May 29, 2019

Wesley Didn’t Show for Practice

By Jerrad Hardin

Jerrad Hardin

Founder Jerrad Hardin Fastpitch

Founder of Jerrad Hardin Fastpitch, he operates a series of national camps and clinics each summer helping prep athletes develop skills and connect with college coaches. Hardin has spent more than two decades working in baseball and softball, starting his career as a high school coach where he was named the NCA Coach of the Year after establishing his program as a perennial state tournament participant and winning a second straight state championship. Later, Hardin penned a best-selling instructional book, opened three training facilities where he helped develop the careers of numerous college and pro athletes, Today, Hardin continues to operate his camp business and writes from his home in Northwest Arkansas, he shares with his wife, Julia, and three young children.

Wesley Martin had the rare combination of elite stuff on the mound and plus power with the bat. While North Georgia wasn’t a stranger to big league talent in its prep ranks, this kid was different.

Just prior to his senior campaign, the only question would be whether a team would use their first-round pick to draft him as a pitcher or an outfielder.

But something was amiss.

With more than a third of the season played, Wesley Martin wasn’t himself.

Coach Jack Perry, Wesley’s high school coach, decided to have a heart-to-heart with the young prodigy after practice.

“Wes, can we have a word?” Perry motioned for Wesley to join him at a quiet place near the end of the dugout.

“Yes, sir,” Wesley Martin hustled over.

“Sit down, son.” Coach Perry smiled and gestured with an open hand as he stood.

“Everything alright, coach?” he asked while taking a seat.

“Yeah, kid… I’m just a bit worried about you. Wondering if you’re feeling some pressure with expectations and all.”

Wesley Martin dropped his head and twisted his mouth. It was uncommon for the boy not to maintain eye contact. He had learned at a young age that breaking eye contact was a show of disrespect and there wasn’t a soul in the world he respected more than Jack Perry.

Coach Perry took a seat next to Wesley and placed a kind hand on the kid’s back.

“Son, you know… there’s not a thing you’ve got to prove. The scouts have loved your tools since you first donned a uniform for us and nothing you do on the field short of coming unglued is going to change that. You throw it a hundred and hit it four-fifty.  You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, always composed, get good grades – shoot I’m not even sure you’ve ever had a girlfriend.”

Wesley Martin had heard it all before– different versions of the same scouting report pretty much since the day he stepped foot on a baseball field. The kid who had it all. The best prep prospect in the area since Jason Heyward. He was destined for superstardom. Except, he suddenly wasn’t anymore.

Wesley lifted his head and blankly stared across the field. His voice low and void of confidence.

“… Coach, things are hard right now,” he stated.

Jack Perry folded his arms across his chest and slowly rocked back and forth, listening.

“I mean, I’m not hitting my weight. And, I can’t even find the plate when I’m pitching.”

Perry winced a little, considering encouragement but instead, opting to investigate.

“Wes, everything okay at home?”

Too quickly, Wesley answered, “Yes, of course. Yeah, it’s all good.”

Jack Perry thought the response strange. He continued to eye the boy, but Wesley Martin continued to look the other way. Perry could tell something about the question had struck a nerve.

“Coach, if that’s all… I really need to get going.”

Coach Perry stood and offered an opening.

“That’s all Wes. If you need something – or if I can do anything for you…”

Wesley Martin looked up to his coach and manufactured a smile.

“Thanks, coach.”

Perry nodded and dismissed his troubled player. As he stood with worry, watching him walk away, Perry wondered just what the boy might be hiding and why he seemed to be choking back tears.

Later that night, Wesley Martin lay idle on his side, glaring at a framed picture on his nightstand. Big tears had streaked his cheeks as he thought about it and the helpless feeling to do anything about it. He felt lost and betrayed, while also angry for not being able to change it.

In the weeks since the decision had been made, Wesley had neglected his schoolwork, stopped hanging out with friends, and struggled to leave it all behind while playing baseball. Lately, the only place he felt safe was his room. That’s where most of his time had been spent over the past two weeks – with the door shut, alone with his thoughts.

On the other side of town, at the same time, Jack Perry sat down to dinner with his wife of twenty years.

