I sent him everywhere, to softball games in Clay and Pinson, to football games in Trussville and Gardendale. There’s no telling how many sets of bleachers I sent him to sit in, but he was always willing and eager, even when he was forced to tote his oxygen tank.
He loved sports as much as anyone I knew. He had been an offensive lineman in high school, and maintained a close relationship with his coach more than two decades later. He was an avid Auburn fan, and I forgave him for that. After all, he was my most dependable stringer.
His byline appeared often in the local newspaper, above paragraphs about winter basketball, playoff baseball in April, region football in October. Everything. His stories were rough. Run-on sentences were rampant. Ledes were buried. Names were misspelled. Apparent quotes from coaches made little sense. It often required close to an hour to edit one of his game stories. But, every time, everything I asked for was included, and it was on time. That’s how he did it.
He fought respiratory issues for a while, but that never stopped him from calling me during the week to chat about Alabama and Auburn, the Atlanta Braves, football recruiting and more. Those phone conversations often lasted an hour. Sometimes, I didn’t have time to talk long, and I’d tell him I had to go. I hate that thought now.
This friend of mine, a diehard Chicago Cubs fan, died shortly after the 2016 Major League Baseball season started. Those coming to his service were encouraged to wear their favorite team’s attire. A lot of blue jerseys filled the room, I’m sure.
A year after his death, a Facebook post caught my attention. My friend was tagged in it. I went to his profile to reminisce a bit, to see the nice messages people had left him. What I saw instead was a game-by-game update on the Cubs’ run to the World Series, their first in more than a hundred years.
Do you remember Game 7? The game was tied after nine innings, the Cleveland Indians with all the momentum. Then came a seventeen-minute rain delay, after which the Cubs took the lead for good. Some say those rain drops were the joyful tears of long-tormented Cubs fans in Heaven, all of whom never experienced a World Series victory. I like to believe that.
As I scrolled his Facebook page, someone had posted a photo three days after the Cubs won it all. It was an envelope, one my friend had mailed off to Chicago before he got sick. It was a request to have a baseball card signed. By which player, I’m not sure. Anyway, that envelope had been returned to my friend’s mother, with a signed card, the Monday before Game 7.
The person who posted the photo said he believed it was a message, that my friend was letting everyone know that his Cubs were finally going to kick the curses of billy goats, Bartman and more.
I like to believe that, too.