A Little League game. The crickets are out tonight. So are the yellow flies. And the mosquitoes. Welcome to West Florida. If the insects don’t get you, the snakes will.

The game just ended. The Little Leaguers are doing what every boyhood team has done since the creation of mud. They form a single-file line, walk past the other team, and give high-fives.

They say “Good game,” to each player.

The kids mumble this with the same sincerity it would take to scratch their hindparts. But the point is: they say it. And I hope this tradition never dies.

I was not a good athlete. I was a chubby child with red hair, my only gift was sarcasm. Also, I could make noises with my armpits.

Our third baseman—who I’ll call Gary—was a true athlete. Sports seemed easier for Gary than for others. He was all business when it came to baseball.

Once, my cousin Ed Lee brought a package of Red Man chew to the field. During the seventh inning, he gave every boy a pinch. But Gary wasn’t even interested. He was only there to play.

“Keep it in your cheek,” my cousin told us. “Whatever you do, don’t swallow your spit.”

When I got up to bat, I was in a stupor.

“What’s wrong with you?” said the coach, who also happened to be my father.

I took one swing and spun so hard that I swallowed the tobacco. That was a pretty bad day.

That was the same game when Gary hit a grand slam. My father was so proud that he lifted Gary onto his shoulders and marched him around the field.

I disliked Gary for this. I disliked him a lot.

Because I could never impress my father the way Gary always did. Gary could swat anything with a bat—including some species of gnats. He had me beat by a country mile.

I remember after one particular game, my father noticed my sour face and said, “What crawled up your nose and died?”

Only he didn’t say nose.

So I told my father how much I disliked Gary. My father said nothing in return. I felt foolish for admitting it, but jealousy makes a boy do foolish things.

The next day, my father picked me up from school early. Which was bizarre because my father never picked me up from school.

“Hop in,” Daddy said, patting his passenger seat. “We gotta give someone a ride to tonight’s game, and I want you with me.”

We drove to a rundown part of town. We arrived at an ugly house that looked like it was about to fall sideways. It was covered in mold, the lawn was overgrown, the windows were broken.

Daddy rapped on the door.

A man answered. The man was unshaven and smelled like a distillery. He said, “What do you want?”

“Howdy, Fletch!” said my father, pumping the man’s hand. “Is Gary ready for the big game?”

My father would have made a great politician.

The big man practically snarled. Then he screamed, “Gary! Get your lazy butt down here!”

Gary ran down the stairs, already wearing his uniform.

My father said, “I promise I’ll have him home as early as I can.”

“I don’t care what you do with him,” said the man. “Keep him, for all I care.”

We won the game that night. And it was Gary who won it for us. He hit a triple in the ninth inning. And when the evening was over, my father took us out for ice cream.

Only Gary didn’t eat ice cream. My father bought Gary a hotdog instead. When Gary finished that, my father bought him a hamburger and fries. I’ve never seen a kid eat so fast.

That night I felt awful about myself. I finally told Gary that I was sorry for being a jerk, and that I thought he was one of the best ball players who ever lived. And I meant it.

“Thanks,” he said.

And it only made me feel worse.

We rode to Gary’s house in silence. And when we pulled to the curb, Gary seemed like he didn’t want to leave my father’s truck. So Gary stared through the windshield at his own dilapidated home in the distance. We listened to the crickets.

Gary said, “Thanks for the food Mister Dietrich. Thanks for everything, I just love you both so much that I…”

Without warning, Gary hugged me. Hard.

At first I was surprised by this awkward embrace. Then I decided to hug him back, just as tightly as he was holding me.

I’m not sure why I told you all that. Maybe I think about that boy from time to time, and wonder how he is.

Just like I think about you sometimes. I don’t know where you are in life, and I don’t know whether you’re winning or losing. Either way, I believe in you. With all my heart, I believe.

In fact, you’re on my mind while I sit at a Little League field. Also, I have something I want to tell you.

Good game.

39 comments

  1. Gayle - June 8, 2019 6:56 am

    Thank you so much for this essay. I read it tonight sitting in my 24-year old son’s ICC room as he recovers from brain surgery. It’s his tenth in the past five years. He sustained a severe traumatic brain injury coming home from college his freshman year. You reminded me to view everyone through the lens of kindness. You never know what others are dealing with regardless of how successful they appear.

    Reply
    • theholtgirls - June 10, 2019 2:44 am

      Gayle, I am also the mom of a 24yo, and my epileptic big brother has had brain surgeries – your comment spoke to me. I pray for you and your family tonight, may y’all have deep sleep and wake up refreshed for the journey of the day ahead. May your son find relief and healing through this surgery. In Jesus’ name I pray these things. Amen

      Reply
  2. Sandi in FL. - June 8, 2019 7:56 am

    Sean, this story has me in tears. Your Daddy was such a good man, and taught you a valuable lesson the night he picked up Gary for the ballgame. Thanks to the internet’s numerous ‘people search’ websites, perhaps you can look up your old teammate and reconnect over a hot dog and fries. .

