I am soaked to the core, and I’m chilled to the bone. I just spent the better part of two hours standing in a not so gently soaking rain, watching my son’s soccer team slug it out in the slop and the slick, to win a hard fought 2-1 match that was never really settled until the final whistle blew. It was the most exciting youth league game I think I’ve ever watched. Maybe tomorrow, when the emotion of it all has worn off, I’ll reconsider. I am susceptible to excesses of thinking, and emotion. You may have heard this about me.
All I know at this moment is that while I’m soaked & chilled, and I need a hot, steamy shower, and the comfort of clean, dry, cotton clothes… toasty warm pairs of socks & underwear, maybe some bulky, fleecy sweat pants and a fluffy flannel shirt – right out of the dryer. As sweet as those things might be, I can’t just yet. I don’t want to wash away this moment. I fear that a shower could make this feeling go away, and I want it to last a little while longer. Cold & damp is a feeling that’s temporary, just like euphoria.
Our local YMCA sponsors “house league” soccer that’s played in the fall. There are 8 or 10 soccer fields lined out on the grounds of a state hospital facility, and every Saturday from Labor Day until late October, the fields are alive with color and movement from our little town’s little kids…and big kids. I think the kids stop playing at age 15. Both my children have participated since we moved here 5 years ago. My daughter played her final game last fall; my wife captured a picture of her with me as we walked off the field that day, and it is one of my treasures. It’s just a picture, but it says a thousand things to me; endings, beginnings, nothing and everything.
As you watch 5 years’ worth of these games, you get to see your kids, and the neighbor kids, grow and develop – physically, intellectually, and emotionally. If you’re really watching, it doesn’t take long to figure out who the best players are. Even when they’re younger, you get a pretty good idea who the standout athletes are going to be when they get to the high school level. My son’s team, U-15 Team 4 (Orange) that’s how they’re identified in the local paper, has some great athletes on the roster.
My son is not one of the great athletes on the roster. This isn’t a lament; this is just a fact. Great athletes love to play and compete, they are instinctual, and it all comes very naturally to them. My son, Jack, likes to show up – every practice, every game. He is not passionate about playing, he doesn’t seek glory, but he feels a responsibility to his team – he likes being on a team. And while he’s not a superstar, coaches like him because he’s not a distraction either, and he does whatever you tell him to do.
It’s very frustrating for me to watch, because I see all the potential that comes with his Large frame – I see scholarships, and professional contracts, and he just doesn’t. He doesn’t care about that stuff, and he shouldn’t. He just wants to play. Today, he could care less about potential… he just sees a muddy field, the cool factor of playing in the rain, and a chance to spend some non-school time with his buddies in some friendly competition. The reality is he probably enjoys rides to and from practice with Kelsey as much as he enjoys playing the game. Kelsey is a teammate, a pretty 8th grader who lives across the street. Kels is tall, with long dark hair, big pretty eyes, and one of the reasons why my son is so grateful that this year; the soccer league is a co-ed league.
All these things being said, today was a little different.
U-15 Team 4 (Orange) has 4 standout athletes, neighbor Kelsey is one, and then there are 3 boys. These 4 kids will consistently make a difference, game in and game out. Until today, Team 4 (Orange) has won all of their games by a comfortable margin. Today, in the not so gently falling rain, the Yellow team was giving our Orange team all they could handle. The Yellow goalie caught, swiped, or kicked away, shot after shot, by our Orange clad kids. Our goalkeeper was busy, but not overworked…our athletes played great defense and kept the ball on the opposite side of the pitch for most of the first half.
The Yellows had a new addition on their team, just acquired this week, late sign up, Carlton. By rule, Carlton has to be under 15 years-old, and I’m sure that nobody would cheat, but if I’m 53, Carlton was 30…Carlton was a man. He wasn’t tall, not even really thick, but he was solid…a man’s frame. After the game, when I asked my son about him, “Oh, he was nasty!” was his only remark. My thoughts are clouded because of my dampness and all, but my memory of Carlton will always be of an ex-con, with those prison tats, a full beard, orange coveralls, and brass knuckles on each hand. One of the parents on the sideline said they just flew him in for the day for this game, and then he was going back to Spain or Belgium to play in the Euro league. I’m sure I have some confusion about the actual facts, because I need a shower, but suffice it to say that this “kid” was a player…a standout.
