Sunday, July 28, 2019

Remembering Dale

Dale and me on Orcas Island 2015

Two years ago today I got the call that my best friend Dale died. It was one of the hardest days of my life.

The timing was unbelievable. Dale and his fiancé Liz, along with two of Dale's boys, had just spent five days with us on vacation. We packed so much into those days--a wonderful day at my company picnic, playing on the beach at Birch Bay, hiking Mount Baker, sightseeing in Seattle, and taking the ferry to walk and play in Friday Harbor.

It was an amazing time together, filled with great talks and lots of love and laughter. On the last day of their time in Washington, Dale proposed to Liz in Seattle. We talked a couple times over the next week as they started making wedding plans.

I cried the night they left, and I cried tears of joy when he told me about the proposal.

I've always been a cryer--any sappy movie can get my tears flowing. I get tears of joy when my kids win a big game or bring home a great report card.

I've never cried harder than I did the day I learned Dale had died. I woke up, and as usual, looked at my phone to see if there were any pressing messages or emails. I saw a notification of a Facebook message from Liz, Dale's fiancé.

"Todd, it's Liz. Please call me." 

Messages at 2 AM are never good. I figured there had been an accident or something like that, and hoped that nobody was hurt too badly. I called Liz and she answered the phone. She sounded upset, like she'd been crying. My anxiety level quickly rose. 

She said, "Todd, Last night, Dale took Ryan to soccer practice. While he was there, he went for a run. He must have collapsed while he was running, and he died. Dale's dead, Todd."

I felt frozen; like I couldn't move or think or feel anything. Then when I did move, it felt funny, like it wasn't me; like I was outside my body. I stood up and began walking back and forth next to the bed.

"Oh Liz, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." I didn't know what else to say; I just kept repeating those words. I felt like my mind was pulling back, closing up, running from the truth and the weight of what Liz said.  

"I don't know what do, Liz. I think I'm in shock."

"Is Jamie there?" she asked. "Give the phone to Jamie."

Jamie was in the shower. I walked into the bathroom, opened the shower door, and just held my phone out to Jamie. I guess she took it, then I walked back into the bedroom. 

I dropped to my knees next to the bed. I felt like my heart was exploding. I buried my face in the comforter on the bed and began to wail--a combination of sobs and screams, over and over, into the bed. The boys were still sleeping; I didn't want to wake them.

Jamie came out of the bathroom and put her hand on my back. I just kept sobbing. My mind was frozen. I couldn't process what was going on. My body felt weak and I felt a pain, deep inside, like nothing I'd ever felt. 

I cried for a while, then got up and talked with Jamie for a minute. I texted my boss to tell him I wouldn't be at work. It was time to get the boys up, so I went to get them. They had just spent five days with Dale and Liz, Ryan and Benjamin. Dale was family to them, as he was to me.

I went into Brady's room and woke him up. He could see in my face and hear in my voice that something was wrong. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak I began crying again. I tried to breathe and speak slowly so I could get the words out.

"Dale, he was running, and he collapsed, and he died."

Brady's eyes got big; it took him a few seconds to process the information, then he began to cry, and reached out to hold onto me. I started crying again and just held him. Cash heard us and came into the room, so I told him. He started crying as well. We were all just letting it out.

Jamie had to go to work--she kept apologizing, but I knew she needed to be there and told her to go.

I fed the boys breakfast and told them they could stay home or go to day camp. They both chose to stay home. I sat with them and cried and held them for a bit. Then I got them watching TV and began to make some calls.

I called my mother. Mom had known Dale since we were kids; he was family. I didn't want to scare her, and knew I would start crying as soon as I spoke, so I started with "the kids are OK."

I slowly got out the words to tell her what happened to Dale. She was upset.

I left messages with Jill, one of Dale's closest friends from high school, and Lisa, whom Dale dated in high school. They both called me back soon after. I told each of them what had happened. Every time I began to speak, I stared crying again, and struggled to speak the words.

Both of them were shocked and upset, and concerned for me, and for Liz, and Dale's family.

Sue, Dale's ex-wife, called me and we talked and cried.

