People take notice.
He had a job at a nearby auto parts store
You’d see him at the counter when you stopped in for spark plugs or a fan belt,
Work shirt-ed with the embroidered “Al” on the left
Tire gauge and pen in the opposite pocket.
He always shook my hand…
And many evenings
In the summer when the grass was emerald or
And in the winter when sneaker’s-squeak echoed through the gym
He was Coach Al
The ball games were fun, everyone on his teams played,
And the practices even more so, everyone had a nickname.
And even long after his wisp of a shortstop-daughter had grown
Had gone on to have infielders of her own
He still held the clipboard
He still cheered “good hustle.”
I last saw him
As I passed through my old home town.
He was mowing center field at Little League Park,
Grey hair riding above the green.
It was the last time.
At the end of the school year
When second grade kids gathered on the bus and found out the verdict,
The answer to the question, “Who’d ya get next year?”
Her name was not the most favored.
Sometimes second, often the third and last choice.
Kids knew who they wanted,
They learn from stories told by older brothers or sisters,
Tales and tears,
Or they saw on their own first hand
In the lunch room or at recess.
They knew that her smile
Was really just painted over a deep etched grimace.
And at reading time,
The Tigers knew she favored them
A lot more than the Turtles.
The calendar on her desk blotter
Started the count down to the last day of school
Which she once jokingly referred to the “countdown to ecstasy!”
School vacations were circled in clownish red smiley faces.
Some wondered how she could work closely with children
And yet come to work so manicured and coiffed
Tailored and in heals?
Some wondered, some knew.
Coach Al passed away some years back
My son “Strike Zone” sadly informed.
“The Sports complex was renamed in his honor.”
Strike Zone and my youngest son “Bull”
Shared memories of their teams and of
Coach Al for many minutes…
Passing back and forth game balls
Awarded by him 20 years ago
For a good catch
Or hustling out an infield out.
With a blister pack of Xanax in her purse
With a retirement home in Florida
She is all but dead in her tracks.
Counting down the days.