It’s morning. I’m parked at a community ballpark, eating a breakfast sandwich.
I made the mistake of turning on the radio. It’s nothing but horrifying news, greasy politics, shouting evangelists, and music that sounds like a choir of chainsaws with chest colds.
I see a boy in an oversized helmet, he’s on the field by himself. A man pitches underhand to him. The kid swings. After a few strikes, he hits a home run. It arcs clear over the fence.
Meet William. He’s the 9-year-old who hit the ball, and he hit that thing harder than Roy Hobbs.
Right now, William is very happy. You can see it on him. He’s running the bases. His legs are skinny, his face is all smiles. William has Down syndrome, and his tender heart is the size of four U.S. states.
This morning, his father has been teaching him to use a bat. Will’s mother is the only one in the bleachers.
“I didn’t expect Will to be so amazing,” his mother says. “Did you see him hit that ball?”
I can sort of relate to what Will must be feeling. The first time I ever hit a baseball over the fence was the only time it ever happened. It was the apex of boyhood.
I was about William’s age. I was moderately chubby, unathletic, I liked pocket knives, pork products, endurance napping, and I wore Superman underpants.
I was no Johnny Bench, but I liked the game.
I remember when my father handed me the bat during a game. It was top of the eighth. My T-shirt bore the name of a local gas station. My white pants had a patch sewn on the seat á la my mom.
Daddy said, “Keep. Your. Eye. On. The. Ball.”
I swung. It was pure luck. The thing sailed like the S.S. Minnow. Over the fence. Home run. And the image I remember most clearly is my father throwing his hat upward into the air.
I’ll never forget the words he hollered: “WEEE DOGGGY!” Just like Jed Clampett. In fact, that’s probably where he learned it.
He only said “weee doggy” when he was overcome with feeling. It was high praise.
So William trots the bases. His father claps. His mother claps. I clap. There’s nobody in the park this morning except us, but it feels like the ‘95 World Series.
“Every day’s like this,” says William’s father. “Will gets excited over everything. It can be baseball or whatever. That’s the blessing that William has brought into my life. He is excited all the time.”
Once upon a time, William’s father was an auto mechanic. He made decent money. When their newborn son came, the doctor said life would be complicated. And it was.
His father quit his job. They moved into a smaller place. William’s parents built their world around medical appointments.
His father took a job at a grocery store to be closer to home. The money isn’t great, but they’ve been happy. He wouldn’t change a thing.
“Our life is perfect,” says his father. “You get a kid like William, you won the lottery. That’s me. I won the lottery.”
William is a happy guy. And according to his parents, he’s always this way.
“Only time we ever see him sad,” his father goes on, “is when something dies. He doesn’t understand death.”
They saw a dead deer on the side of the road a few weeks ago. It tore William up. William wanted to know who was going to take care of the orphan deer. William wanted to help.
His mother says, “Will teaches us to SEE things, that’s his gift. His superpower.”
Speaking of seeing. I wish you could see what I am seeing.
William rounds third base, arms straight out like an airplane. “HEY!” he shouts. “HEY, I DID IT, DAD!”
Father and son hug. William’s oversized helmet falls off.
“You’re the best ball player I’ve ever seen,” says his father—who is due at work in an hour.
“No, Dad,” says William. “You’re the best dad there will ever be. I love you so much, Dad. I love, love, love, love, love, love you.”
I’m glad I turned off my radio.