“Sweetheart you seem off,” observed Margie Perry.

Exasperated, Jack Perry responded, “Yeah, I can’t quit thinking about Wes.”

“Do you think his troubles go beyond the baseball field?” she asked.

Jack nodded with a look of resignation as he poked around at the food on his plate.

Margie suggested, “I hate to say this, but do you think he’s drinking or doing – ”

Jack Perry interrupted his wife, “No, no – the kid is straight as an arrow, pure as a snowflake, or however, you want to call it. I just can’t see it,” he then hesitated with a thought.

“What is it, dear?” Margie asked.

“… I wonder if something might be off at home.”

The following day, Wesley Martin missed practice for the first time. Thirty minutes after it started, Jack Perry turned to an assistant.

“He’s not just late – he’s not coming.”

“Maybe he had to make up some work or something after class. You know how that goes,” his assistant reasoned.

But Jack Perry wasn’t buying it. He handed over the practice plan to his assistant with instructions to follow it to the minute. Then Jack Perry walked off the field, got in his truck, and drove to Wesley Martin’s home.

When he knocked on the door, he didn’t expect to see Wesley’s mother, Anna, answer the door.

As she appeared, she wiped at swollen eyes, looking a mess.

“Coach Perry,” she greeted him with a fake smile and flat voice.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry if I’ve come at a bad time,” Perry removed his cap, apologizing.

“No, it’s fine,” her fake smile stretched slightly before she added, “there likely won’t be a good time anytime soon.”

Perry tried not to wince at the intrusive awkward feeling he felt brewing.

“Hate to hear that,” he paused. “I’m actually here on account of Wes.”

“Is he okay?” Anna’s voice lifted with concern.

“Well, that’s just it. He didn’t show for practice.”

Anna closed her swollen eyes as they suddenly welled with tears.

“Come in, coach,” she finally managed.

Anna Martin poured two cups of coffee and sat across from Perry at a small kitchen table. She wasted no time bringing him up to speed.

“Ron and I are getting a divorce,” she said bluntly.

Perry suddenly felt uncomfortable where he sat.

“He had an affair – worse yet, she’s barely older than Wes,” her tone thick with disgust.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Perry said softly as he gripped his coffee cup with both hands.

“I probably never would have known had I not accidentally found a string of text messages on Ron’s phone. Apparently, it’s been going on for quite some time… At first, I blamed myself. I’m not exactly the beauty queen I was when we met and like a lot of married couples, we’ve fallen into the boring routines of our daily grind and there’s no question, we’ve failed to show each other the type of affection we once did.”

“That’s no excuse – you aren’t to blame,” asserted Perry.

“Right, I finally came around to that conclusion. I mean, we share this wonderful son. We have,” she paused and corrected herself,  “I mean had, a life together. And he threw it all away, for what? Because some young girl who doesn’t even know better showed him some attention and made him feel like a man again?” She shook her head in disbelief.

“I can’t even imagine. I would never…” Perry stopped short of saying it.

“Anyway, Ron argued that this wouldn’t affect Wes, but it has. He barely leaves his room and when he does, he won’t even look at me. Almost like it’s my fault.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t feel that way,” Perry assured her.

“I have no idea why he might have skipped practice or where he might have gone,” she concluded.

“Thank you for confiding in me… Maybe I can help him process all this,” said Perry.

Anna absently nodded and then her expression changed with an idea.

“Actually, I may know where to look – there’s a bridge over Sunshine Creek, beyond town on that old county road. He said one time that’s his favorite place. Ron used to take him fishing out there when he was little…. Maybe he’s there.”

“I’ll check. You stay here and see if he shows. Where’s Ron, anyway?”

“He’s moved out. My money would be on finding him at that restaurant over on fifth street where the girls barely wear enough to cover themselves while serving beers and wings… That’s where she works.”

Perry now knew why Wesley Martin was struggling. As he drove out of town, headed toward the bridge over Sunshine Creek, he thought about his own life and how his parent’s divorce had impacted him. It was one of the reasons he had remained so faithful and committed to his wife, Margie. Like any marriage, there were ups and downs, but he lived with the painful reminder of what damage a divorce could do to a couple and their kids. So, he chose to weather every storm, and because of it, he had found a level of happiness and a stronger bond with his wife.

