April 30, 2004

A Final Trip to the Mound

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In preparation for my final column, I’ve been poring over several quote books in search of the perfect ending to Tears on the Mound. However, that task was doomed from the start and I received my inspiration from a much more unlikely source instead. I have chosen to begin, rather than end, my final column with that quote. This is my request and my hope for you and this column.

“They say, ‘They never really miss you till you dead or you gone,’
So on that note I’m leaving after this song
So you ain’t gotta feel no way about Jay so long
At least let me tell you why I do it this way, just hold on
And if you can’t respect that, your whole perspective is wack,
Maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black.”
— Jay-Z

I’m nine years old and my world is about to end. I pull my cheap mesh hat, bearing the words “Suffolk Sewage,” close to my eyes. I stare down at my glove, on which I’ve written the words “No Fear.” Under my red uniform, I continue the courageous theme with a long-sleeved T-shirt that reads “To Err is Human, to Lose is Unheard of.” However, with all this humor and encouragement emblazoned on my body, I feel more human than ever.

And I’m about to cry.

You see, I’ve just walked my third consecutive batter and to a kid with Big League dreams and an ego that won’t quit, this is death as I know it. Having single-handedly loaded the bases, I feel I’ve let everyone down. Not just my teammates, but my coach, my parents, my family name, my friends, my country, and even the Good Lord Above. How could this happen? Just 15 minutes ago I’d been cruising — three batters, three sweet strikeouts. I was on top of the world.

And now this.

Overwhelmed by emotions with which I am all too familiar, the crucial moment finally comes. With seemingly thousands of eyes watching, little No. 7 starts crying right there on the baseball diamond. Not just a little weeping either. Bawling. Heaving my shoulders. Anybody within a half-mile radius knows what’s going on. Scott Jones is crying again.

Enter my savior on many a day during my early years of Little League development: Coach Bridgwood. The bearded man with eyes that seem to hold the wisdom of the world and all its compassion approaches me in a way that can only be called grace-full. With a few whispered words he reminds me of so much. That I am nine years old. That this is baseball.

That no one really cares what happens, so long as no one gets hurt. That I am good enough in his eyes and in those of my parents, as well. And finally, that I am staying in this game.

Wiping away what remains of my chilled tears, I look over to my mom, who is unfortunately still videotaping this entire fiasco — a fact of which I will be reminded 11 years later when we find this memento and decide to enjoy my emotional incompetence one last time — and she simply nods, as if to say, “You knew he was going to make you stay out there.” And with one final and intensely deep breath, I prepare for my next pitch.

Seven years later, now a mature young man of 16 years, I again stand on a mound with a thousand eyes watching. I’ve just pitched the finest six and two-thirds innings of my life and all that stands between me and a near-perfect performance is one more batter. With a 1-2 count, I break off a knuckle curveball and watch as the batter catches nothing but empty air. With the exuberance of my earliest playing years, I leap into the air and am surrounded by my teammates. Soon, a brawny pair of arms wraps me tightly and in a single motion I am thrust into the air like a prizefighter after a knockout. Without opening my eyes, which have been closed since that final pitch, I know who it is. It’s my dad.

For the first time in my athletic career, my dad has been my coach and he’s just watched me pitch the game of my life. Yet he offers me these words, “None of this even matters, son, I just love you so much. I love seeing you do well.” Our eyes meet for a single moment and I realize my dad is crying. I’m not sure why, nor do I think he knows. But that doesn’t matter right now, because we’ve just completed a perfect season and everyone’s going to Carvel.

The child crying on that Little League field learned one of life’s great lessons through the quiet words of a caring coach. That lesson was perspective, that so often when we feel as if everything is stacked against us, we’re really just a kid throwing a baseball on a beautiful spring day. Coach Bridgwood’s encouraging words often included questions, like: “Isn’t this supposed to be fun?”; “Didn’t you sign up for this?”; “Don’t you supposedly love what you’re doing?” And it is those questions with which I still wrestle when I find myself in times of distress or desperation.

The young man, floating in the arms of his father, learned another great lesson. That sport isn’t just a game, but a platform for the sacred. And that, in itself, makes sport important. I know that might sound overly ethereal or even absurd, but consider this quote from Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” There is something about the joy of victory, the triumph of the underdog, and the feeling of coming through that tastes a little bit like heaven. And that’s the lesson I learned, staring into the watery eyes of my father.

