The bat tapped the ball gently, sending a soft liner into the infield dirt.
“Go, Missy!” Heather and I shouted as Missy leaned on the arm of a volunteer and slowly made her way to first base. Partway there, she looked back over her shoulder to make sure we were watching and beamed.
Another softball season had opened. Missy, as usual, was having the time of her life.
Even without “her Joe.”
“My Joe” is how Missy refers to Joe Brooks, her Niwot Nightmares coach for a number of seasons. Once upon a time, Joe taught at Longmont High School and coached baseball. After his retirement, he decided to keep his hand in, and volunteered with a local league for the disabled.
I’ve written about that league before, where life is less about winning and losing and more about having a good time in the sunshine. Missy, my wife’s developmentally disabled aunt, may be one of the longest-running players. In his time as coach, Joe practically adopted her, always greeting her with a smile, a hug and some advice on practicing her throwing.
I always admired how much he gave to that team. But it’s funny. Now that Mr. Brooks has retired for the second time, I find myself looking at the whole league with a different eye.
An eye full of roses.
I should explain. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with a dear family friend named Sarah. As we talked and reminisced, she happened to bring up one of her favorite parts of town: the Roosevelt Park rose garden.
Why the rose garden?
“Because of what it means,” she explained. To her, it was about more than just the flowers. It was about living in a society where those flowers could be planted and maintained, a society safe enough that one could walk among the flowers in peace and without fear. Where the flowers themselves could be left in peace.
This wasn’t just a garden. It was a small reminder of how lucky she was to live where she lived, in a place where quiet and beauty could still have somewhere to be.
Watching the players and their helpers on the dusty diamond, I had a similar feeling.
Joe Brooks poured energy and love into the program. And that’s a great thing. But the program was around before him and is still going strong after him – and that may be a greater one.
It means there are still so many who care.
We don’t always do such a great job of looking after “the least of these.” I’m sure most of us could point to stories – or real-life examples – of a world that looks past the poor, that neglects the elderly and the disabled, that leaves children to shiver with cold and fear. They’re heartbreaking accounts. And too often, they’re just accounts, engaging our sympathy but not any sort of response.
After all, it’s so big. What can we do?
What we can do.
What some people have done here is to keep a small labor of love going each summer. To prove that this is still a place where the disabled can have a place, that love and friendship and care are not dead. That flowers of kindness can be planted, and bloom.
It may not transform the world. But it’s protecting this small piece of it.
So thank you, Joe. Thank you to all the coaches and organizers and volunteers, past and present, who keep this garden growing.
You may not get laurels. But you surely have roses.
See you in the bleachers.