Chapter Twenty-three: Sam’s  Struggle to Earn His Father’s Love

After Papa Sam’s life altering discussion with his mother Clara, he had one mission and that was to earn his Father’s love and respect.  In order to do that, he was going to be the  best student, athlete, and son possible.

Papa Sam’s first step was to start playing sports. From listening to his father talking to his friends, they always were talking about their sons and the sports they played in, so he knew this was a good place to start. However, there was always a caveat. As soon as their sons started in sports their grades tended to drop some. So he knew now what he had to do in order to earn his father’s love, he had to be good in sports as well as a good student.

Papa Sam had always been pretty good at playing softball in his elementary gym classes, so the most logical place would be to try out for the baseball team in his junior high school.

It turns out that Papa Sam was a natural baseball player. He had good hand-eye coordination and blistering speed. So he ended up getting an outfield position on the team. Now he just had to learn how to hit curveballs and sliders. At least he was pretty good at hitting a straight fastball mainly because nobody on the team could do it. He actually had a fairly strong arm, he just didn’t have the control to get the ball in the strike zone. While he didn’t have the power to hit homeruns, he could get the ball pretty deep in the corners.

One thing that separated Papa Sam from the rest of the players on his team was his almost maniacal work ethic. He was always early to practice. If there was no one to practice with, he would run laps around the field or do calisthenics. He was a coach’s dream, he worked hard and never complained. What he lacked for in natural ability he more than made up with in hardwork.

All of dedication paid off because Papa Sam consistently had one of the best batting averages on the team. And in addition, thanks to all of his running, the track coach finally took notice.  One day, Steve Franks, the track coach, came by to talk to Papa Sam after he had finished his practice. He told Papa Sam that he had been watching him on and off the field, and he was impressed with his speed. Coach Franks asked him to try out for the track team. Franks hinted that he had an opening for a speed man in the 100 to 400 meter range, and he thought Papa Sam had the speed for the position.

The only thought running through Papa Sam’s mind was the hope that this additional sport would make his father even more proud. There was no joy or excitement when the coach told him the news. His new coach also said that his track practice and training would make him faster at running the bases and in the outfield. Papa Sam unenthusiastically said, “That is great.”

It turns out that Coach Franks was right. Papa Sam without any technical training was the fastest runner on the track field that day. He easily beat the rest of the field in the 100, 200 and 400 meter runs. It was only in the 800 meter run that anyone could start catching up to him. Coach Franks was beside himself with his performance. He told Papa Sam that with some proper training he could easily go to state and maybe even nationals.

So began Papa Sam’s track career. As promised, Coach Franks started him on a training program that involved some lightweight training, calisthenics, stretching, and speedwork with an emphasis on windsprints and fartlek training. Coach Franks sensed that he had a special athlete on his hands and spent extra time with him. It almost seemed like he was filling a void in Papa Sam’s life as he became closer to him.

It was only later in Papa Sam’s life that he found out that the coach had lost his son in the Vietnam War, and maybe they were both filling a void in their lives, a void neither one knew existed. Thanks to the maturation of Papa Sam there can be no denying that the relationship between them worked. When Papa Sam graduated and moved onto high school, he was an exemplary athlete. He not only was a better baseball player he was also a top rated runner in all of the events that he competed in. Papa Sam also managed to maintain a solid 3.6 GPA, which was 0.1 above his sister Christine’s.

While it is true that his father Grandpa Gordon attended as many games and meets as possible, his mind always seemed to be someplace else. Even though he hit his first homerun, there seemed to be little enthusiasm on his father’s part. To be honest, it is hard to justify Grandpa Gordon’s behavior. The only thing I can attribute it to was sheer exhaustion. He was, after all, commanding two wings at the base. I still think he should have tried a little harder. He also had an able assistant in Colonel Mosby who could have picked up some of the slack. He, after all, would eventually replace him in a few years when he retired.

Grandpa Gordon did not realize how close he came to losing his son completely. If Papa Sam had not been made of sterner stuff, he might have given up. But like his father, Papa Sam did not have one inch of give in him. He always kept the eye on the prize, and no price was too high to pay to attain it. He knew eventually he would succeed in gaining his father’s love and approval.

It is so sad that Papa Sam put so much stress on himself when all he had to do was talk to his father and tell him how he felt. Grandpa Gordon had prided himself on always being available to his staff and to fail in making that clear to his son in some way is disheartening. Though unless you have skipped the first part of this book, you will know that they soon reconcile. There are in fact only three more years of heartache left for Papa Sam.