Monday, November 19, 2012


It was a stinking hot August day in Dekalb, Illinois. The six of us were sitting in the dusty grass up the left field line just behind the bullpen. I had my mask and helmet off and was working at a sore spot where the buckle of my chest protector dug into my side. Assistant coach Pete was standing over us, casually leaning the mid-part of his thigh against a Fungo bat to steady himself. Three pitchers sipped at their water jugs while three catchers sat or lay trying to coax some of the dead air into cooling them off.

You could hear the corn rustling against the right field fence, the aluminum bleachers ringing with the impact of batting practice across the field. Pete was slacking just a bit, killing time between drills. He was staring off into the distance, trying to catch a glimpse of head coach Joe “Spanky” MacFarland, to trade some nod or hand signal about what to do next with his charges. Summer baseball camp at Northern Illinois University in a nutshell. I was maybe 13.

Pete kept his eyes pointed away from us, and apropos of nothing started in somewhat shyly; “You know fellas, everyone… no matter who they are… everyone has something important to say.” The comment just sort of hung there in the humid air.

A few years later Spanky would leave NIU to go coach at a division 1 baseball school. He’s brilliant man, whose book on pitching with its folksy, clear, hand-drawn biomechanical models was remarkably deep but perfectly understandable to my teenage mind. There may have been some tension between Pete and Spanky, but if there was it went over my head. What I always got was the impression that Pete really looked up to Spanky, that he owed him something. I like to think that Spanky inspired Pete the same way he inspired all of us; work hard, have a good heart, and you can make your own luck. I like to think that Pete was sharing something about his mentor that day, giving us all a little insight into what made Spanky a good leader.

The vignette crept into my mind over the weekend. I guess I needed a little calming of the mind.

Photograph hastily borrowed from

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