Sometimes when I look back on all Anthony and I have gone through, I can’t believe that there’s still so much more to write about. If this were a movie, (and it probably should be) we’d be at the apex of the story line. This would be the breakthrough moment where the constant build-up and let-down of our struggles would have surmounted to the point of pathetic annoyance. Viewers would be begging for the coveted happy ending. I mean, how many jokes can you really make about RV’s, baseball stands, groupies and swamp-ass before it gets stale? At what point does the story end? When do these poor souls get a god-forsaken break?! I mean, I get it. But the answer, sadly, is: not today people. Not today.
The San Luis era allegedly ended on August 8th, 2014. (One could never be sure anymore). Anthony won his second championship in a row there, took down the triple crown award, and even managed to sell his home jersey to a taco stand owner for like $50 bucks – the equivalent of that guy’s annual income. It seemed like it was the right time to take his talents elsewhere. He was officially signed with the Jalisco Charros in Guadalajara where he was poised to make an actual living just from playing baseball. I was still working in Tucson for ADP selling human capital management software (which I admittedly only know the value of now), and we were paving the way to become DINKS. (Double income, no kids). In a Nicholas Sparks story line, this was it. We scratched and clawed our way to the peak and were ready to turn this baseball thing from a horrifying, pipe-dream nightmare into a reality.
My wanderlust started to flare up before Anthony even got home from San Luis, and I started imaging what life might be like if I decided to chase him into the depths of Mexico. Would I have a bicycle with a basket on the front that I’d ride to and from our hacienda? Would I become fluent enough in Spanish so that I one day could use “hacienda” in the right context of a sentence? Would I have babies there? Would we be married A League of Their Own style like Marla Hooch and Nelson under a canopy of wooden bats? It was so tough to tell where life was taking us, and I genuinely loved the thrill of that ride – even craved the adventure a little bit. I was finally on-board for whatever was next. Or so I thought.
The day after the championship game when Anthony was heading back to Tucson, photos began to surface from the championship game. I started to look at them more closely on my Facebook feed and noticed that some of the players had dyed their facial hair a cheap, bleached blond. Clearly an attempt to bring some superstitious luck to their playoff run. “Thank God” I remember thinking, that Anthony didn’t have facial hair. Even if he tried to grow some, he looked like one of those man-boys in 8th grade with scraggly patches all over their face making a sorry race toward puberty. He could manage a decent mustache, but we all know what man-boys with mustaches and patchy facial hair look like. Right: creeps who show up at your front door asking to take your daughter “to the movies.” In my quick reprieve of knowing he had no beard to dye, I kept scrolling through the celebratory photos, feeling a little sorry I had to miss the game. Sadly, unlike some people, I had to work 40 hours a week for a living, and a Thursday night game in San Quintin, Mexico didn’t really qualify for PTO. Then, I saw it. Not right away, because the photo was panned out to capture the entire team, but it was there – captured in time forever. My man-boy boyfriend with a shit-eating grin on his face, effectively taunting me from the back row of the team photo, was a platinum. freaking. blond. My Italian Stallion was blond. I should have known better. I just should have. Anthony was never one to pass up an opportunity to provide comic relief, and without me around for long periods of time, he had a tendency to go a little off the rails. This is the kind of stuff that I imagine all girlfriends / wives go through when they loosen the reins a bit. Except their husbands / boyfriends don’t go and alter their perfectly fine physical appearance on a whim that it’ll bring good luck. No. They get wild and buy a wrench at Home Depot with the joint bank account, hoping the transaction will get lost between the utility and grocery bill withdrawals. I just sat there in awe and waited for Billy Idol to get home.
Before Anthony could unpack his suitcase, we were at Walgreen’s buying hair dye. He had just under a month and a half at home before he left for Guadalajara, and all forty-two of those days were going to be spent as a brunette. It took a solid afternoon and two applications of Clairol to get that Mexican bleach out of his hair. (Something tells me it wasn’t the kind of product that pregnant women were using in their first trimester). But with a little determination and elbow grease, it was erased from existence and we were ready to enjoy a much-anticipated, highly-deserved vacation home to Maine.
Some baseball traditions – like going blond – are better left alone.
Maine was everything that we had forgotten we loved. Both of our families were in close proximity for overdue visits. Anthony enjoyed card games with his buddies, and I indulged with girlfriends at Portland’s latest culinary ventures. We spent time alone as tourists, soaking up the things that make Maine everything that it is: the steely blue ocean, historic lighthouses, salty air and an abundance of lobster dinners and cookouts. We had the chance to enjoy our first official date, which was completed orchestrated by Anthony. Dinner at Timber downtown was delicious and memorable, and while I thought it would be the best part of the trip, I was surprised by the meaning of something else on vacation.
