By Joe Rector

I left my comfort zone this past week. My brother’s grandson plays for Western Carolina University, and on Wednesday they became the latest victim of the #1 college baseball team in the country. I wouldn’t have missed seeing Caden on the field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium for the world. As a freshman, he didn’t get in the game, but his time is coming.

I hadn’t been on the UT campus for a while, and in only minutes, I discovered the road layouts that I once knew were different. As a graduate student, I could drive on roads that are now closed; buildings now stand where they led. More than once, my car was in reverse and then headed in a new direction to arrive at the baseball field.

Classes had just let out, and young people filled the sidewalks and crosswalks. Few of them looked up as they walk to their next destinations, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear of more students being hit by vehicles simply because they had to see what messages were on their phones.

Other students walked zombie-like, and I deduced that they’d just left a physics or chemistry class or had listened to an hour or more of a droning as the professor passionately presented the beauty of Romanticism. Some walked with a partner and held hands. They were filled with that fresh kind of college love and knew of no other soul existing in their universe.

I missed those college days and would visit them only if family and the girl I eventually married were present. Those four years at Tennessee Tech were a good period in my life. I was young, enjoyed school, and fell in love. That thought left me wondering how those students would feel fifty years from now.

The seats that we had were perfect. Our view of the entire field and home plate afforded us the chance to watch each play develop. It also gave the opportunity to critique every call the umpire made. The game was sold out, and soon folks were sitting around us. One man behind us spent the entire game talking about the adventures that he’d experienced. He spoke in a voice loud enough for all to hear his stories. I’m sure he didn’t see a single play because doing so would have interrupted his litany of tall tales.

In front of us, a family of four came in. Dad was a tall man with arms the size of telephone poles. I wanted to ask what sport he’d played. His children were bouncing up and down to go to the concessions stands and to do anything the announcer suggested. The parents took turns going with their offspring, and at some point, the dad looked different. He was haggard and impatient as his jack-in-the-box children never seemed to lose an ounce of energy.

The seat beside me was empty. My dear wife had been stricken with the symptoms of a sinus infection and an allergy attack. However, in the next seat over was Dallas. I don’t remember the last time that we attended a ballgame together. We reminisced about the regional game at UT when the entire Tennessee Tech team had colored their hair blonde. Unlike any other time, I pitched him the keys and told him to drive us home.

The day was good. Normally, I don’t like crowds. They make me nervous, I worry about parking, I fret over traffic, and I complain about the prices charged for everything. This time it didn’t matter. I missed Amy, but I sure enjoyed Dallas. It’s not often that old daddies and their sons find time to sit and watch a baseball game. No, baseball isn’t boring. It might be the only sport that allows people to relax and talk between pitches or innings. I’m sure glad Caden was on the WCU team because it forced me to get out of my comfort zone and have a good day with my son. Baseball still has it for men and boys.