Baseball practice was more fun than playing an actual game. In a game, only a few balls likely came my way. At practice, ball after ball came that an eleven-year-old could catch (usually) and throw where it belonged (mostly). Practice was the best part of baseball.
There was no striking out in practice either, only balls thrown by our coach in a place where they could be hit. Our coach was an older man, maybe all of seventeen years. He could even drive a car. All of us boys revered him as a player on the local high school team.
In practice, the patient and encouraging voice of our coach could be heard critiquing every move. “Keep your eye on the ball.” “Square your shoulders to the plate.” “Step in front of a grounder.” He told specifically what each player did right and wrong without judgement. His only goal was for us was to play well and we knew it. He was more than a parent. He was a coach.
One morning during practice, the sky darkened. A few ominous rumbles of thunder started. Gusts of wind began. A few raindrops spattered on the infield dirt. All this only made practice more fun. Suddenly rain came in sheets. The entire team clustered under the eve of a locked supply shed. Then strong winds began breaking tree limbs. Lightening hit tall objects nearby. The storm had ceased to be fun.
Our coach looked up at the sheet metal roof above us. “We’ve got to get away from this metal roof.” Our young coach shouted above the gale. “Run for it boys! Get home any way you can!”
No covey of quail ever broke more quickly. Instantly boys ran in every direction on legs motivated by real fear. The lightning struck all around me. The wind could almost knock me over. I’ll always remember the exhilaration of running for my life. For the first time, I was responsible for my own fate.
When large hailstones made the situation even worse, I took refuge on the carport of a house. I could tell the people were home. But I did not know them. My legs remained tense ready to run again in case they discovered me trespassing.
Today weathermen call what we experienced a “micro-burst.” After a while, the storm passed. I remember the joy of having survived on my own as I walked home through storm debris and flooded streets. At the next practice, we learned that all survived and everybody had a story to tell. The experience bonded our team.
Only after the storm did I learn a valuable lesson. Hearing my description of the adventure, my grandmother suggested. “You should have knocked on the door of the house. They would have let you in.”
Maybe. I thought. Or maybe goblins lived there which would have eaten me. All of us had been instructed, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Surely that also meant, “Don’t go alone into the house of strangers.” That’s when I first realized that grownups don’t ALWAYS know best, neither do authorities. I believe being responsible for ourselves is a gift from God.