Life’s greatest lessons communicated with tears, on the mound.

See Grandma, now you know.

It is when somehow the Divine triumphs or comes through for us, that we find meaning in our lives. Sport, in all its glory and goodness, just might be whetting our appetites for such encounters. Some go to nature to find glimpses of the eternal. For others of us, that transcendence is communicated on a picturesque baseball diamond, skating on a lonely hockey rink, or shooting free throws in a quiet gym.

It is for that reason that I write — or rather, that I wrote — this column. Sports are important. They are an avenue — one of so many — to all that is Good in this world. To it and into it, we escape the lies on this Earth and find a place of comfort. A place to have arguments that don’t really matter. A place to be together, to share in our common love for the smallest of moments. A creation which I truly believe is smiled upon by the Creator.

I, too, believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me a writer and gave me an undying love of sports. And when I am allowed to combine those passions, I truly feel His pleasure. Nelson Mandela once said that we were born solely to “make manifest the glory of God which is within us.” This column has somehow, in some small way, allowed me to fulfill that mandate. And for that, I thank you.

Now, with one last tear and a tip of my hat to all those for whom I have written these words, I descend into the dugout and approach the next step of my life. I cannot express how grateful I am to all those who have been a part of this biweekly privilege. So long.

* * *

Over the last week, I’ve been asked several times what I’ll miss most about The Sun. Here’s my answer: road trips — what few I went on — with the Terrible Trio and Lil’ Bobby; waiting down below the scoreboard at Lynah and making small talk with Greg Hornby and Laura Stange; the walk up to Neimand-Robison Field and the ease which accompanies watching a softball game on a beautiful Ithaca spring day; the nervous energy I always got just before one-on-one interviews and the immediate relief I’d receive within seconds of talking to one of Cornell Athletics’ finest; Tim Pendergast’s ever-predictable press conferences; the chair dance and Schroeder’s miserable choice of music; calling Janiga an idiot; hearing Bochner whine about his assistants; watching Ip lose it; the adventures of the Morgue; Sun parties and the punching bag that always played into the equation; Freda’s rants; Nate’s ties; spilling beverages all over the daze computers — on purpose; throwing a frisbee in the old office; verbally abusing Schroeder; the smell of feet in the old sports corner; being told that someone like
d my column; avoiding Ip’s phone calls like the plague — even though I love ya baby!; Friday e-mails from Grandma about wetting my pants; Brain’s apologies for Grandma’s e-mail about wetting my pants; trying to make “The Wall”; knowing we’re the best sports section in the Ivy League; APlus tea and pretzles; Capital Cohna!; walking back up the Hill at 4 a.m. in complete and heavenly silence. How’s that?

* * *

I’ve put this part off for about three years now, but sitting here in The Sun office, I realize it’s about time I thanked some of my peoples.

To Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Jen: This is neither the time nor the place to say how much I love you and thank you. But I just did anyway. Mom, you made my column — how crazy is that!

To the Boys of 212 Linden, my small group brothers, the freshman year crew, the men of Excelsior and anyone else I’ve loved here: Thanks for always making fun of my column. At least I always knew y’all were reading it.

To Sara: I’m writing my last column and I love you. Last Column Readah.

To Beth, Gelfand, Pete, Katy, Christine, Brain, Per, Jon, Erica and Andy: You guys are The Sun and I was always proud to be associated with people like yourselves.

To Nate Brown: Your understanding and honest handshake made a lasting impression. Thank you, that’s about all I can say.

To Freda: You taught me so much without even realizing it.

To Laura Rowntree: You made my nights here bearable in so many ways. You’re one of the easiest people to be around; keep truckin’.

To Andrew Gilman: Gilmizzle! Your parties were always stellar, especially up in the VIP Room, and your musical taste is impeccable. Thanks for giving me a shot in daze; some of my Cornell highlights came from those opportunities. If I ever get that interview with Nas, I’ll give you a call.

To Adam Sinovsky: I have never been a first-hand witness to someone growing so much in so short of a time. You’ve come a long way and don’t stop now. Stay confident and good things will happen — you deserve it.

To Nigro: Wherever you are in this sordid world, I love you man. I still can’t figure out why I’m holding this chair, but somehow I think it involves you and a Golden V. …

To Schroeder: We fought, we hugged, we even dirty-danced once. You’re an intellectual giant for whom I have the utmost respect. If I ever need a political advisor, this Reverend will be giving you a call. Hold it down for us seniors.

