I make the mistake of turning on the radio. It’s nothing but horrifying news, greasy politics, shouting evangelists, and music that sounds like a choir of chainsaws with chest colds.
I see a boy in an oversized helmet—he’s on the field by himself. A man pitches underhand to him. The kid swings. After a few strikes, he hits a home run. It arcs clear over the fence.
Meet William. He’s the nine-year-old who hit the ball, and he hit that thing harder than Roy Hobbs.
Right now, William is very happy. You can see it on him. He’s running the bases. His legs are skinny. His face is all smiles. William has Down syndrome, and his tender heart is the size of four states.
This morning, his father has been teaching him to use a bat. Will’s mother is the only one in the bleachers.
“I didn’t expect Will to be so amazing,” his mother says. “Did you see him hit that ball?”
And I can sort of relate to what he must be feeling. The first time I ever hit a baseball over the fence was the only time it ever happened.
I was about William’s age. I was moderately chubby, un-athletic; I liked pocketknives, pork products, endurance napping, and I wore Superman underpants.
I was no Lou Whitaker.
I remember when my father handed me the bat during a game. It was top of the eighth. My T-shirt bore the name of a local gas station. My white pants had a patch sewn on the seat.
Daddy said: “Keep. Your. Eye. On. The. Ball.”
I swung. It was pure luck. The thing sailed like the S.S. Minnow. And the image I remember most clearly is my father throwing his hat upward into the air.
I’ll never forget the words he hollered: “WEEE DOGGGY!”
He said that only when he was overcome with feeling. It was high praise.
So William trots the bases. His father claps. His mother claps. I clap. There’s nobody in the park this morning, but it feels like the ’95 World Series.
“Every day’s like this,” says William’s father. “Will gets excited over everything.”
Once upon a time, William’s father was a mechanic. He made decent money. When their newborn son came, the doctor said life would be complicated. And it was.
His father quit his job. They moved into a smaller place. William’s parents built their world around medical appointments.
His father took a job at a grocery store to be closer to home. The money isn’t great, but they’ve been happy.
“Our life is perfect,” says his father. “People act like Down syndrome is a bad thing, but that ain’t how it is. You get a kid like William, you won the lottery.”
William is a happy little man. And according to his parents, he’s always happy.
“Only time we ever see him sad,” his father goes on, “is when something dies. He don’t understand death.”
They saw a dead deer on the side of the road a few weeks ago. It tore William up. William wanted to know who was going to take care of the orphan deer.
His mother says, “Will teaches us to see things. That’s his gift.”
Seeing. I wish you could see what I am seeing.
William rounds third base, arms straight out like an airplane. “HEY!” he shouts. “HEY, I DID IT, DAD!”
Father and son hug. William’s oversized helmet falls off.
“You’re the best ballplayer I’ve ever seen,” says his father—who is due at work in an hour.
“No, Dad,” says William. “You’re the best dad I’ve ever seen.”
I’m glad I turned off my radio.