Meet Hudson Jones, a talented but smallish infielder/pitcher for Coach Dave’s Scarlet Knights. Rooster and the boys mistake him for the coach’s son during the team’s first practice but later meet his dad in a humorous scene. Our narrator for this first book in the Coach Dave series knows that there’s more to Hudson than meets the eye.
This scene incorporates several meaningful memories for me. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Coach Dave: Season One.
Meet Coach Dave’s Players: Hudson Jones
“Charlie,” I said, changing the subject, “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but what happened to Hudson’s brother? I gave Hudson a ride one day and overheard him telling Rob that his brother had died.”
All eyes turned toward Charlie Jones.
“I don’t mind your asking if you don’t mind my tearing up when I tell you,” Charlie responded. “His name was Robert, named after my dad. We called him Bobby—well, all of us except Hudson. When he was first learning to talk, Hudson called him Bubby, which was a cross between Bobby and brother, I suppose. Bobby was already ten when Hudson was born, so there was a big age difference between the two.
“Bobby was a catcher and a good one. He made the high school team in the ninth grade and was in the starting line-up by the second week of the season. You might have noticed that Hudson often wears a cap that’s a few sizes too big for him—well, that was Bobby’s cap. Being a catcher, he didn’t need his cap much so he gave it to Hudson at the end of one of his seasons.
“Anyway, Bobby had just been named first-team all-district at the end of his sophomore year when he started losing weight. We didn’t pay much attention to it at first, just chalked it up to a lot of time in the heat wearing the catcher’s gear. He began to struggle with having the energy to make it through the day, so we took him to the doctor. After what seemed like dozens of tests, the doctors diagnosed him with leukemia.”
Charlie paused to swallow a sniffle before continuing. “The thing about Bobby—he didn’t want to let his teammates down, even in their summer league. He would go in for a treatment in the morning and go catch a game in the 90-degree weather that afternoon. The leukemia worsened, though, and he had to sit out his junior year. He continued to battle, though, and started to get better late that spring. They declared him in remission in May and cleared him to play baseball that summer. That’s when we really saw what kind of player he could have been.
“He played in 30 games that summer and hit .467 with several home runs. He was a wall behind the plate; he blocked everything. Nobody was more proud of him than his little brother. He didn’t understand just how sick Bobby had been; he just adored his big brother and thought he was the best baseball player to ever lace ‘em up. We were all proud of Bobby, too, even more for his courage than for what he was doing on the ball field.
“He was all set to take back over the starting catcher’s position on the high school team his senior season when he started getting worse again. He didn’t complain, but he was having to struggle harder to keep up with schoolwork and practice. Deep inside, my wife and I knew the leukemia was back, but we put off the doctor’s visit. We wanted him to be able to take the field with his teammates for opening day and be announced as the starting catcher. Am I going on too much?
“No,” the other dads and I answered as one.
“Okay, just checking. Well, opening night came, and I think every student at that high school was there to cheer on Bobby. A few minutes before the game, they made the announcement, ‘Batting third and catching, making his return to the Bulldog line-up, number twenty-three, Bob-by Jonnnnnes!’ Everybody was standing and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Our opponents were lined up on the first base line already. The first guy in their line was a friend of Bobby’s from summer ball. He walked over to shake Bobby’s hand and give him a hug and their whole team followed.
“The game was late getting started because of how big a deal everybody made about Bobby’s return. When he hit a home run in his first at bat, you could have heard the cheers from a mile away. Hudson was eight then, and he started walking around the area where we were sitting telling anyone who would listen, ‘That’s my brother! That’s my brother!’ As if they didn’t already know.”
Charlie drew a deep breath and continued, “That was the last game Bobby ever played. He got dizzy the next inning and came out of the game to more cheers. We went to the doctor the next day, and more tests confirmed our suspicions that the leukemia was back, worse than ever. Bobby fought hard, but he couldn’t overcome this round. He died two weeks after the season was over. As sick as he was at times, he never missed a game. Hudson somehow understood how serious things were this time, and he sat by his brother in the dugout and watched as Bobby cheered on his teammates.
“The day of Bobby’s funeral was an unbelievable celebration of his life. The funeral took place at the high school gym, and the gym couldn’t contain all the people. My wife and I had reached the point where we were ready to let him go rather than watch him continue to try to battle through so much pain. We were worried about Hudson, though. On the day of the funeral…”
Charlie stopped to gather his composure. “On the day of the funeral, Hudson came up to me—he’s eight years old at this point, mind you—and said, ‘Dad, these people aren’t here because Bobby died; they’re here because he lived!’ I don’t know who told him that, but I’ll be forever grateful for whoever gave him that perspective. It has helped him carry the best of Bobby with him without trying to be who he was as a person or as a ballplayer. I can’t begin to tell you how much he has missed his brother at times, but Hudson is learning to make his own way. We’re hoping the move here will help him establish his own identity.
“Well, there you have it. Now you know the secret of Hudson’s floppy cap,” Charlie concluded as the players began to file through the gate.
Hudson took one look at his dad and asked, “You’ve been telling them about Bobby, haven’t you, Dad?”
“Yep,” Hudson replied before turning to the rest of the dads who were still dabbing the corners of their eyes. “My brother was the best baseball player you could ever see. Much better than I was today.”
“Don’t worry about today,” Dean Ford encouraged. “Sounds like you had quite the big brother to teach you that there are many more important aspects of life than how you perform in a ball game.”
“Brad,” Charlie interjected, “thank you for asking about Bobby. We love talking about him at home, even though it hurts sometimes. We appreciate the opportunity to talk about him to others who never had the chance to know what an unbelievably courageous human being our son was.”
After Hudson had walked toward the concession stand, Charlie turned again to the circle of dads. “One thing I would ask of you guys. Please don’t feel sorry for Hudson. He’s a pretty remarkable kid in his own right, if I do say so myself. One of the reasons we moved was so that he could have the freedom to move out of Bobby’s shadow. I would be grateful if you and your boys would just treat him like any other kid on the team.”
Related Blog Post: Coach Dave: For the Love of the Game
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