    Reply
  3. Carol Heidbreder - June 8, 2019 9:23 am

    Thanks for such a wonderful story. Us old school teachers who loved our kids do a lot of this wondering too. And if we were to hear ,especially a direct touch from.on of those “Garys”, it is such a cherished gift. You pray theirs is also a good game!

    Reply
  4. Cathi Russell - June 8, 2019 10:03 am

    Oh Sean, good game & good story. I got waked up by a big thunderstorm, comforted 2 hounds & cried over your story. And it’s only 5am. Thank you sir! Happy Saturday.

    Reply
  5. Karen - June 8, 2019 10:10 am

    Beautiful story. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  6. Cynthia Harmon - June 8, 2019 10:30 am

    Since we never know everything about a person we should be kind. Thank you for a beautiful reminder.

    Reply
  7. Kelly - June 8, 2019 10:38 am

    Once again, it’s good to be reminded that we never know what someone’s story might be. So easy to be kind, yet so many people aren’t. Thank you for a beautiful story.

    Reply
  8. Susan - June 8, 2019 10:51 am

    I’m in tears too. There was a boy like Gary who went to elementary school with our daughter. He hung out at our house a lot. We moved away before their middle school years, and I often wondered what became of him. Facebook reconnected us–he has a lovely wife, happy-looking kids, a successful career and interesting hobbies.

    Reply
  9. Rachel Osborne - June 8, 2019 11:14 am

    You’re a good man.

    Reply
  10. terry - June 8, 2019 11:23 am

    Thanks for the food (for the soul) Mister Dietrich. Thanks for everything.
    You have a good heart. And it shows. Thanks for sharing it. And thanks for thinking about me.

    Reply
  11. Naomi - June 8, 2019 12:03 pm

    I grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in Birmingham, AL. My parents were immigrants who ran a mom & store on the south side. We lived in a 3-room house behind the store. We didn’t even have a bath tub or a telephone until I was 16 years old when my parents bought a house. My younger brother and I had to ride public transportation to and from school. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my cousins or were from the Salvation Army. The major mistake that I made in school was being a straight A student. I didn’t have the pretty dresses that the other girls had or the ribbons in my hair. I wanted to have girl friends but the other girls didn’t want to be friends with me but I never knew why. It’s a terrible feeling for a young girl or boy to be disliked because they are poor but it happened then and is still happening today. I have another story to tell. There was a Black boy who was going to our local high school; this was when I was a substitute teacher. Anyway, his mother dropped him off at his grandmother’s shack and left him there. He didn’t have any running water or clean clothes. One of the coaches at the high school took him “under his wing”. He bought him some clothes, picked him up early every morning so he could get a shower in the boys’ locker room. This young man eventually got a full scholarship to Duke University in North Carolina. He ended up going to medical school and became a brain surgeon. I am just posting this because you never know what children are going through; they are often judged by how they dress or how they smell. They need teachers or coaches or school counselors to take the time to see the potential in these kids. By the way, I managed to get a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s Degree without any help from anyone. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for me to go to college and my wealth family members only gave me hand-me down clothes but, then again, I never asked them for help. I didn’t want them to not be able to pay for their country club dues or their Cadillacs (sorry it sounds like sour grapes). I am married and am a great grandmother and doing quite well. However, I have noticed that even in church, people don’t want to make friends with poor people. There are poor people in every church around here and some who desperately need help but their church brothers and sisters won’t help them. It’s amazing to me how many people who go to church every time the door opens who look down on people who they think are beneath them, those who don’t wear fancy clothes or drive cars that are falling apart or who can’t afford to pay for all of the activities that their church “sponsors”.

    Reply
  12. Nancy shiekds - June 8, 2019 12:26 pm

    I am a retired teacher and have had “Gary” in my class many times. I was fortunate to work with caring people who, like your dad, took time with these kids. Reminds me of the old story about throwing the starfish back in the water. Thank you for writing this story. ( is “Gary” his real name? Maybe he will see this .)

    Reply
  13. Connie Havard Ryland - June 8, 2019 12:37 pm

    From reading some of the other comments, I think there are lots of “Gary’s” out there. What you have is not a measure of who you are, though. I wish more people saw past things to the real person. I made it out. I still don’t have much but my kids are doing great. Nobody is rich, but we don’t have to be. I was there to cheer them on, in everything they did, and they all have huge, giving, loving hearts. Your stories never fail to touch my heart. Have a great day. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  14. Phillip Saunders. - June 8, 2019 1:00 pm

    Great story and lesson, Sean. Reminded me of that fine baseball movie, The Sandlot. It also urged me to say a prayer for Gary and all like him – and for your son, Gayle.

    Reply
  15. Grace - June 8, 2019 1:07 pm

    This is a winner!!

    Reply
  16. Dianne - June 8, 2019 1:25 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful Life Lesson, Sean. Your Daddy was a wise and compassionate man and taught you a lesson that you’ve never forgotten. Thank you for sharing with all of your readers.