To J.V.: I didn’t know you too well, but your column in the freshman issue made me want to write for this paper. Thank you for the inspiration.

To Charles Persons: I was always watching you when I was just a young Sunnie — not in a stalker way, in a good way — and you showed me so much about what it meant to be a Sun Sports Demigod. You are a standard to be reckoned with and one which I always had in mind. How’s my favorite Texas women’s volleyball team?

To Shiva: Your friendship was the reason I stayed at The Sun; thanks for your constant support and encouragement. You made me feel like the best writer in Sun history and that means a lot to a guy who wasn’t sure about sticking around here.

To Gary Schueller: What can I say? You were always my closest friend here — and at times, my worst enemy — but I hated to see you go. It was great catching up and we’ll have to do it again soon. You will revolutionize the education system in America, I don’t care what you say.

To Amanda Angel: You are truly missed and it’s never been the same without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I might never meet a more gracious and self-sacrificing person. Ever. Good luck and hopefully I’ll run into you out in Westhampton someday.

To Alex Fineman: Fizzle Mizzle! Thanks for being such a great friend. No one talks sports like you and no one deserves that anchor’s chair at SportsCenter more. In this sometimes unbearable place, I always looked forward to nights when I knew you’d be down at the office.

To E.J., Chris, and Kyle: Keep this train on track and never lose your love for what you’re doing. This is worth it, I promise. You guys should and will do big things.

To Bill Moore: Hockey intermissions and halftime chats over Shortstop cookies made this a worthwhile experience, if nothing else did. Thanks for being a friend — you are the type of man I hope to become one day.

To Laura Stange and Sports Information: Your help was never taken for granted and if it was, I’m sorry. Laura, thanks for the drink in Albany. I’ll never forget your consistent kindness and funny anecdotes after press conferences.

To Cornell Athletics, particularly Mike Schafer, Dick Blood, Marnie Dacko, Tim Pendergast, and my boy Greg Hornby: Thanks for always making us feel professional and important. It is truly for you that we do all this.

To anyone who ever stopped me in the hallways, out at the bars, or in the office and told me they liked or disliked what I had to say: That’s what kept Tears on the Mound pumping. Particular thanks goes to some of my most loyal readers: Karen, Kathy, Luisa, Mary, Jamie Maxner, Cheryl Lippincott, Sean, Lisa Salzano, J-Alan Hipps, David G. Early, Mrs. Metzler and Linda at Trillium.

To Owen Bochner: I know you have so much to teach, but don’t forget to never stop learning. It’s been a pleasure to watch you grow into the position you were born to fill. Take this thing to another level.

To Matt Janiga: You are a worthy mentee and the funniest person I’ve ever known. Keep talking without thinking; once in a while you’ll surprise yourself. Take the world by the groin, like you always have, and you’ll go far. Just stop by the chapel once in a while and I’ll give you a lil’ absolution. You’re one of my favorite people on this planet. Please get a Late Night show — we’ll all be better off.

To Alex Ip: This one is impossible. Ip, we went through this thing together. I’m sorry I bowed out on you this year, but your willingness to let me fly meant more than almost anything anyone’s ever done for me. For real. You are one of my best friends and I only wish we’d been closer because I would’ve been a much better person for it. My bad on being such a slacker but thanks for always carrying me along anyway.

To all my readers: If I left your name out, my bad. I wrote to be read and that makes your role integral. Thanks for the e-mails, dirty looks, and occasional compliments. It always meant the world to me.

And finally, to the one person for whom I always specifically wrote, my grandma. Grandma, you took this from a hobby to a passion. I loved writing for you and making your Fridays a little more special. You were the reason I always tried to do this the right way. I hope I didn’t let you down.

* * *

So I guess that does it. I’m going to be doing my “J.C. thing” for a few years and hopefully I’ll see you all real soon in a pulpit near you. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll love me when I fade to black. …

Scott C. Jones is a former Sun Assistant Sports Editor and Sun Senior Editor. Tears on the Mound has appeared every other week for the past three years. Though he left The Sun’s editorial ranks a bit earlier than expected, his impact will forever be remembered. Quite simply, Scott, you are one of the Sports Corner’s crowing jewels, and you will definitely be missed. Good luck with your “J.C. thing.” Please keep in touch.

Archived article by Scott Jones