The Home Run
“Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention…”
-Paul Anka, Frank Sinatra
…but it only takes one.
“Good afternoon, John. How are you doing today?”
“Well, I’m still here. I’m not sure how I feel about that, so I’m not sure how I’m doing.”
“Don’t talk like that. You’re doing great.”
“Maggie, I’m sure you learned a lot of good stuff in nursing school, but how to lie to your patients must not have been one of them. Everyone in the building knows I’m dying. I’d just like to get it over with. And you’re probably sick of my stupid jokes by now.”
Maggie smiled. Oncology nurses see sadness and depression every day, in their patients and in their families. A man wasting away who tried to brighten her day was pretty rare. Maggie knew she would miss him.
“You’re stupid jokes are the highlight of my day.”
“Oh, that reminds me, a friend of mine once told me he broke his arm in two places…”
“I told him to stop going to those places.”
“John, I just saw your son’s car in the parking lot. I could set my watch by that guy. Seriously, every day, five o'clock on the button. He must really love his Dad.”
“Well, maybe, and you guys have the Big Ten channel on your cable lineup.”
“Yeah, that must be it. He’s such a nice young man. I bet he was a great kid growing up.”
“His T-ball game is at five-thirty. Don’t be late, John. Tommy really wants you to be at his games.”
“ My last appointment is at four. I’ll be there in plenty of time.”
That was the plan. But attorneys don’t always control their schedules, especially when it comes to their “big” clients.
“John, Mr. Barnes from the bank called. He needs to see you for a few minutes this afternoon. He’d like to stop by around five.”
Damn. Money talks.
Some say the most precious commodity in the world is real estate- “they’re not making it anymore.” They’re wrong. The most precious commodity is time. We all come with an expiration date, and those “precious moments in time” never return.
“John! You missed it! Tommy just hit a home run! Not one of those where they have ten errors, but a real home run! He whacked the ball clear over the center fielder’s head! It was unbelievable!”
Time. That precious moment in time. It came and went, never to return. “Disappointment” didn’t come close to describing the moment. John felt terrible. Every dad wants to see his kid hit a home run, whether it’s T-ball, or the Majors. Then he saw Tommy looking at him, and he caught the knockout punch- every kid wants his dad to see him hit a home run. It was the double whammy of tragic events. He was late. He missed it. He could have begged off on the meeting. The pressures of the business world reigned, and he and Tommy lost a special memory.
John asked his wife to describe, in impossible detail, the swing, the big hit, the flight of the ball, where it landed, Tommy circling the bases, and his teammates greeting him at home plate. He wanted to see what he hadn’t seen, but there was no instant replay for John.
He sat behind his desk the next morning at work, reviewing documents with his eyes but still beating himself up in his mind. He kept replaying the events of the previous afternoon, his last scheduled appointment, the important client needing to see him late in the day, the traffic lights that plotted against him, and most of all, the troubling fact he put the banker before his boy. The outcome always stayed the same- he missed Tommy’s home run.
But wait. Lots of parents filmed the games. Surely someone would have captured Tommy’s home run. That night John called the two coaches and the parents of every kid on Tommy’s team to see if they had it on film. Remarkably, no one had been filming at the time. He would never see Tommy’s moment. It’s the harm one does to oneself that causes the most pain.
Tommy knew his dad was dying, and John knew that his son knew he was dying. That makes for challenging conversation. There is no joy in anything. Memories of the past are painful, and there is no point in talking about anything in the future. The present is a dying old man hooked up to more contraptions than John could have imagined as he lay in a room he wouldn’t leave alive. But neither would miss those hours for anything in the world. It was that time thing again, so little of it left for the two of them to be together. That was the point of it, the only point, just to be together.
“Good, fine. Dad, I want you to know…”
“Tommy, let’s not go there. I already know. We both know. I think there’s a good game on TV tonight.”
That was it. Doing the things they did on a normal day with the time they had left.
We’ve all heard the comment, “It’s only a game.” Anyone who ever played a sport knows that is not true. Former athletes will agonize into their middle age and beyond over mishaps that happened long ago- a dropped pass, a missed shot, a dropped baton, or a wobble on the balance beam. On the flip side, old folks will still smile at the memory of catching a touchdown pass, nailing a three-pointer at the buzzer, or drilling one past the goalie in overtime. The effect is magnified when a parent reflects on the success or failure of their child. John held that great memory in his hand, and he blew it. He would forever regret missing Tommy’s home run.
The impact of John’s tardy arrival at the game was aggravated by Tommy’s lack of success in the years that followed. Tommy loved sports; he just wasn’t very good at anything. He played on the “no-cut” teams through grade school, but he could never make a high school roster. It put Tommy’s home run in the category of a near miracle which only added to John’s frustration at having missed it.