I called Dale's mom and talked with her. I don't remember much about those conversations; just listening to details as they came, talking about plans for a memorial service.

It was a horrible day, but underneath the grief, then and now, was a nugget of joy--realizing that  the person I admired and respected more than anyone was my best friend. That for my whole life I had a friend who was always there for me. Dale supported me and encouraged me and always answered the call when I needed something. He always gave--emotionally, spiritually, materially.

One time when I needed a car and asked him to borrow money, Dale gave me a car he had that he didn't drive much anymore. When I went to pick it up, I looked at the service records and saw that he had fixed the AC, done a full service and put new tires on it before giving it to me.

I had 43 great years of memories with him, and the icing on it all was a week of incredible joy and new memories we had just experienced.

The grief and loss are always there, but they are softened by a lifetime of wonderful memories, especially those we made in that last week together. I'm grateful I got to meet Liz, who Dale loved so much, and who brought him so much joy.

I went to San Antonio a year ago to be with Liz and Dale's family on his birthday (and the anniversary of his death). It was wonderful to spent that time with them. I didn't make it down there this year, but hope to next year.

I cry less often these days. I guess I am healing, but I still miss him and think about him every day. every single day. Sometimes I talk to him, usually on my drive to or from work; which is when we had most of our phone conversations over his last few years.

And I look forward to seeing him again one day, and giving him one of the bear hugs we always shared when we said hello.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Baseball 2019--A Championship Season

Another Little League Baseball season has come to an end, and it was one of the most enjoyable seasons I've had. I assisted my friend Jim Walker in coaching the Cardinals in the Burlington-Edison Little League Majors division, along with Brad Stallings and Sean Lockwood.

We had a small but strong team of nine players--three 12-year-olds, five 11's and one 10-year-old. We went 13-1 in the regular season, our only loss coming on a forfeit when one of our players was ejected for accidentally throwing his bat. We were up 10-2 at the time.

In our post-season tournament--the Andrade Tournament in Oak Harbor, we won 9-1, 13-0 and 20-5 before winning a thriller in the championship game 5-4. Cash knocked in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

When the season was done, we moved on to All-Stars. Five of our players made the team--Cash, Tyler, Hamza, Chloe and Landon. We breezed through the district tournament, 20-1, 14-0, 4-0 and 10-0. Two of the games were combined no-hitters. Cash was dialed in, going 10-for-15 in the tournament, including a 3-run double for the game winning RBI in the semi-final. He also pitched in both the no-hitters.

The final leg of the season involved traveling to Richland, WA, for the Washington State Little League Tournament. Last year we were blown out in two games, both of them 10-run shutouts.

We were hoping for more this year, and our first game was a battle. We took a long time to get our bats going, and were down 4-1 going into the sixth inning. We came alive and tied the game, taking it to extra innings. We scored once in the top of the eighth, but gave up two in the bottom to fall 6-5.

Our second game was against a really good North Bothell team, and we knew it would be a battle. We fought hard and refused to let them blow us out, eventually losing 11-5. North Bothell eventually won the tournament and became Washington state champions.

It would have been great to win a game or two, but we fought hard to the finish in both games, and scored ten runs in two games--a good showing.

Years from now, I know I'll remember the people and the conversations as much as the games. While the kids enjoyed some independence playing wiffle ball in the hotel parking lot and hanging out at the pool and hot tub, the parents all gathered on the hotel patio to eat and drink and tell stories and laugh. We laughed a lot.

Sometimes you end up on teams where there are clicks, with both players and parents. But this team was special. The kids all got along, on and off the field. They were a true team. And the parents were a wonderful group of people. Everyone hung out together and had fun and cheered our kids on.

The conclusion of the season also means changes for me moving forward. I've coached with either Brad or Jim or both for the last six years.

Both their boys are twelve and will move up to the next level next year. Cash has one more year in Majors, so I'll coach him along with Sean. I'll miss coaching with Brad and Jim, but look forward to becoming manager again after two years of assisting. I'm also looking forward to working with Sean again--he is a great coach and a great friend.

That will be it for Cash and me, our last season of Little League. I'm excited, but right now it's time to turn our attention to soccer!

Here are some pics from the season.

