Monday, July 16, 2012

To State ~ On A Win and a Prayer

"Well, I've never seen those boys pray like that before a game."
I was rounding the outfield fence, headed back to my folding chair under the trees, when a fellow team parent uttered those words through a sideways grin.
I glanced over towards our dugout and caught my breath. There, on bent knees in a huddle with their arms encircling each other, Bran's team gathered in prayer just moments before the game started.

The second game of the day, that is, because we had just sadly lost the first one. Having secured the District title last week, our boys played undefeated through the Sectionals tournament. We needed one victory over Waco Midway to clinch Sectionals, which would then move us into the State tournament.

Earlier in the day, our morning buzzed with activity ~ packing bags and coolers for the game, squeezing those last items into Hudson and Basden's trunks for a week at camp, and surprising the kids (and Cappy and Daboo!) with Mama and Papa's spur-of-the-moment visit. On a whim, Mama and Papa decided Saturday morning that they simply could not miss Branson's Sunday game. They bought airline tickets, drove three hours to the closest airport, flew from Albequerque to Love field at midnight (weather delaying their flights), and finally arrived at our home in their rental car. As the children slept, we visited late into the night and assembled a zillion camp care packages.

So Sunday morning, after the kids happily discovered Mama and Papa, we ate breakfast and hugged Hud and Basden with tight hugs. Corbin loaded them in the car for camp drop offs, while the rest of us headed for the ballpark.
The Co-Madres ~ Surprise!
They have yet to dub themselves "Co-Padres"
The game started promptly at 1:00 in Carrolton. The cloud cover provided welcome shade as all four grandparents and I set up our folding chairs. Esther played on the adjacent playground and we settled in to watch our boys win.
Pre-storm pic with Mama and Daboo (I'm not posting the post-storm ones...)

Waco Midway, however, was not settled in to let us win. And quite honestly, we knew they had come for a battle. Rain sputtered from the heavy clouds above, and we waited through a couple of lightening delays before finishing the 3rd inning tied 2-2.
Waiting out weather delays... can't tell by this picture how bad it would get!
Finally, the skies erupted. Lightening bolts like giant electric needles split the sky, followed by crashing, crackling thunder so loud that Esther squealed with fear and whimpered in my arms. We waited through the electric storm and light rain just a few minutes too long. About the time the coaches motioned our boys to cars, the downpour began. Clouds pregnant with heavy rain opened and we were stuck. Crowded into a little huddle, with Esther scared to death surrounded by me and grandparents (and Deedee!),  we'd given up on keeping anything dry - leather purses, cameras, phones... there wasn't a speck of shelter except that thin green netting of a canopy overhead. At one point we were laughing so hard I think someone wet their pants, but it really didn't matter because we were all soaked to the bone anyway.

Esther's shoes - a perfect choice for the day
The weather radar on Papa's phone showed the unmoving storm plopped right over us, with clear skies five miles to the east and west. It was time (past time!) to dodge the lightening bolts. I scooped Esther into my arms, as her dime-store plastic high heels didn't work so well in the now ankle-deep current. Coach Hardgrove ran past me and scooped Esther into his arms, sprinting for shelter under the concession stand porch. We all eventually piled into the suburban, sopping wet and freezing, and not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Sure enough, once we drove out from under that several-miles-wide cloud, the skies cleared into sunny blue. The game moved to North Garland, and we headed that way, hoping and assuming Branson was also headed that way with a teammate (he was, thanks Mike).

Somehow those storms dampened not only the Carrolton fields, but our team's momentum as well.  The game resumed and by the fourth inning, Waco Midway made it clear who was in charge of that ballgame. They ran in more than a handful of runs in one inning alone, with a final score of 9-2.

Goodness. All we had to do was win that game. The worst part was, you couldn't be mad at the Midway kids with their enthusiasm and energy and confidence. They are simply great kids. Great ballplayers, yes, but even better kids. Their sportsmanship, character, and that of their parents stands out. After facing their team in this same tournament last year (and playing basketball and hide-and-seek in a church gym for a couple of hours there in Waco), they proved themselves to be the kind of team that even with the sting of defeat, you just can't help but admire them.

However, in between games yesterday, the sting stung. And I felt a little hopeless in rousing our boys' spirits, especially Bran's. Midway had played their way up through the loser bracket and celebrated that they were again on even ground - this Sectionals title was anyone's win. Except that it really didn't feel even anymore, as their dugout teemed with confidence, and ours, well... didn't.

About that time I rounded the corner of the outfield fence. I saw the boys on their knees praying, and I literally caught my breath. I jumped to the fence and snapped a quick picture - a picture that I believe captures the evidence of God's drawing these boys to Him. As a team. While many of these boys hold their faith in God, prayer ~  a humble dependence on God for strength and favor ~ has not to this point been a team tradition. As I walked over to the folding chairs with Cappy and Daboo and Mama and Papa and a few others, I said, "Hey, check out this picture. There's already been a win here today."

Fast forward to the fifth inning, where we trailed Midway 2-1. I texted a friend with a game update, "2-1 them, but our team has the wind knocked out of them. Makes me sad."

About that time, Brock went in to hit.
Bases loaded, the pitch came in, and I watched open-mouthed as that ball sailed over the fence right near us.
We could hardly get a hit during the entire day, and now a Grand Slam!!
I jumped up on the fence like a ridiculous ten-year-old, yelling in disbelief.
Evidently that was Brock's first-ever grand slam. A timely one, at that. 
A few batters later, Grey came in and knocked in another 3-run homerun. And in a six-inning game, you can hardly recover from a that kind of a 5th inning.

We celebrated with the team's traditional Buffalo Wild Wings dinner shortly after. I entered the restaurant and walked directly to the table where Bran sat with a couple of friends, one of whom was Brock. "Ok, boys, whose idea was it to pray before the game?"
Coulter lit up with a grin. Bran did the same, and pointed across the table to Brock.
I turned my head, smiled at him, and said, "Of course it was."

Spontaneous Papa and Mama
~ Mama and Papa literally came from Eagle Nest, NM, for Bran's one game. They had to catch a flight home this morning before the rest of us even woke up (I imagine they felt the same indigestion as we did from those late-night spicy chicken wings?!) As Daboo said, that's worth some kind of grandparent prize. And yesterday the Lord didn't just give them a baseball game, He gave them a baseball experience.

~ I've noted a couple of boys' names, but the day was truly a team effort. Each boy participated and contributed in significant ways. Proud of each and every one.

~ I can hardly leave out Bran's pitching in the final inning. Short, but sweet. After Grey pitched a fantastic five innings, Bran walked one and then pitched three (very fast!) strike outs to close things up. Even more, he hit with a noticeably different countenance yesterday. His eyes held the look of expectation and confidence, and this Momma noticed. Thankful.

~ I honestly can not give enough credit to the character of Waco Midway. Their coaches and parents and players made it a point to congratulate our team with sincerity. After the medals were distributed, one of their coaches took our catcher in a bear hug and said, "Next time we play, I want it to be with you on my team!" Now that's something.
Waco Midway boys