It was just one of those things. I ran into them in the supermarket. They were no longer boys. They were young men. Gangly. Skinny. Grown men.

They had sincere-looking facial hair on their faces. They had broad shoulders. They were taller than me. No longer were they pale and chubby outfielders and infielders. They looked nothing like I remembered.

When I coached their Little League team, a hundred years ago, I was a young man myself. It was my friend’s son’s team. My friend was the coach. I was his assistant coach.

We all wore jerseys that bore the name of our sponsor, an insurance company. And we all sweat through our shirts until they clung to our bodies like plastic wrap.

They were enthusiastic little boys. They smelled like Limburger cheese, kid-sweat, and classrooms. They had baby faces. They were loud. Unruly. They punched each other to show their affection. They got into trouble. Their primary form of entertainment in the van was releasing gaseous expulsions from both ends.

I had a good time with the boys because, even though you can’t tell anymore, I am a former boy.

“Mister Sean!” these grown men said, walking down the supermarket aisle.

They were pushing a cart. They were wearing slacks and dress shirts.

I saw them and felt a lifetime come back to me. And at that moment, I felt about as old as Willie Nelson.

We all participated in a manful greeting ritual. A lot of masculine back-slapping hugs. Stiff handshakes, firm and sturdy. Punches to the shoulders.

One of them is married. Three have children of their own. One of them coaches Little League.

I can’t believe they’re still playing ball. I can’t believe they still remember me. I can’t believe they remembered all the stupid motivational phrases I taught them in the dugout.

“There is no I in team…” “There’s no crying in baseball…” “Always, ALWAYS protect the McNuggets.”

I can’t believe anything I said stuck with them.

I have no children. My wife and I were not awarded such a blessing. This is as close as I will ever come to knowing what it feels like to matter to young people.

Before we left each other, one of the boys put his heavy arm around me. He was a kid who had been through some very hard times. Like myself. A kid whose childhood I could relate to. I remember the serious conversations we had when he was a boy. I remember a lot.

I asked what he did for a living.

“I’m studying to become a priest,” he replied.


He nodded.

My eyes were getting blurry. I smiled so big I felt my facade begin to crack. Whereupon four young men hugged me, in the canned goods aisle. They slapped my back and tousled my hair.

“Hey,” one of them said to me. “There’s no crying in baseball.”

But it turns out there is.