Earlier this evening I found myself wandering around Lions Park, the four-field baseball/softball complex where Justin played Little League ball for a couple of years back in his younger days. Susan and I both spent some time on those fields as well, participating at various times on several church-league softball teams.
A few years ago, the City of Waxahachie built a new Sports Complex out on Highway 287 with much nicer, more modern fields and facilities. As a result, Lions Park has become almost forgotten. The fields are in poor shape, some of the fences and backstops have weeds and vines almost covering them, the bleachers have been removed, and the concession stand building is no longer there. I was overcome with a palpable sense of sadness as I stood there taking it all in and reminiscing.
I could almost see the sights and hear the sounds of Lions Park in its heyday: bleachers filled to capacity with proud Daddies and nervous Mommies anxiously watching their little darlings play ball; little brothers and sisters running and climbing and squealing and pestering Mom and Dad for a candy bar from the concession stand; future hall-of-famers warming up in the designated practice areas; lawn chairs and fold-up camping chairs scattered everywhere; coaches arguing with umpires over strikes and balls and fouls and outs. Back then, the place came alive almost every night of the week as children young and old learned valuable lessons about sports, and about life, by participating in America’s pastime.
Now, only the memories remain.
Walking toward left field on Field #3, I found a softball with a busted seam lying in the grass. I wondered how many home runs that ball had seen, how many incredible catches to retire the inning. How many hands had touched that ball? How many games had been played with that ball? How many practice pitches and catches were part of that particular ball’s history? And now, tattered and worn, it simply lay forgotten in a field of weeds. It’s glory days were gone. It would never again see the bright lights of a Tuesday night softball game. It wasn’t even given the dignity of being placed into retirement on a shelf or in a sports bag among other well-worn balls. It simply lay forgotten on a forgotten field.
And I thought about life.
Tears warmed my cheeks as I recalled all the moments of excitement my own family had enjoyed in that place. Times seemed so much simpler back then. Justin was a little boy whose only worries were whether or not he would catch the ball if it was hit to him, and where we were going to eat after the game. Ashley was still with us back then and sat faithfully, game after game, watching her little brother play baseball.
I doubt that I ever stopped to think at the time that we were creating such powerful memories. We were simply enjoying life as a young family. But now the memories are all that remain of those wonder years. Sort of like that softball lying in the overgrown outfield. Sort of like that field itself. I realized, perhaps more than I have ever realized before, just how fleeting and just how precious life’s little moments are.
I love the fact that Justin is becoming a man. I am so proud of who he is, and the strength of character he is developing. It has been fun watching him grow up right before our eyes. It excites me to think of all the wonderful adventures that lie ahead of him: his senior year in high school, his college years, beginning a career, getting married and starting a family. I look forward with eager anticipation to sharing with him in each phase of life that he will face in the coming years.
A father who enjoys the love and respect of his son is a blessed man. I am a blessed man. The relationship that Justin and I have developed is a source of deep satisfaction and fulfillment for me. The continuing growth of that relationship as Justin journeys further into manhood is something that I look forward to with great expectation. Yet there is a part of me, somewhere deep inside, that grieves the loss of that sweet, innocent little boy who needed his Daddy. (Not that he’s no longer sweet or innocent. He is both. But he is no longer little. And I miss that.)
That part of me came to the surface tonight as I stood all alone in the middle of a forgotten baseball field. And I cried.