Unification News for March 1997

All The Best Friends

by Christine Ladolcetta-Irvington, AL

Dream Team? It was a team like you never dreamed of-not ever! We were all on it-Jamal-who's the greatest baseball player I know, and Jumin and Michael, two of my best friends.

Josh DeGeer is on the team, too; he's a good friend not in the church, and his house is the all-time best place to go for the day. His mom's going to be Team Mom. Then there's Cecil, who's a good guy and Coach Cec's son. I like him a lot, but he got sick on the "Good Go" when my dad took us out fishing, and since fishing is my most favorite sport of all, it puts a space between us because he doesn't want to go out again.

The only one of my real friends not on the team is Matt. He decided to play tennis this spring. We all miss him; he's that nice kind of person.

Oh-my name is Doca. Yeah, I know it's unusual, but a lot of us kids have unusual names. Mine comes from my dad's name-Dominick-and my mom's name-Catherine. Dow in know and cu in cuz. You get the way to say it? Doca. I like it.

We were all in our first year in the Majors in 1996, and it was the greatest possible team, too, because Derrick was on it and Joseph Schumacher, the two best second-year players in the league.

The thing is that somehow Coach Cecil got all of us in the draft that year. We all wanted to be together; we always had wanted to all be together; it had never happened before and it seemed completely impossible. But, as my mom's friend, Miss Mercy, always says, "God willing!" Well, He must have been, because there we were.

My mom has told me very year I've played, since the first one, "Doca, you just pray that Heavenly Father puts you where He wants you. He'll put you where you'll grow the most." This year she added a lot more: "You know, you probably won't all be together; it's not going to be the way you guys want it simply because you are all the best. Whom will you play against, anyway? And for Heaven's sake, who will make up the All-Star Team if you are all stacked up on the same team to begin with?"

This is purely a mother's logic. My mother's anyway. Michael's mom always manages to get Michael where we wants to be. Somehow Jumin always gets on a good team and plays a good position and Jamal's dad has always been his coach, which is a pretty good guarantee, especially if you can play like Jamal. It's the same with Little Cecil. He plays on his dad's team. Josh is somewhere in between. His mom is always in there fighting for him. Especially last year, during All-Stars. The coach (our parents told us later) was not really fair. He had a grudge against some of the parents and so he played some of us for the bare minimum time in the All-Star season. I was one of those guys who sat out all but one inning in each of three games and I thought it was me-that I was no good, really, as a player. But why did Mikie sit it out and Cecil? Josh's mom almost hit that coach. Finally, last month (eight months after my only season in four of play All- Stars), my mom explained that it wasn't me. That I was good enough; my coach hadn't been fair. I put on my All-Star jersey and wore it to school for the first time. I really had deserved it. I didn't know grownups acted like my coach. But why didn't my mom tell me before? She's like that "Let Heavenly Father put you where He wants you, Doc. Keep your heart and mind open for God's plan, Doc." "Look, Mom, can't you talk to somebody and get me on the same team

with Michael or Jumin or Josh?" I asked as registration time came around. I don't mind telling you, I was kind of desperate. My mom really meant it-that we should just be quiet and let God do what He wanted with me. I know my mom's sincere, but she's not the one who's playing. It's me! And I always seem to get stuck on the outside of the most exciting stuff.

But not this year! It looks like God has a plan for His own I.O.E. Dream Team, and dream it may be, but we are the Braves at last!


"Hey, Doca's mama, I got 'em; I got all of 'em!" Cecil's broad-cheeked face shone in the dim light of the cold, smelly shrimp-processing plant. His bright grin flashed and he shook his head in wonder. "We drafted last night and I don't know how, but I got them all. And Jamal. And Josh DeGeer. We even got Champ Kirk."

He had to shout over the mechanical clack-clacking of a myriad machines-all running a hundred miles an hour, putting out peeled and IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) shrimp. That's what I.O.E. does down here in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. I shook my head in amazement. I shouted back as loudly as I could, "That's incredible, Cec, how did you do it?"

Coach Cecil pointed toward a door and I followed him gratefully, out of the din, into a brightly lit office. It was still cold and the smell of shrimp and bleach was only slightly less strong. He spun on his heel and I was treated to his happiest smile. Only baseball makes him look that way.