It weighed on him. Of all the times in his life that he wished he could have done something differently, that was the one. He should have been there. He could have been there. His guilt and the nagging regret outweighed other seemingly more impactful events in his life- losing a few cases he thought he should have won, a couple of bad investments, even breaking his arm when he fell off the garage roof attempting a small repair.
It’s not easy to replay an event in your mind that you didn’t see, but John tried. He created the visual the best he could. He imagined Tommy smacking that ball, running the bases, and celebrating at home plate. It wasn’t much, but it was the best he could do.
Maggie felt a special attachment to John. She had never encountered such selfless spirit in one of her patients on the hopeless list. Whenever possible, she would stop in to visit and chat. It was more than lending aid and comfort; she enjoyed the time she spent with him.
“You had a wonderful life, John. So many years with your loving wife, a wonderful son, a great career.”
“I have had a good life, Maggie, so much to be thankful for, few regrets.”
Few regrets. John paused and lowered his head. Maggie sensed a troubling thought on John’s mind.
“What is it? Are you ok, John?”
“The biggest regret of my life, Maggie…I missed my boy hit a home run…in T-ball if you can believe that. I took an extra appointment, got to his game late, and missed one of his great moments. I wish so much that I could have seen it, for my sake and his. I suppose that sounds crazy.”
Maggie stared at her patient, a man riddled with cancer and wracked with pain, and his mind was on a T-ball game from decades ago. Maggie fought back a tear.
“No, John, not crazy at all. It’s sweet.”
“How’s he doing today, Maggie?”
“As well as can be expected.”
“Is he in a lot of pain?”
“We do the best we can. And how would we know? Your dad never complains about anything.”
A hint of a smile appeared on Tommy’s face. Maggie stopped him as he was about to enter the room.
“Tommy, I have to tell you something. I was visiting with your dad before, and we were talking about things like family, work, his life. Do you know what he considers the biggest regret of his life?”
“That he missed your T-ball home run when you were a little kid. Can you imagine that?”
“My T-ball game?! Oh my God. That was so long ago. I never knew it bothered him so much. I feel bad about that.”
“You shouldn’t feel bad. It just says how much you matter to him.”
“I can’t believe he’d be thinking about that now…my home run.”
Tommy lowered his eyes as he tried to recall that day from so long ago.
The routine continued, Tommy there every night and most afternoons, Maggie checking in on John whenever she could, and death maintaining its menacing vigil at the door. Periods of sleep grew longer and the jokes stopped. The end was near.
“I’m glad you made it, Tommy. I don’t think there’s much time left.”
When sad eyes meet sad eyes, no words need to be spoken.
“What do you have there?”
“A little surprise for dad. I hope I’m not too late.”
Tommy entered the room and sat on the edge of the bed.
The voice was soft, weak, unsettling for Tommy to hear. He immediately recognized the dramatic decline in his dad’s condition. It hit him hard. There would be little time left. After all those years together, he only had mere moments to spend with his dad. Time, that most precious commodity… treasure the moment, hold tight to the memory.
“Dad, do you remember the day I hit a home run in T-ball? And you missed it?”
With his eyes barely open, John slowly turned his head toward his son.
“Yes…of course… I remember….I missed it. Why are you…why are you asking…about that?”
“And I know you tried to find a video of it.”
“Yes, I did…I called the coaches… and every parent… I wanted to see it so bad… I’m so… so sorry I missed it.”
“Well, you always told me to think outside the box, Dad, and that’s what I did. I tracked down some of the parents from the other team…”
“You…found parents from the other team…after all these years?”
“Yes, and someone caught my home run on video. I couldn’t believe it. They still had it. And it’s perfect!”
“Your…home run? On video?”
John squirmed his shoulders a bit and raised himself up on his pillow as Tommy set a small laptop on his chest. John’s eyes, now wide open, were fixed on the screen in front of him as Tommy hit play.
“That’s me, Dad. I look pretty confident with those practice swings.”
Tommy’s mom could be heard shouting, “Come on Tommy you can do it!”
John pulled himself closer.
“Look at that, Dad. A nice level swing, firm but not too hard, just like you taught me.”
The ball took off like a Henry Aaron line drive. Tommy stood frozen in the batter’s box as he tracked the flight of the ball. His coach was shouting, “Run, Tommy, run!” And run he did. The first base coach was flailing his arms like an out-of-control windmill as he implored Tommy to head for second. The center fielder could be seen chasing after the ball as Tommy rounded second base. The cheers grew louder when he got to third amidst calls from coaches, teammates, and parents to “Keep going, Tommy!” He was surrounded by his teammates the moment he touched home plate. With his arms raised high above his head, Tommy jumped up and down in wild celebration. It was the most beautiful thing a dad had ever seen.
Tears flowed down the cheeks of father and son as John’s shaking hand reached out and grabbed hold of Tommy’s arm.
“Thank you, son…thank you. It was… even more wonderful than I imagined.”
John released his grip on Tommy’s arm, closed his eyes, and slowly slumped back into his pillow with a smile that would last for an eternity.