Perry saw Wesley Martin’s pickup parked at an angle along the side of the road before arriving. Beyond it, the boy was sitting atop the bridge with his feet dangling toward the water.

As Coach Perry approached, Wesley rushed to his feet and started to explain, but his coach motioned for him to stop and sit.

Perry took a position next to Wes and offered a stick of gum. After a short moment, Perry started.

“Life can sometimes be like a curveball on a 2-0 count. There are things you’ll never see coming, they’re out of your control, and you’ll never be prepared to do anything about it.”

Wesley sat still, staring down to the slow-moving water below his feet.

“Thing is, kid – just like baseball, it’s not that one unexpected pitch that gets us out. Or even that one at-bat. There’s always another pitch, another chance. So, it comes down to how we handle what we’re unprepared for – how we learn from it – how we plot our comeback.”

Wesley mumbled, “Coach, this isn’t about baseball.”

Perry put an arm around the kid’s shoulders.

“Son, I know… I talked with your mom – and I’m sorry… I’m not going to throw your dad under the bus here. What he did was selfish and probably unforgivable in your mom’s eyes, but we as humans are not immune from making mistakes or giving in to impulses.”

“I’ll never forgive him,” Wesley found power for his voice.

“I understand why you feel that way. And, I don’t expect you should forgive him right away. But you can’t let what he’s done destroy your life.”

“He’s destroyed our family,” Wes countered.

“Yes, he did – and your momma needs you now more than ever.”

Hearing this brought tears to the boy’s eyes and abruptly he covered his face with both hands to hide the emotions.

“Son, you can cry. The big feelings you’re having are normal. I cried just like you when my dad did the same thing to my mother… As a matter of fact, I was about your age.”

Wes uncovered his face and wore a shocked expression as he looked at his coach.

“Yep, it was tough. And, I suspect you’re feeling just about like I did. It seemed like my whole world was caving in around me. I hated my dad… Felt so sorry for my momma, I couldn’t even bear to look at her. It tore me up to see her cry.”

Wes wiped away tears and suddenly felt a deeper connection to his coach.

“So, how did you get over it?” Wes asked.

“…The first thing I did was find my knees and started praying about it.”

“Not sure I can talk to a God who lets things like this happen.”

“God didn’t let this happen, son.  What’s happening with you is the result of free will and the misguided decisions we make as humans.”

While he didn’t want to admit it, the boy knew his coach was right.

“Wes, have faith in a bigger plan. Matthew 11: 28-30 has always been my reminder. So many things in life are out of your control. Focus on being the best person you can be, trust in God and try not to get stuck on questioning the curves of your path. My decision to do just that has made me a better person, friend, teammate, and husband.”

 “I’m not sure I can be that strong,” Wes admitted.

“Yes, yes, you can,” Perry pushed to his feet and offered a hand to Wesley Martin. “And you can start by letting me help you, son.”

Wesley took the hand and pulled to his feet. Standing before the coach, Wesley wondered where to begin.

“Listen, Wes – you don’t have to do this on your own. I’ll be here for you – and God will be there for you.  The most important thing right now is to get you home and hug your momma. Then we’re going to sit down together at your kitchen table and talk about the first steps.”

“…Thanks, coach,” he muttered.

“And after we take care of you and your momma, we’ll figure out how to make it work with your dad.”

Wesley hugged his coach and cried a bit more.

As Coach Perry held the crying boy, his heart ached for he recognized the pain.

“Listen, kid – all of us has our own story to write. Make yours one that you can be proud of – one that honors your values and cherishes all the things you hold dear. And while you may never excuse what your dad has done, one day, you’ll better understand the difficulties and challenges marriage brings.”

“I’ll never get married,” Wesley stated defiantly.

This made Perry chuckle.

“Once upon a time, I said the same, kid. The thing is – sometimes you can’t control what the heart wants.”

“Is that another God thing?” asked Wesley.

“No, son… That’s a human thing.”



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