THE LAST GAME

THE LAST GAME

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

The Last Game

It was to be the last game ever for the New Richmond Generals, a team of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds that were playing in an AABC league in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area. As the parents and teams huddled under umbrellas and dugouts waiting for the rain to end, we were slowly realizing that our last game might not end up being played at all.

The New Richmond Generals had been playing together as a team in one form or another for twelve years. Their coach, Daryl, had put the team together as kindergartners. Over the years some boys left and others were added, they moved from eight years of Knothole to a more select AABC league, but Daryl was their constant. A core group of players, including my son Casey and Daryl’s son Aaron, had been with the team from its inception. Others had played for him for eight to ten of the twelve years. In this age of team jumping, kids quitting, coaches quitting and lack of commitment to any one team or person, such dedication was almost unheard of. Yet these boys and their parents had chosen to stay.

During the players’ younger years, Daryl worked hard to teach them not only the fundamentals of baseball, at which he was very good, but also the intangibles. He treated each boy individually, knew their strengths and weaknesses, and knew how to bring out the best in each one. I remember him going to the library to look up a certain learning disability so he would know what would be the best way to reach and teach that boy. When he would see a personal problem, he would often visit that boy at home and talk to him and his parents. He gave countless rides to make sure each boy arrived at the games or practices. When the boys were fourteen, he saw their playing potential and the team moved to a more select league, which demanded more of his time and personal financial commitment. Boys that had trouble with paying fees were given or found jobs to help offset the costs and to make them feel responsible. Volunteering to help different sports organizations was greatly encouraged.

On the field, Daryl was not always an angel. Though he mellowed with time, he was a fierce competitor and had a hard time holding his tongue if he thought an injustice had occurred. He expected all the boys to play up to their potential and give all they had. It would not be fair to say he didn’t care if they won or not, because he very much wanted to win. But he never failed to apologize to the players if he felt he was out of line, and he let them know he would always stand up for them if they were wronged. He also taught them to respect the game, other players and coaches, umpires, and themselves. If their on-field behavior was inappropriate, he wouldn’t hesitate to pull them. There was and still is a deep feeling of mutual respect between him and the boys. Sometimes Daryl was the only adult these teenage boys felt they could talk to.

So many of these thoughts were going through my head as we sat at this last game. The boys were graduating high school soon and going their separate ways, and after taking the team from kindergarten through high school, Daryl was disbanding the Generals. The parents had planned a simple ceremony to thank Daryl after the game, but the heavy rain was taking away their last opportunity to play together.

We all stood on the field after the umpires officially called off the game. The dreary skies matched our spirits as many of us tried to hold back tears. Daryl had little success holding back as the boys presented him with an inscribed plaque thanking him for his years and friendship, a small token indeed. He then proceeded to thank and praise each boy individually. As he got to the small group of boys who had been with him for the last eight years or so, he gave them keychains engraved with their jersey number and nicknames that he had for them. His good-bye to his own son Aaron was particularly touching, as neither could hold back the tears. He then came to my son Casey. They have had a long, deep commitment to each other, and I could see my almost-eighteen-year-old boy trying to be stoic. Daryl walked to the dugout and pulled out the second base that had always been used in home games. He presented it to Casey with this inscription handwritten on it: “You’ve stolen this base often enough that I thought you should have it. Remember, good things come to those who wait but only things left behind by those who hustle like you. Thank you for your years of dedication and leadership.”

Through my tears I could see Casey giving Daryl a fierce hug and then turning and leaving the field. I tried to catch up with him, but he waved me off, needing me to back away, and to be alone in that way that teenage boys do. That evening, Casey spent his time alone in his room, not wishing to talk about any of the events that happened. I was beginning to wonder if Daryl’s gift and words had actually had any effect on him, but a few weeks later Daryl showed me a letter that my son had sent to him, unbeknownst to me. Casey’s letter was simple but touching, letting his coach know how much he owed to him and how much of an effect he had on his life. His last sentence was, “If I were ever to receive an award for baseball, you would be the first person I would thank.”

Two years have passed since that last game, and Casey and his coach still keep in touch. As college students, many of the players are still in contact and consider Daryl their friend and mentor. When my son started his first year away at college, Daryl called him and encouraged him to work through the tough times. When Casey needs help or advice, or needs to know someone other than his parents support him, he still knows he can go to Daryl for help. And the last time I saw Daryl, he was still carrying with him, folded in his wallet, Casey’s letter.

Linda Poynter

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