For years, Anthony made reference to a man named “Coach John.” He would speak of him like I always knew who he was, and I remember finally asking him one day in his apartment in Mexico”Who is this Coach John guy and why do you call him Coach John?” I thought it was strange that a man who hadn’t coached him in at least the 4 years we had been dating was continually referred to with the title of “coach.” And that morning, sitting on our make-shift, air-mattress bed with my instant coffee cradled in my hands, I listened to the story about Coach John.
In all fairness, there should probably be a whole blog post about Coach John. My recollection will most likely not do Anthony’s relationship with him justice, and I’ll probably screw up some of the details, but here’s the abridged version:
Coach John was Anthony’s high school baseball coach. He turned Anthony’s path in baseball from a hobby that he enjoyed doing with his friends into a disciplined love-affair. Anthony always had baseball in his blood from the family he was raised in, but he was struggling academically and was just unfocused on much of anything. He took Anthony under his wing – willing to work with him in the off season – and helped mold Anthony into the kind of man he is today. They worked together a lot on baseball, but Coach John was more than just his coach. He was a constant motivation in his life. He challenged Anthony to stay on the straight and narrow, to focus on working hard, and to enjoy the rewards of that hard work. To that day in the apartment in Mexico, Anthony was receiving text messages from Coach John about how proud he was of him and wishing him luck in his playoff games. There’s some story that Anthony always refers back to – and I’ll butcher this I’m sure – where the high school team was acting up or being little assholes, like high school boys are, and Coach John sat them down around a bucket of sand. Or maybe it was water. I cant remember exactly. But he shoved his hand into the bucket of [stuff] and looked at the team and asked them, “Do you know how quickly you can be replaced?” Then he ripped his hand out of the bucket, and the hole that was created for one millisecond filled back in before any of them could notice anything was ever missing. It was subtle messages like that one, that would resonate with Anthony, and I could discern the importance of it to him in the way he always shared the stories. He’d always tell me, “You’re going to love Coach John. He’s the man.” So this vacation to Maine was my chance to finally meet the man, the myth, the legend who was “Coach John.”
The first thing Coach John did when we got to his home for dinner was pull out the scrapbooks his wife Anne had made from the baseball seasons. We thumbed through the pages and I listened to him tell me the stories that were captured on every page. He remembered so many little moments about Anthony and his teammates, and it was evident that this had been more than just a side gig for extra money. There was an element of nostalgia in his voice that evoked sincerity , and I instantly loved Coach John, too.
We sat around the dining room table with his wife, his kids and his mother “Gan-Gan” and even a couple of Anthony’s friends. We enjoyed a plethora of food that was so graciously prepared for us by “Mrs. Coach John,” and I spent hours learning about everyone’s role in Anthony’s life. They all had one. Every member of the family was intricately woven into proud moments of Anthony’s life. I remember feeling humbled to be sitting there, and happy I had finally encouraged Anthony to chase a dream that he loved. It just made sense at that point. They were all so welcoming and warm, and genuinely loved hearing the inside scoop of the journey we had been on. We laughed until we all had tears in our eyes over and over, and it took me very little time to understand the connection between Anthony and Coach John. In just one evening, I felt connected too. I became more a part of Anthony’s life in that moment than perhaps any other moments we had shared, and certainly it meant more than our coveted first date a few nights prior.
We headed back to Tucson on the top of the world. This really felt like the right place to be, and that just maybe we had figured out how to make this weird life work well together. On September 14th, one week before his departure to preseason in Guadalajara, we made a wish on a rotisserie chicken wishbone during one of our last meals together for awhile. I wished for a successful season for him, and hoped everything would work out like it should for us. The following week he took off to Phoenix to hop a flight back to Mexico. Hey, at least this team flew him places.
The Charros brought a new element to what Anthony had been used to. They were regimented and serious. Smoking cigarettes and drinking Coke in the dugouts certainly was frowned upon, unlike in his San Luis days. They had scheduled buses to take them to their practices and gym workouts, but Anthony was happy to be a part of something bigger. When the time came to play, he surprisingly wasn’t being placed in the starting line-up. He was given maybe ten at-bats in the late innings of games, where he got hits probably six times or so. After a week and a half in Guadalajara, and during a game where he wasn’t asked to play at all, Anthony was called down to the hotel lobby around 12:30AM by his coach. They let him go right there, and told him he’d be flying home to Tucson the next day.
I answered my phone the same night around 1:00AM to Anthony’s voice, “Well, I’m coming home.” I remember my first reaction was anger, but not at the team or the coach. I was mad at Anthony. We had just taken the roller coaster all the way to the top, and in one phone call everything came crashing back down to rock bottom. I was never good at dealing with the ebbs and flows, and I regret how I handled the situation now. As much as my life was difficult, Anthony’s was harder in that moment. I know now just how shattering it was because it only took him two months after returning home to Tucson to ask me, “You ready to go home?”
And I was.