as it should be, because I believe that every kid deserves to be a hero.  Even if that hero may stretch the truth every now and then.

Love Your Dad? Ditch the Tie

IMG_0303Last night my son, Nathan, took me to a ballgame.  He bought my ticket and we enjoyed a victory by the Cleveland Indians.  We shared the moment just like we did when I took him to his first ballgame he was five. It was a great night… but not because of the Indian’s victory and it wasn’t great because it was “dollar dog night” or because there were fireworks after the game.

Father’s Day is tomorrow. If you haven’t already, you’ll be spending this afternoon running to the mall in search of the perfect present.

On behalf of all fathers, I’d like to deliver a message to anyone who has a Dad or is married to one. It might be the thought that counts, but you can’t wrap thought up in a box.

So let me give you some advice… if you are looking for the perfect gift and you find yourself in the tie department at Macy’s, hating yourself along with the rest of tie-giving children of  father’s like me. It’s time to realize it’s too late, futile and time to give up.

Your father doesn’t want another tie.

If he wants to read a book, he’ll buy it.  He doesn’t need another shirt, but if he did, he’d go get one. There’s not much he wants that he can’t get on his own.  But there’s one gift he longs for that you alone and only you can give – and you won’t find it at Brookstone.

Let me let you in on a little secret…

Inside the heart of your father and almost every man you know is a young boy who once wrapped a Super Hero Cape 2towel around his neck and pretended he was Superman.  He wears that cape proudly because it makes him believe he can fly. It makes him believe that all things are possible and it makes him believe that he can be a hero that can make a difference in this world.  Then one day this young boy grows older and abandons his dreams to fly, but he never quite loses the hope that he can save the day. He spends his whole life chasing his moment of glory, trying to build something bigger than himself, something that will leave a mark on the world that he couldn’t.

Then one day, hopefully sooner than later, if  you’re lucky, you will come to realize that the mark that he wanted to leave in this world …was you. You are his legacy. You are his reason why. You’re directly tied to his purpose…and therefore, his self-worth as a father.

So you won’t find what he wants at the mall.

Want to make this the best Father’s Day ever?

Tell your Dad you love him. Don’t write it down. Just tell him directly, with your own voice and not through a  Hallmark card.  Speak from the heart.  Make a moment of it. Thank him for the work he’s done and the sacrifices he’s made for your sake. Thank him for the best of what he’s planted in you however smSUPERMAN_LOGO_all or big that may be.  And maybe once again in his life he can feel the cape of Superman around his neck.

I am no different from these other fathers.   Along with my wife, I have raised four children and if the walls of our home could speak they would tell a story of the struggle of a blended family trying to make it work.  It wasn’t perfect and I made mistakes and there were times when life was hard on all of us.

But I have a special gift that I carry with me everyday and that gift is clearer in my memory on each and every Father’s Day.  That special gift is the memory of when my children have used their own words and looked me in the eye and told me they loved me.

So last night, after the game, when I dropped my son off at his apartment just o28 (2)utside of Cleveland.  He looked me in the eye and told me he loved me… I received the best gift I could ever receive for Father’s Day. He gave me a gift only he could give…one that did me a kind of good I can’t even fully explain. Words fall short but for the moment I could feel the cape around my neck once again.

Love your Dad?

Ditch the tie.

This year, give the Dad in your life something they can’t give themselves. Tell him you love him…with words you’ve never used before.

On behalf of all fathers, I can assure you, there’s no greater gift than to give him another opportunity to wear the cape once again.

 

Under The Influence

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of Children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden or a good name; to know that one life breathed easier because you lived…this is to have Succeeded.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I found  statement this on a cold blustery wintry day, just a few days after my grandfather passed away. It was scribbled by him on a scrap piece of paper that I found in a crumpled discarded box that belonged to him. It was just a simple handwritten statement that was tossed aside in a box to be taken away with the next load of trash.

At the time, I did not think too much about this little note. I just folded it up and stuck it in my pocket.  I was too busy trying to throw away the trash that was left behind after the funeral by my family as they “went through” the house that my grandparents built and lived.

Standing there in the middle of the basement, the hard evidence of a life finished was piled up around me. I slowly began to realize that my life was changing. Everything that I had grown up with was now going to be somehow different. The path of adulthood that seemed so clear just a few days before was now clouded with doubt and fear.

I lost my Grandfather. He passed away on Christmas Eve 1986. His heart simply gave out…it was his time. I would like to say that I accepted the fact that he was gone with reverence and understanding – but I can’t. His death came as a crushing blow to me. It was sudden and I was up in Michigan when I should have been at his side.

Only a few days before he was holding my first son in his hands…now my son would be cheated from knowing the man that made me proud of who I was.

This incidence of finding this statement written on a piece of paper took place in 1986.  I remember it so vividly. It clearly was one of those life moments that a person never forgets.  This one was mine.

Sometimes in death of a loved one we sometimes ignore some of the negative things that person may have done in their life and tend to only focus on the good that could be said of that person.  I am sure over the years I have done just that.  I probably have given my grandfather more credit that he deserved.  There have been times where I totally blocked out the fact that at times he was not a great father to his own children and as I strain to think about what I remember of him as a husband to my grandmother most of what I remember is not good.

That being said, I cannot find one instance where I remember him not being a “great” grandfather to his grandchildren. He was always wonderful to his grandchildren.  The perfect example of what a grandfather should be to a child.  If I am going to write a blog about the influences and stories of my life that have shaped who I was and who I am and the “way I tend to be”, I have to start with the one that influenced me as a child.

