A Mentor

My parents both grew up during the Great Depression, with my mom being 8 years old and my dad being 16 when the stock market crashed and the Roaring 20s came to an ugly end.  My dad was 50 when I was born in 1963, and my mom was 43.  Growing up with older parents was a big challenge for a kid trying to be somewhat cool…but I was bought three shirts and two pairs of pants and one pair of shoes per year…I wore the same shirt three times some weeks. The same as they did growing up.

No matter what the question was, whether it was getting a new bike, going out to eat, going to a movie, going to a theme park, or just getting an ice cream, it was always the same answer – nope, that costs MONEY!  I wasn’t green with envy with my friends, but the things that they got on a regular basis were – like a bike, an ice cream cone, or whatever was out of my reach because things cost money.

I swore that when I had my own kids, I wouldn’t keep simple things from them like an ice cream cone, a new bike, or going to a movie.  I still struggle with being turned down for EVERYTHING I asked for as a kid, and at the time, learned to just quit asking for things.

In 1972, I was 9, and I really, really, really wanted to play little league baseball.  In South Texas, because of the great weather, we had a very active little league program, lots of volunteer coaches and a full schedule.  I’d played pickup baseball games in the yard and at school, but I wanted to wear a uniform and play on a real team.

Being a dumb kid, I had no idea there were any costs associated with playing.  None of my friends who played ever discussed the costs with me, because these costs weren’t a concern for their parents.  I later found the pleasure their parents felt by supporting their kids in sports, band, theater, etc.

The tryouts were a big deal – I borrowed an old glove from my friend Terry, and we tried out – there was a batting practice, infield position scenarios, and outfield tests.  Not only was I selected as a left fielder with a strong bat, I made the MAJOR league division – we had majors and minors, and in my first year of tryouts, I was in the big leagues.  I was ecstatic.  The next day, Terry, our friend Steve, and I went to our team meeting.  It was then that I realized my dream was gone before I even got started.

Three coaches were going over all the logistics of the team – practice times, game times, conduct, uniforms, an administrative fee….  I had to buy a uniform, and pay a $10 admin fee, and of course, I needed cleats and a glove.  I was looking at $35 in total cost.  I already knew the answer…I was devastated.  I decided not to ride (bikes) with my friends to our neighborhood.  I cried all the way home.  I summoned up the courage to ask my mom…knowing my dad would immediately shut me down.  Mom thought about it for about 10 seconds, then said there’s no way I could play little league, since “that costs money”.

I went over to Terry’s house and explained that I couldn’t play.  I found out later that his dad overheard me, asked Terry later for the paperwork for the team and the coach’s phone number.  He called the coach.  Funny…it took until I was 21 years old before I figured all this out.

The coach came by my house, asked if he could take me to a team meeting, and my mom reminded me that we didn’t have any money for all that stuff.  The coach took me to K-mart and bought me a new glove and cleats.  He already had a uniform for me – the kind with the loops on the bottoms of the pants so your sock color showed through.  Our colors were like the Baltimore Orioles, which seemed exotic to me, being from Texas.  He also told me that my admin fee had been waived.  I told him I didn’t have the money to pay for this stuff, and he said don’t worry about it.  I asked how I could pay him back.

He told me to do the same thing for some kids when I grow up, whether it’s baseball, football, soccer, band, or any other activity.

I practiced really hard that year, and we played hard, but didn’t make the playoffs.  I didn’t care.  I’d never been so happy in my life, just having the chance to play.

I don’t remember that volunteer coach’s name. I’m sure he’s close to 70 by now.  I’d sure like to shake his hand, and tell him about all the people I’ve reached out to in my life.  I’m sure that’s what he would want to know.

That man is a mentor – he paid $25-30 for some equipment, and I’ve donated and invested thousands over the years.  It’s not about the money, though – it’s about the intent and desire to help.

That, friends, is a great return on investment.