2019 Washington District 11 Little League All-Star Champs!

Cash did a fantastic job at shortstop both at Districts and State

Cash batting at the District Tournament

Me, Jim Walker and team--pre-game at the District Championship

Tyler Walker and Cash--love watching these two play

Jim and Tyler Walker

Jim Walker, Me, Brad Stallings and Sean Lockwood--I'm thankful for great coaches and friends!

Brady played with us in some of our extra Cal Ripken games

Cash on the mound and Brady at Short

Me coaching the Cashman on first

Great showing at the State Tournament

Enjoying grown-up time with some of my favorite people at State--me, Brad Stallings, Jim Walker, Drew Fleshman and Alison Studley

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sports Dad

I love attention and affirmation. Probably part of why I've spent much of my adult life in ministry and education. Pastors and teachers get a lot of love and attention. They also get their share of criticism, but the positive usually makes it worth it.

As a kid I was much the same way. I wanted to be popular; I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be really good at something. I played Little League Baseball as a kid, and loved the game, but I wasn't very good. I played catcher, and was OK on defense, but I couldn't hit. I struck out a lot, hit a lot of weak grounders, and occasionally had a decent hit.

I was never a leader on the team, and was never a star. Some of my classmates were in that group. They were among the guys that pitched and hit home runs and got their names in the paper. I wanted to be like them, to get the recognition they did.

I did get my name in the paper once. I had two hits in a game--a single and a triple--and was thrilled to see my name in print. I think I still have that clipping somewhere. But that was a rare event.

Overall, I was not that good. I never made All-Stars. So when I finished Little League at age 12 I hung up my cleats and started umpiring. Over the years I became very good at it. I ran a marathon and competed in a 100-mile bike race. I played softball for many years and had a blast.

But in recent years I've discovered something even better than being a great athlete, or a leader on a team, or an All-Star. For the last 15 years I've been the father of great athletes.

It began with Ashley in soccer. She started young, and I watched her grow from a little girl who played soccer into a fantastic athlete. She played with boldness and passion and energy--she became a leader and was always one of the best players on the field. She was a soccer bad-ass. She played within the rules, but she played a tough, physical game.

Ashley played soccer for years, up through high school, and I loved watching her play.

Ashley's brothers have continued her legacy. Brady and Cash play baseball and soccer and basketball. They are both much better baseball players than I was. I like to take some credit, as I taught them to throw and catch before they could even walk. Baseball was a big part of their lives from early on. I coached them in T-ball, then coach-pitch, then into regular baseball. I've coached one or the other or both for the last eight seasons.

And I've found more joy in their successes than I ever would have in my own. I love coaching them and cheering for them. I love watching them work hard and succeed. I love watching them win and I love watching them persevere when they don't win.

Brady (13) finished his Little League career last year. I coached him through three All-Star teams and we won two district championships. Coaching your son in an All-Star District championship game feels like winning the World Series (I imagine). The joy and excitement is amazing.

Cash (11) is playing on his third All-Star team right now. We just won our second straight District Tournament. In four games we scored 48 runs and gave up one. Our pitchers threw two combined no-hitters, and Cash pitched in both of them.

This Friday we head to Eastern Washington for the state tournament. I love these days. I love being out on the field. I love watching the kids work and play and yell and battle and celebrate.

We are a small-town team. I hope we can make a run at state, but it will be tough to compete with the teams from Seattle and other big cities--they just have a much larger pool of players from which to draw. But our kids work hard and give it everything. However far we go, I'm grateful for the experience and the wonderful times spent with Cash and his teammates, and the good friends I coach with.

I loved playing and umpiring baseball and running track and running and biking. But none of it compares to the joy of coaching and cheering my kids.

Here are some pics from the tournament; thanks to Anna Weynands and Drew Fleshman!

Cash played short when he wasn't pitching

Cash went 10-for-15 in the tournament

Cash pitched in both of the Tigers' two no-hitters

Cash after a 3-run double in the semifinals

Watching our opponents during introductions

Pre-game Pledge!


District Champs

Tyler's hip injury flared up in the last inning. I'm helping him back to the dugout after he walked. I love this picture and I love that kid. 

My All-Star