"Well, there were a couple of new coaches and I guess they just didn't know our boys. Isn't it great?"

"Gosh, Cec, the boys are going to be so excited; is it for sure? Can I tell Doca?" My question was sincere. I knew that once Doca heard, he'd be making plans of every sort. "Are you really sure it's for certain?" I found that I couldn't help but ask again. It would hurt a lot if the boys knew and something major changed later on.

"It's a done deal, Cath. We drafted and it came out just like we hoped it would." Cecil's dark face was still as amazed as I could imagine it was on the night of the draft. I could see that he knew it was too good to be true, too. A Dream Team-just like the one with Michael Jordan for the Olympics. "Well, gotta go tell everybody else. See ya!"

I stood in the hallway, musing about the possibilities for Team Mom. I'd undertaken that mammoth job two years before and secretly hoped Cec wouldn't ask me again.

"Hey, Karl, I got 'em." I could hear Cec way down the hall in the sales office.

Standing in the dimly lighted hall at I.O.E. that Friday afternoon, I watched as Coach Cecil spread the joyful news, first to Michael's dad and then to Jumin's dad, Jens.

"Well, Heavenly Father..." I glanced around, realizing I was whispering out loud, "It seems like a mighty strong team. Do you think it's a bit heavy on best players?"

In my heart I rejoiced for Doca, who truly had never before had a place on such a team. But something worrisome buzzed in my mind. This was exactly the kind of power team I had wondered about year after year. "Why is that team so top-heavy with great players?" I'd finally asked some parents, "Don't you think it would be better if each team

had some of the best players instead of one team having so many? Wouldn't that make the season more exciting for all the kids? Do you think they'd learn more if they were spread around a bit?" Nobody thought so. They were so determined to be a part of a winning team that no other aspect of the game mattered.


"Hey, Mom, what's the matter? You don't look happy." Doca was standing over me as I sat at my sewing machine, thinking my own thoughts. I realized I must be wearing my "lost in the inside" face. It happened whenever I had a problem I couldn't solve. He was right, I wasn't happy, but how could I explain that I was questioning God about the way He had stacked the Braves.

"Well, Doca, I just keep wondering about your perfect team."

"Oh! The Dream Team?" He grinned. It was a wolfish look. "Yeah, we're gonna clean up. Well, guess I'll go to bed. 'Night, Mom." His hug was tight and confident-he squeezed a little too tight in his enthusiasm. "The Braves are gonna go all the way to Regionals. That's what Coach Cecil says."

I watched my eleven-year-old co-conspirator flick his eight-year-old sister's head as he strolled off to bed. For once, she didn't retaliate. She was asleep.

"Are you sure about this, Heavenly Father?" I asked for the twentieth time. As I got up to wake Pinky and put her to bed, I couldn't help but wonder what God had up His sleeve.


The phone was ringing as we burst through the door. "Somebody get it, will you?" I hollered, my hands crowded with a bag of groceries and the odds and ends of gear the kids had left behind.

"Mom, it's Coach Cecil!" Doca shoved the phone under my two free fingers and pushed the dog out of the way to get to the fridge. "Tell him I want to be catcher, okay, Mom?"

"Hey, Cec, what's up?" With a thud and a thump, I dumped my armload on the kitchen table and tried to get a better grip on the receiver. Too late. It bounced off Shadow, our reddish-brown hound, who yelped and banged into Nani, our six-year-old, who inadvertently slipped sideways, slamming the fridge door on Doca's hand, smashing not only his finger but spilling the glass of grape jelly with pink pigs on it. "Oh no," I moaned, "not again."

"Look, Cath, something's come up."

"Okay, Cec; you sound unhappy." My intuition jiggled as I sponged the jelly off the floor. The Dream Team's doomed. The thought was so clear.

"There are gonna be two new coaches; they want to redraft."

"Oh." Well, Heavenly Father, what's this, I thought. Was I right? A team like that's just not fair, eh?