    Reply
  17. Jess in Athens, GA - June 8, 2019 1:25 pm

    Sean, your father handled that situation of jealousy perfectly. He was a wise man. Most fathers would have handled it by telling you not to be jealous of Gary and that would have been that. Apparently your father let you see the life off the baseball field that Gary had to deal with. Your father was wise and you were very fortunate….’nuff said.

    Reply
  18. Shelton A. - June 8, 2019 1:58 pm

    Way to hug back, Sean. Hope Gary grew up early and left his dad. Is he ok?

    Reply
  19. Carolyn Allen - June 8, 2019 2:14 pm

    Good, good story Sean. I’ve always said (and there are exceptions to this) that good men raise good sons…..your father certainly did. You were very fortunate to have had him for 12 years. He instilled in you the things in life that are so important….the “good” things….caring for others
    and “seeing” their hearts and their deepest needs.
    Yes, he was a good man that raised a good son.

    Reply
  20. Tina Harman - June 8, 2019 2:21 pm

    This is such a good story, Sean. You moved me to tears and touched my heart in ways I can’t explain. Keep on doing what you do.

    Reply
  21. Jeanne Butler - June 8, 2019 2:23 pm

    Sean thank you for believing in me because I’m losing. I needed that. Love you

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - June 8, 2019 5:25 pm

      God bless your day in a special way, Jeanne. Hang in there, and keep on keeping on!

      Reply
  22. Linda Moon - June 8, 2019 2:51 pm

    Sarcasm: most people don’t see it as a gift. (I am not most people). A father who coaches Little League is a gift. (My son had one). And a sincere apology from a jealous baseball player is one, too. You are often on my mind, Mr. Sean Dietrich. It’s a good game of life you’re living and sharing and WINNING.

    Reply
  23. Minnie Tate Bourque - June 8, 2019 3:31 pm

    I so hope Gary’s life improved and he knows how loved he is. Perhaps he is coaching a son of his own today!
    Great story, Sean!

    Reply
  24. Nancy Rogers - June 8, 2019 4:28 pm

    Gosh darn it Sean, you’ve gone and made me cry (again!) I am so glad that Gary at least knew he was loved and appreciated by someone. That is all any of us want.

    Reply
  25. RKB - June 8, 2019 5:42 pm

    I knew and admired a man a lot like your Dad. He took a lot of poor kids under his wing over the years, and the way he did it was the same: through his son’s sporting endeavors. If his only child, the son who was my brother’s best friend, ever minded the attention he gave others, he got over it quick like you did. Several of those kids showed up-as grown men-and cried hard at his funeral years later.

    Reply
  26. Ala Red Clay Girl - June 8, 2019 6:36 pm

    What an awesome story with a lot of life lessons packed in it. There are “Garys” everywhere, all we have to do is look around. Thank you for the reminder.

    Reply
  27. Joe Pattered - June 8, 2019 8:14 pm

    Thanks I grew up with kids like this and I was lucky like us my Dad never quite beat the devil though he tried hard (booze) but my dad taught us to play ball fish and hunt before he left .We did not have a lot of money but we had my mom who was a rock just like yours so we made it .Thanks again

    Reply
  28. Suzanne Cahill - June 8, 2019 9:46 pm

    Tending the spirit is kind of like tending a garden. If you give seeds good soil, sunlight, and some love, the garden grows. Words can do the same thing to the human spirit. I’ll guess the words and kindness your daddy and you gave Gary got him through some hard times going forward. Thank you for this story, and the reminder.

    Reply
  29. Edna B. - June 9, 2019 1:36 am

    Thank you for this awesome story. We all need to learn that we should walk a mile in someone’s shoes before we form an opinion. You have a wonderful evening, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  30. Marci Welker - June 9, 2019 3:54 am

    Thank you, Sean. Good game to you, too.

    Reply
  31. Pam Beauchamp - June 9, 2019 7:25 am

    There are many Gary’s around us. Open your eyes and hearts to them.

    Reply
  32. Jones - June 9, 2019 12:37 pm

    You, too, are making a difference and positive impact. Good writing!

    Reply
  33. Jack Darnell - June 9, 2019 5:25 pm

    Okay dude you got me. This is one of the best in ways to give a real lesson. I definitely like this’un!
    Now young feller, try to be good.
    Sherry and jack

    Reply
  34. Steve Winfield - June 11, 2019 1:41 pm

    Yep. You never know. Thanks for being a champion of the underdogs. It is very noticed.

    Reply
  35. Cindy Simmons - June 11, 2019 7:28 pm

    Your Dad was a very smart man. Seeing the need to help you understand his care of Gary was important to him, as I am sure he never wanted you to be jealous or think he loved you less. Great read and Thanks! Good Game…

    Reply
  36. rondatedder - July 9, 2019 2:37 pm

    So many summer memories .. there is always that one kid that will lift your heart. Have a great day!!

    Reply
  37. Gwen - July 12, 2019 6:17 pm

    Sean, I have never read any of your work before. I loved Lewis Grizzard and heard that your writing is similar. This happened to be the first post I picked to read, and it is excellent. I will be reading many more. Thank you for a wonderful story.

    Reply

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