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My old second baseman married one of my old pitchers on Saturday.
And, no, this wasn’t one of those controversial, newfangled marriages of the new millennium. One of them was a woman.
She played second base to my shortstop on our sixth-grade softball team, which was coed for reasons of necessity. We wouldn’t have had enough players for gender-specific teams.
We guys didn’t mind, though, because those girls could play. Some of them were better than us, and my second baseman and I did all right around the bag. We won most of our games, as I recall, and we have shared many a laugh about those days.
The pitcher and I played together most notably as teenagers, when I was the catcher and he was the staff ace during the most magical summer of my not-so-magical baseball career.
That was the year that Harry Long’s ENCO team was the best in the Shelbyville Pony League. We won both the regular-season and tournament championships.
That was probably because he and I had played on the SCHS team that spring, though he threw some innings while I mostly collected splinters. I did warm him up frequently. We both earned letters, and that momentum carried over into the summer of glorious victory.
If you know anything about sports, you understand there is no closer relationship among players than pitcher and catcher, but shortstop and second baseman may come in a close, well, second.
So, yes, I knew these two people well, and games really had very little to do with that.
We all grew up around Simpsonville and spent our first eight years together in school there, though our ages varied a little.
He lived with his brothers on the next farm down the road, and we spent many an hour playing baseball in someone’s field or basketball in someone’s hayloft. He had a talented arm, and I had no talent at all. But we competed and pushed one another. We were guys, after all.
We also shared the same responsibilities of our age and our families. We toiled in the hayfields, the tobacco patches and dairy barns that gave our families sustenance. We shared not only sports and adjoining pastures but a way of life as well.
She is my oldest and best friend. We were classmates from age 5, even sharing a birth month. She taught me to dance in her basement, and I helped rescue her from getting stuck in a silo on our farm (well, I got my grandfather to rescue her).
She and a boyfriend stole me away for a surprise 16th birthday party, and we have been there for each other during more twists and turns than life’s road is supposed to take.
We got lost more than once, but our friendship was always a card, a call or a visit away. It was just there, a constant we would easily embrace, with our paths always crossing, recrossing, merging and intertwining like the ribbons on a gift.
And so Saturday I found myself sitting with my wife among friends, relatives and acquaintances to watch the marriage of my two old teammates.
They had known each other as long as they’d known me, and they recently had found each other again, reuniting in a way they see as a blessing from God.
Their lives had been long and arduous journeys marred by the sorts of missteps and tragedies that everyone faces. But they believe in this new and wonderful thing they had found.
You didn’t have to look too closely on Saturday to see that. Love and commitment glowed on their faces as if they were 16 again and had just hopped off a hayride at a church picnic.
Their unity shined when they paused during the ceremony to bring their children and grandchildren together on the pulpit of the old Baptist church where this magical relationship had begun, to receive a blessing from his brother, a minister.
When later they spoke their vows, led by another minister who had helped put them on the path to one another, they seemed lost in much more than the phrases and the moment. They seemed to share this peacefulness that belies the typical nervousness of a bride and groom.
And if you watched and if you knew all of this, the tears came to your eyes, too, tears of joy for two people you knew so richly deserved to be happy.
No, you’re not going to read their names here. Their privacy is important, and so is our friendship.
He and I hadn’t seen each other in decades, separated by miles and lifestyles. She and I had not seen each other enough recently, our friendship frayed by my sometimes self-absorbed inattentiveness.
But when we greeted one another later that afternoon, all the physical and emotional barriers were washed away with the tide of joy that had swept over them and everyone around them. And my prideful tears made another appearance. Deep, eternal, loving friendship does that to you.
All that love extended right into their reception, which was akin to a laugh-filled family reunion or church social, informal and traditional, appropriate in its simplicity.
Tears and hugs were served to all, and I don’t think anyone mentioned a ball game the whole time.