Aug. 6, 2004
THE SUMMER'S HERE AND THE TIME IS RIGHT...
Ok, maybe "the summer's gone" would be more accurate. In some counties in the Sunshine State, kids are already back in school. My daughter Maggie begins first grade at St. Jude's on August 11. Including kindergarten, I spent thirteen years in Catholic school. Back then I never would have imagined that I would someday subject my child to the same educational system, but as we age, our perspective changes. Maggie's first day and subsequent years are something I happily anticipate.
Summer is always an interesting time for me. It is definitely an abrupt change of lifestyle for baseball coaches, their families, and their players. We spend countless hours with players, hurtling headlong through the season, only to come to a screeching halt in June. Everyone scatters to all parts of the country- some are playing minor league baseball in Maryland, Utah, Tennessee, and other locales, returning players are competing in summer leagues in Cape Cod, Wisconsin, Virginia, Maine, or Alaska.
I spend time each day checking on kids through the websites available for those teams. It seems real weird to suddenly not see people that you spend so much time with for months. It is also strange to become a fan like everyone else. At least that's the way I see it.
Coach Mac spends most of his time at games and showcases. This year saw him travel to Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts, California, and the great state of New Jersey, in addition to his treks throughout Florida. I don't think he's had time to miss people other than his family.
One of the benefits we've enjoyed over the years is our relationship with a Connie Mack team called the Florida Pokers. They have rented our fields for many of their games, and have hosted numerous tournaments that have been a real benefit to our recruiting. It is great to have underclassmen on your campus at a time where you normally would not be allowed to speak with them. The exposure of Florida Atlantic to them and their abilities to us, has resulted in some pretty talented kids playing in a Florida Atlantic uniform.
The founder and patriarch of the Pokers is Mike Roberts. Coach Roberts has been at this for a long time. His goal evolved into attempting to provide an opportunity for talented young men to experience a level of play comparable to college baseball. His teams traveled around the country, learned to live out of suitcases, eat at nice restaurants- they even got to see the ducks at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.
I fondly remember the summer my son Jim played for Mike. He put him on the roster sight unseen- Jim had played high school ball in New Jersey, and exposed him to a world beyond playing American Legion ball in his hometown. Jim met the Pokers at Ohio State, then played at Miami of Ohio. He also got to Nashville and Middle Tennessee State, as well as a 3:00AM tournament game in Memphis. They finished up that year in San Diego. I got to travel with Mike and his coaches that summer, mixing parental pleasure with business.
Mike is a great guy with a unique coaching style. Well, I guess it's not unique if you have seen Bobby Knight in action. The first time I ever saw my son screamed at was when Mike visited the mound after Jim made the mistake of walking two batters in a relief outing. It was an experience the kid didn't forget.
But Mike has a heart of gold and his players love him.
Mike insisted this would be his last year. He has his grandson's Tee Ball games to watch. His career ended last week on our field in the Connie Mack Regional Tournament. Mike's last, and probably best chance to get to the World Series in New Mexico, ended with sudden ferocity thanks to a walk-off home run by a future FAU star, and a bad call by an ump to end the final game. It was a heartbreaking finish as the tying run was thrown out at home to complete a double play. (sac fly) The play wasn't close, but we all have to live with what the umpire sees.
I especially felt badly, because Mike had a number of signed FAU recruits on his team and I wanted to see them win.
Mike Roberts and the hundreds of men like him are priceless. They put up with the rigors of coaching, travel, personnel and parent problems for the love of the game. It cost Mike Roberts money each year to run the Pokers. Mike did it all with no salary, in his free time. He did everything first class for his kids and they are better for it.
I'll miss him as a coach, but I'm glad he's my friend.
One last thought...
We were driving home from our vacation in Tennessee. Thirteen hours with a six and a four year old in a vehicle. Somewhere below Perry, Georgia we encountered an hour and half delay due to a gigantic multi vehicle accident in the northbound lane.
Traffic was inching along. I had the radio up loud desperately trying to drown out the noise from the backseat. American Soldier by Toby Keith came on, and as I was singing along I looked out the window. Next to us in a beat up old Honda was a real American soldier. He might have been returning to base after a free weekend. As I looked at him riding in a car I wouldn't want to see my sons driving, the thought of just how much we owe those men and women hit me hard.
We are supposed to be the leaders of the free world, the greatest nation on Earth, and the people we count on most aren't paid well enough to own a decent car. I thought of the wife he may have left behind and her struggles, trying to raise kids with a Dad off getting ready for God knows what.
I lived through a period of an inequitable draft, and saw thousands of poor or disadvantaged kids sacrifice their lives while guys like me were in college, or other young men had political connections that landed them safely in the National Guard. The volunteer Army is a good idea, but if these men and women are so vital to us- and they are, shouldn't we pay them a comparable wage?
The National Guard and the Reserves are no longer a safe haven. Men and women with less comprehensive training than regular Army are now in harm's way. Are we being fair to them? If we won't give them enough of our money to have a decent car, lets give them enough of our prayers to get them back safely. KC