Baseball season is nearly here and I can't imagine it without Austin. Actually, he was about the only reason I even cared about it.
Austin loved baseball from the moment he was old enough to pick up a bat. He began playing T-ball when he was barely three, coached by his Dad. I think there was only one season he didn't play, most years he played Spring and Fall. He played for the county, never the school system because he played for the sport, not the clique.
He had moments of greatness on the field and could have had so many more, if given more play time. He wasn't whiny or cocky and didn't beg to play, you either wanted him or you didn't. Actually, one Spring he quit mid-season, because the team and coach was a mess. They only played an exclusive few, even though they weren't any better than others on the team. The coach obviously had his own agenda and the true love of baseball wasn't among them. Austin was frustrated and although I raised my boys not to be quitters, we all agreed to walk that year.
He was a leftie and was usually one of the biggest kids on the team, so he could certainly put a fear on the other side. Most years, he played outfield and had quite an arm. He could catch a ball at the fence and seem to only softly throw it, as it effortlessly landed at home in seconds. He also had great power behind his hits and when the bat and ball met, it was magic.
I still remember a tournament game from last year or so as one of his best ever. Their team ranked as the underdogs (always my favorite to root for) and the chances of them winning were not great. They fought it out through the entire game, the score teetering from one team to the other. The game was tied, we had 2 outs and Austin was up to bat. I always dreaded this situation for my kids, as if the weight of the world were on their shoulders. I knew Austin was nervous, although he didn't show it, but he wanted the win for the team and felt entirely responsible in that moment. He struck out at first bat, a hush fell and then a rally. Second bat, another strike. I held my breath. The crack of the bat on the third and final swing, is still a sound I remember. He sent it soaring, brought everyone in and won the game! It was amazing and I let out my held breath with a proud Mom's scream.
But playing the sport was not Austin's only love of baseball. He lived for the season and would watch the games on every tv in our house. One year, we got a free preview of the sports package and he was on cloud 9. It was hard to get him out of the house! He gave the game his full attention and would get so excited - or aggravated - depending on the score. Austin and his Dad liked to pick opposite teams and fight it out on tv. Tim always picked the underdog, or whatever team he knew Austin wouldn't like, just for the heck of it. I remember this past summer, we were vacationing in Florida and it was world series or something (no, I'm not an expert in the sport!). We were relaxing at a beach concert in Pensacola and Austin was on the edge of his lounge chair, waiting to get back to our condo so he could watch the game. He was calling family in Kentucky to see if they would record the show, in case he missed it! We got back in time for him to watch the ending so he slept happy that night.
Better than tv, was watching it live. How I wish we'd taken those baseball trips he'd talked about. He and his Dad did go to a Cincinnati Reds game one year with a friend of his from school. They were all the way up in the nosebleed section but Austin didn't care. I think he would have been happy in the parking lot! And every summer, we attended at least a handful of Otter games, because they were close. There was never a game that his name didn't get picked for the "between-inning games" they played on the field. One year, he won a yellow t-shirt from Zesto's ice cream and he wore the thing until it changed shades from being washed so much. He also won a free pizza from Turoni's, which quickly became our favorite eating spot after the game. And of course, one game he didn't win because the competition was to sing a song. He whispered "Twinkle, Twinkle" but the old man competing with him won by a mile. Austin would have preferred a batting competition!
He also loved collecting baseball cards and memorabilia. His walls are covered with posters, hats, t-shirts and his favorite framed art piece of the St. Louis Cardinals. We bought it at an auction for Relay For Life. He played the guilt card that night, adding all the money he'd saved from mowing for the season, and reminding me that it was "going to a great cause." I would've paid about anything though, to see his face, feel that great hug and hear the words, "thanks Mom, you are the best!"
His other enjoyment was watching Noah play ball and coaching him along. Austin was rarely seated in the stands but rather in the dugout helping the kids or behind the pitcher's mound, giving Noah pointers. On practices, he was always out in the field helping them, even though he wasn't officially a coach or any part of Noah's team. He did it for Noah and his intense love of the game. He did coach Noah one season in Upward basketball, with his Dad, and did a wonderful job. Austin had such patience with the kids and knew how to help and improve each child. He would have made a wonderful coach as an adult. He learned from the best.
Noah doesn't want to play this Spring. And I understand. Things just won't be the same without Austin there to cheer him on. I hope someday he'll pick it back up because Noah inherited the same talents as his big brother. And I hope that our family can find the love again for the game. Just not this year, our favorite player isn't on the field or in the stands this season.