One of my fondest memories that I have with him was a trip he and I took to the grocery store in Norwalk, Ohio when I was about 10 years old. As we were walking up and down the isles, trying to get everything on the list he had. He leaned down and whispered in my ear that he wanted to introduce me to this man that was walking down the same aisle. He shook hands with this tall lanky manLefty Grove Pitch; it appeared as if they knew each other. My Grandfather said, “Mr. Grove, I would like to introduce your to my grandson, David” He looked at me and said, “David, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Robert Grove.” I shook his hand and I was wondering why my grandfather was showing so much respect?  Why did he use the words, “Mr. Grove” and not just call him by Robert since they appeared to be friends?  I didn’t pay much attention to rest of their conversation. We ended up actually going to a little diner and had lunch and a cup of coffee with “Mr. Grove”.

It was in this diner that I had the realization of the significance of this chance meeting with “Mr. Grove”.

For it was there I found out that Mr. Grove was Robert Moses”Lefty” Grove.
He was a hero tlefty_groveo my Grandfather, a baseball legend, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. He won 300 games and struck out the side with 9 pitches – not once but twice, he accomplished this.

Lefty Grove has led the league with the lowest ERA more than any other pitcher (9).

Once in the ninth inning against the Yankees, with a runner on first, a one run lead and no outs, Lefty struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel on 10 pitches to win the game.

It was a very special day for my grandfather. He was able to have a cup of coffee with a legend that he called a hero. We sat tJames Russel Lee (1942) My Herohere for an hour or so; eventually, it was time to go our separate ways. As my grandfather waved goodbye, I think I saw a glimpse of the young man he once was. He was reliving a part of his childhood.

I waved goodbye to my new friend “Mr. Grove” and suddenly he was gone.

Some people pass through your life and disappear in a flash. You get over it. 

But the good ones… The real ones… The ones who count….stay with you for the long haul.

The thing is, after all these years, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.  What do I remember, is sitting in that diner, being young, having lunch with the man who influenced me the most as a child.

My Grandfather, James Russell Lee.

Through the Eyes of a Child

On a hot July night in 2012, I witnessed the passing of a torch. 

There wasn’t a ceremony and no one was there to take a picture to document the event, but make no mistake, what happened that night was something special.

Brian Smith1
Courtesy of DB3 Imaging

As I made my way through the crowd along the dimly lighted back stretch  of the racetrack, trying to get to Brian Smith’s pit stall.  I could not help but notice that the people who passed by the “Grace Car” that night were not aware of the magic that was taking place right in front of their eyes.  

But I did.

As the adults and race fans were getting the opportunity to see the “Grace Car” up close, Brian Smith, a 26 year veteran sprint car racer from Fremont was kneeling down talking to a young boy.  I could see the eyes of this young boy as Brian bent down and talked to him. The look in this young boy ‘s eyes immediately went to a look of awe.   

While other drivers lined up their race cars to get them on the trailer and get out of there.  Brian was still there… no hurry… sleep could wait… there was more important business to do.  I immediately could see the sparkle in the eyes of this young boy as the transformation had begun.  The torch was passed on to another generation.

No one noticed that Brian had just performed magic. He just transformed a young child into a lifelong race fan.  He just made a young fan believe in heroes. One that is not found in the comic book store or on the movie screen.  A real life hero… living right here in Fremont, Ohio.

Heroes emerge, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.  

I know this to be true…because my hero found me at the same little dirt race track in Fremont, Ohio.

Harold “Mac” MHaroldMcGiltoncGilton.

For those that don’t remember him, Harold may be just another name in the record books, just another plaque on the wall.  To those of us that remember him, he’s a legend, a hometown sprint car racer and a cherished memory.

I first met Harold McGilton in the early 1970’s. I think I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was a chance meeting and though it was a long time ago…I remember it like yesterday.  I watched him drive his sprint car full speed into the corners of that wonderful dirt track in Fremont, Ohio and slide through the turn and then fly down the straight-a-way passing cars  and winning races.  In my mind, Harold never lost a race… there were just times he didn’t win.  However, when  Harold would win his race.. he  just didn’t win, he beat the other drivers. 

Har carAs a young boy, when I rode my bicycle, I imagined that I was Harold making the heroic and dangerous pass on that final turn to win the race.  And when I played with my “Matchbox” cars…I had a special car that was “Harold’s” car.  It NEVER lost a race.

I am sure there were times when in my mind…I was more Harold McGilton than the real deal.  I am also sure that his family had a different perspective on Harold and his life as a hero.  After all he was human… just not in my eyes.

Harold McGilton had no way of knowing that when he stopped what he was doing after a race all those years ago and took the time shake my hand  on that July evening, at the Fremont Speedway, he would have had such an influence on a young boy from Oak Harbor, OHarold McGiltonhio.

Harold never knew my name, nor did we ever talk to each other since that first night I met him.  However, Harold “Mac Attack” McGilton had a tremendous influence on me during those early years. He just never knew it.   He was larger than life to me and I idolized him and when he passed away a few years ago, I cried.

Tonight as I sit at my desk , I imagine I hear the roar of the engines of the sprint cars as they fly around the track just a few blocks from my home.  As I imagine each lap as the cars go around, I wonder if there is another young fan in the stands watching their favorite driver take their car into a 100 MPH slide through the corners of the Fremont Speedway.  Much like I was in the early ’70’s,  I came to the track one night a young fan of the races and little did I know that I would leave a few hours later with a hero in my life that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

Brian Smith understands this… he too has heroes.  His grandfather and father were racers and heroes  that planted a seed in him that he passes on each week to each child he talks to.  

I have said this many times, in my life, I have traveled around the world. I have met a number a professional athletes, politicians and famous people over the years. I have even had the honor of meeting two Presidents and shaking their hands.  All of these people would be considered heroes for many people, but not for me.  I did not have to travel all around the world to find a hero… He found me at a little dirt track in Fremont, Ohio.

There are those of you who say that there are no real heroes in life.  I say you just don’t know where to look.