A proud father, a power-hitting son and a lifetime of memories come through in one memorable season
Posted: Friday June 15, 2007 8:37AM; Updated: Friday June 15, 2007 8:37AM
Excerpted from Senior Year: A Father, A Son, and High School Baseball by Dan Shaughnessy published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 2007 by Dan Shaughnessy. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
It was getting dark and I was standing in the parking lot beyond the right field fence at the high school baseball field. The kids call it "third lot." It once provided parking for Newton North High School students, but that was before too many kids got cars, so now it's reserved for faculty and seniors during school hours. At this moment, third lot was two-thirds empty and the only remaining cars belonged to the players on the baseball team, plus a handful of parents and friends.
I had my keys in my hand. I'd already said goodbye to my old high school coach, who'd made the drive down from New Hampshire to sit with me and watch my son play. It was a cold New England May day and the game was running long and I had to get going. I was due at a wake for the 21-year-old son of my cousin. The wake was taking place in the small town where I was born, an hour's drive to the west, and the notice in the newspaper said visiting hours would be over at 7 p.m.
It had been an emotional day, sitting on the cold metal slats, watching Sam hit, catching up with my old coach, and thinking about what my cousin Mickey was going through. I hadn't seen Mickey in over a year. We were never especially close. That happens when you have fifty-one first cousins and move away after college. But it was easy to remember everything I admired about Mickey. He was a terrific high school athlete, only two years older than me. He seemed to be better than everyone else at everything: Football. Basketball. Skiing. He was strong, tough, skilled, and movie-star handsome. He had his own rock 'n' roll band. Chicks dug him and guys wanted to be him. It would have been easy to hate the guy, but he was generous and caring, and when I would see him years later he was always humble about his high school greatness. He'd made a fine life for himself, working for the gas company and raising two kids with his wife. Now he was getting ready to bury his son, young Michael, who had died at home in bed, another victim of the national scourge of Oxycontin.
So I was feeling a little guilty as I stood in third lot, jangling my keys and watching the high school baseball game groan into extra innings. I didn't want to miss the wake, but I remembered that earlier in the day Mickey's brother had told me, "We'll be there long after seven." Besides, Sam was scheduled to lead off the bottom of the tenth and he was due. He had been hitting the ball hard all day, but he was sitting on an 0-4 and I knew his small world would tumble into chaos and panic if he went hitless for the day. Such is the fragility and self-absorption of the high school mind.
I was wondering about my own mind, too. I am a professional sportswriter, specializing in baseball. I've been a columnist for the Boston Globe for more than fifteen years, covering Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Championships, and Ryder Cups. I traveled with the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Celtics, and Red Sox back in the days when writers really traveled and lived with the ballplayers. I've written ten books, seven on baseball. I can go to any game, any time I want. And yet I find myself fixated on the successes and failures of Newton North High School and Sam Shaughnessy, my only son and the youngest of three ballplaying children. Sam's sisters had fun and fulfilling seasons in high school volleyball, field hockey, and softball, and I was amazed at how following their games connected me to their school and our community while kindling so many thoughts of my own high school days thirty years earlier. Probably that's why I found myself suddenly skipping Red Sox road trips and canceling TV appearances because of weather-forced changes in the high school baseball season. Random Sox fans wanted to ask me about Curt Schilling and Jonathan Papelbon. I'd rather talk about Newton North lefthander, J. T. Ross.
The score was still tied when Sam walked to the plate to open up the bottom of the tenth, and we were definitely losing the light, making it even tougher to hit. The Braintree coach came out to talk to his pitcher. I looked at the sky. I looked at my watch. This was it. I'd stare through the chain link for one more at bat, then get in the car. Darkness was going to make this the last inning, even if the score was still tied after ten.
And then, in an instant, the baseball was screeching over the first baseman's head, over the rightfielder's head, over the chain link, and onto the trunk of the 1998 Toyota Corolla that Sam had driven to school that day. It rolled across the lot and came to rest under a tree. I retrieved the ball while he circled the bases.
In any event, Sam Shaughnessy had his first high school walkoff homer (a drive-off walkoff, given the dent in the Toyota) and knew enough to take his helmet off after rounding third base. He had seen Red Sox slugger David Ortiz do this a lot. A helmetless head is less likely to be pounded by your teammates.
I walked in from right field and delivered the baseball to my smiling son. I told him not to worry about the dent on the roof of the trunk (not sure my dad would have been so casual about the damage done). Then I got in my car and drove to the wake.
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