With about 3 minutes left in the half, Carlton was driving towards the Orange goal, and the only thing between a 1-0 lead for the yellow team was our pretty Kelsey, and our goalie. Unlike me, Kels wasn’t intimidated by the prison tats, the coveralls, or the full beard that Carlton was wearing…she saw her ball on his left foot, and she took it, and sailed it about twenty yards in the other direction. The ball returned immediately from the Yellow defense, and Kels got blocked by another Yellow as she went to mix it up again with Carlton. I realize that Kelsey is not my kid, but she is my neighbors’ kid, and I read somewhere that “It Takes a Village”, and the kid from my village knocked Carlton’s interference on his non interfering ass. I felt only a little shame as I yelled “YES!” as everyone else went “oooooohhhh”.
A little sidebar about Kelsey; she’s a really sweet kid – pretty, smart, funny, she’s absolutely a girl – not a tomboy in any way, but you don’t really want to make contact with her in a competitive situation. She has an understanding or an instinct about leverage and weight distribution on the level of a Kung Fu master. Contact with her usually ends up with Kels going in the other direction with the ball, and her opponent on their butt. Cool.
So I try to settle myself a little as Kelsey’s Yellow jersey wearing opponent gets up, laughing, as he hears Kels yell “Sorry!” as she dances away with the ball. We’re watching great play, after great play, by both teams. My son, Jack (or Big J as he’s referred to by his buddies) is out there as well. It pains me to say it, but as the competition has become electric, and everyone’s energy is focused on the field – the kids are in a frenzy trying to put a point on the board before the half, all I want is for him not to mess it up. I don’t want greatness, I want anonymity for him…he’s playing defense next to Kelsey and one of the other standouts, I just want him not to get in their way. Don’t win the moment, and don’t lose it. Please, soccer gods, let him be irrelevant.
I noticed throughout most of the half that he was playing a bit aggressive, a little less tentative; his head placement and his body language were those of a boy who thought he was supposed to be there on the field, instead of playing the video version in the FROG (see last LMC). This kind of posture will usually get him in trouble, but like I said, today was a little different. Maybe it was the rain.
Maybe it was the Pop-Tart (don’t judge) that he had for breakfast, maybe it was the new haircut that he got about an hour before the match…I don’t know. Maybe it was because until the last minutes of the first half I was talking patio construction, and pool problems with the dads of the standouts, and I did very little coaching from the sidelines. Maybe…
The Yellows got the ball back deep in Orange territory with 45 seconds left in the half, and for the first time in the game, Yellow had a numbers advantage on the Orange goal. Our goalie was brilliant, our kids played with amazing heart, but a great across the box pass put the ball on Carlton the convict’s cleats with 15 seconds left. The Dads and I are gasping, 14 seconds left, he’s gonna score a buzzer beating goal – a HUGE momentum win for the Yellows just as the half would end.
Not this time. Carlton the man child would score later in the game, but not now, not with now 12 seconds left before halftime…not here. Carlton didn’t score, because from out of nowhere (actually, out of Liberty Missouri), my son, Jack, Big J, put his Large butt in the middle of Carlton’s line of fire, took that ball, and booted it to safety seconds before the whistle blew to end the half. I may have uttered a “YES!” again, loudly. I may have fist pumped too. I was excited. He made a play. His coach yelled “JACK! GREAT PLAY” as the Orange team rushed off the rainy field. He made a play.
I’m sure many of you reading this are thinking, really? He saved a goal? That’s Chronicle worthy? He didn’t even score a goal! I agree. He didn’t, he just made a play. It was a great play, but I’ll admit, it was just a play…just one moment. Kelsey and the other standouts make them 4 or 5 times a game…probably more.
Jack doesn’t. Jack is a great kid, and he does great things all the time, he just doesn’t do them on the soccer field. Jack’s greatness will probably never be measured by goals or plays, but today it was. Today he had just one moment of greatness.
For one second today, Jack was better than the best kid on that field. I saw it, his coach saw it, and most importantly, Jack saw it; so now he knows he can. I could see that as he walked across the field to meet me after the game. That big braces-filled mouth smiled a smile as bright as the sun.
The Orange team won the match, 2-1, the second half was as great as the first, and it was a win where you can say every kid on the team contributed. Those are the best. As we walked to the car, we heard someone yelling from across the field, “Hey Jack! Wait up!” it was his coach again. He had to high five him one more time, and also explain to Jack (and me) how important that play was. Imagine what that meant to my 12-year old, non-glory seeking, Kelsey admiring, kid. As good as I feel right now, just imagine how he feels.
Who knows what’s next; probably not glory, scholarships or contracts, but that’s ok. Just one moment is good for now. I know I need a shower, but not just yet. I’m gonna just feel this for a while longer.
Thanks for reading.