Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training soon, and not long after I’ll resume my habit of falling asleep with a baseball game, any game, on in the background. The cadence of the game sooths my very soul. It’s different now though. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed with sadness, and I was perplexed by that. And then I started thinking about the upcoming summer season. Sam will be home again at the end of May; it will be time to pack the lawn chairs and sun screen in the car. And I nearly cry when I think of that.
I love Reverchon Park-it’s my favorite ballpark- a place out of time, with its massive oaks and sycamores standing sentry duty against the modern world. Some of the most interesting, oddest, characters I’ve ever seen hang out in the picnic area adjacent to the field, the freeway is only a few hundred yards away, and Southwest Airlines jets fly over on a regular basis-but these do not intrude on the sense of being in a different time and place. The crack of a wooden bat, the slap of the ball in a mitt are the only sounds that matter.
I thought he was going to be around forever. Oh sure, I knew he pretty much lived on strong black coffee and cigarettes, but, still… He was just so darned alive. When he took you by the hand and those eyes crinkled in a smile, you had no doubt that you were fascinating to him. He was endlessly interested in people in general. He could tell you the life stories of the young people who worked the gate, kept the book, and announced the games. Of course, you never knew if the life stories were real, or if he invented them.
But as interested as he was in humanity in general, HB lived for the boys and for the game. His greatest pride was in the number of players he found college “homes” for-his last summer season he sent over 100 players off to college teams, including the twenty-four on his team. Including our youngest son. He was always interested and pleased to hear what the ball players went on and did after hanging up the cleats, but there was always just a tinge of regret in his voice over those who simply quit because the desired outcome didn’t arrive quickly or easily. His highest regard was reserved for those who gutted through the longest odds and refused to give up until all options were exhausted. The warriors. His greatest respect was granted to those who refused to give in or give up-at the plate, in the field or on the mound. His greatest contempt was reserved for those with no heart, those who folded under pressure, or those who were in the game for themselves alone. Ask him about a guy with loads of talent but no drive, and he didn’t say a word. He just squinted, frowned, and shook his head while tapping his chest. His signal for no heart. He loathed those with no heart.
My hero, a man who helped more boys on their personal journeys to manhood than anyone else I know, HB Kernodle ran the Reverchon Park baseball facility in Dallas for years, and headed DABA. He loved the game, and demanded that those who played under his guidance have the utmost respect for the game. His call of "All right gentlemen let's go, a little pride and dignity..." will ring in my ears always. He loved the warriors of the game, and he loved the players whose hearts outweighed all else. He despised those who saw the game as a means to an end, and he despised those who put their own interests above those of the team and the good of the game.
Baseball will miss him. Reverchon Park will miss him. And I will miss him for the rest of my life.