"So, when's the draft?" I asked. When will the axe fall, is what I was thinking. I didn't feel smug-more like resigned and sorry. Here's where Doca gets cut; my heart hurt. Rats! I should have kept my mouth shut. He's going to be so disappointed. In my heart I knew that Cecil would try to get all the boys again, but it just wasn't going to happen. That kind of luck again? He'd have to sacrifice some boys to

get the really good ones he needed to make the team win. Well, I thought, Doca's a good player. All-Stars last year. He's a good catcher. Always a good hitter and not bad on second base either.

"Yeah," a cynical voice whispered in my head, "but he's not flashy and he's not a coach's son." I shook my head to get rid of the thought.

"Well, Cec, just do the best you can; it'll work out. Yes, I'll tell Doca. Okay, good night."

"Tell me what, Mom?" Doca peered at me over his PBJ on wheat-his upper lip white with milk.

"Oh, well, Cecil says he has to redraft. Some new coaches want a chance to pick their own teams. Guess we better go back to letting Heavenly Father do His job?" I looked at Doca and hoped that I didn't show my pity, my regret, my faithlessness. The shock of that realization hit me hard. My faithlessness? Not in God, but in my son's ability.

"Oh. It's OK, Mom, don't worry. Coach Cecil will get us back. I just know it." He grinned, showing me his brown and purple teeth, and disappeared into the living room.


He was right; Coach Cecil did get them back. Every one of them. And the Team won the championship at the park level for Major League. They were after all the Dream Team Braves.

Doca played a few good innings as catcher during the season, but mostly he played left field and didn't get a lot of the action. He also sat out from one to three innings a game so one of the other minor hot shots could play. Josh played second base every game, and when Little Cecil wasn't pitching, he was catching. Left field was better than the bench.

"Mama?" Doca turned to look at me in the car as we left the park after his last game. It was ten o'clock; he was tired, hungry, and I could see, by his downcast face, he was disappointed despite the championship win and the Dr. Pepper he'd had after the game.

"Hmmmm?" I glanced to my left and pulled into the stream of traffic heading down the ballpark's rutted dirt road. The lights were still on. A few teams were still playing.

"This has been a funny season, don't you think?"

"What do you mean, Doc?" Feeling his eyes on my face, I began to burn with curiosity. Sometimes this pint-sized bat swinger had some great thoughts.

"Well, you know, the Braves were really great. We had the best of all the players on our team." Doca hesitated and began to chuckle softly. "But this was the most boring season I ever had in my life. Winning wasn't that big a deal. And we didn't really play all that much better than the other teams; I mean, we made lots of errors every game. Every game was samo, samo."

When we were safely on the blacktop, I looked at my son. He was shaking his head slowly from side and side and picking at his scuffed, black glove. I had expected to see sorrow that the season was over, but what I saw were tears. "Doca, are you crying?" My voice choked with astonishment. "What on

earth's the matter? I mean, you won the championship! You even made a good catch in left field tonight and it helped your team win the game."

Doca looked up and flashed me a rueful grin. "Yep, not bad for a once- in-a-season chance." Suddenly, he was laughing so hard that the tears flew across the space between us and I felt them turning cold on my arm. "Oh, Mom, you get it, don't you? The Dream Team was so good it wasn't any fun. No challenge. Even when I got to play it was a lot like sitting on the bench."

"But what if you had been catching every game instead of out in the field-wouldn't that have been exciting?" My grownup's nature got the better of me as I recklessly brought up what I thought was a sore point for Doca. Was this sour grapes?

"That's just it, Mom. It would have been busier, but not really challenging. We just had too much of the talent."

It was a good thing we were waiting at a red light because I just stared at Doca as he sat nonchalantly in the front seat next to me. He had started whistling after this last statement of astounding truth and seemed to have forgotten I was even there.

"Hey, Mom, go, will you? Light's green. People are honking at us."

As we started off, Doca looked at me, grinned like a wolf, and with sublime innocence asked, "I wonder if Michael Jordan ever feels like this?"

I didn't say anything to Doca, but I couldn't help wondering to myself-Does Michael Jordan listen to God? I suppressed the chuckle rising in my throat and answered us both: "Looking at the way he plays baseball, maybe he does."

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