A STORY FOR BRIAN

As the first decade of the new millennium drew to an end I found myself being forced into retirement due to our state’s TERI program and the economics in play during that particular slowdown. I was comfortable with this retirement especially when a new charter school opened and wanted me to continue my teaching and I once again became unretired. My coaching career was coming to an end but at least I would be able to teach without the distraction of practices, games, long bus rides and the cold that always began the baseball season and seemed to get colder as I got older. That was what I thought at least…about the cold and the fact that my coaching career was over. As my wife and I walked one morning late in the summer of 2009 I informed her that long time Landrum coach, Travis Henson, had accepted a collegiate position at North Greenville University. With typical Linda Gail insight her comment was, “You better not answer your phone because John Cann (Landrum’s athletic director) will be calling.” I didn’t listen and ended up as their interim coach for a year. It was a good year, not a great one, but it allowed me to reconnect with Brian Kuykendall.
Brian was a former football player and student from my first stint at Landrum back in the mid 1980’s. He was also a baseball player but during my first stint I had been banished to coaching track and I didn’t get to coach him in that sport. I did get to watch, and he was a player that was light on ability but heavy enough in grit and was a great competitor, a coach’s dream. Short and stocky with dark good looks, he really hadn’t changed it seemed when I met him and his son Kaleb at the first parent and team meeting. You are kidding right? Are you old enough to have a fourteen year old and does this make me a “grand coach” of some type? I guess there was a little gray in his hair and goatee but not much. Brian had taken his love for people and kids and had coached or officiated most of the kids that I was getting ready to coach. He was a true sport’s father except one with brains who cared about all of the kids, not just his own. That is not a statement about Landrum specifically just sports in general.
I visited with Brian a few days ago. It wasn’t a good visit and I dreaded it as I drove the twenty miles to the Hospice House in Landrum. Brian is dying from lung cancer and there is nothing I can do about it. He was unconscious from drugs and I just could not get him to wake up to go out and play catch with me. I was struck by how strong Brian looked and fear that his battle will be long and hard on his family. I would rather he go “gently into the night.” His battle with his illness has taken me back to other players who are no longer with me. It has been a year since Tim Bright died of the same terrible disease and I again am struck with the unfairness of life. Children and former players should outlive me not the other way around. I have hopes that the list will grow no longer and that I will live forever but fear that is not going to happen.
As I walked this morning I thought about Brian along with Tim Bright, Heath Benedict and Jeff Gully. I know there are others who have left us, all too soon, but for some reason it Brian and these three, who force their way into my thoughts. I stopped at the cross located on the lake across from Lookup Lodge and asked for answers. There were none forthcoming, just the sounds of water, birds and the young people that populated the area this beautiful Sunday morning. These were the sounds of life when I was thinking about death and the hereafter.
I don’t know what happens after death, I have my faith and I truly believe that death is just another door to step through and there is something more. I joked with a friend about the laws of physics and Conservation of Energy and the possibility of “mingling molecules” or maybe “flashing photons.” This Sunday morning my concept of heaven includes a freshly manicured baseball field with sharp white lines gleaming in bright sunlight. Brian, when you step through that door and smell the sweet smell of freshly cut grass, look for a big blond guy with an even bigger grin, an even bigger, goofy guy with his hat a little off to the side and red headed smart-alecky outfielder who is looking for his next laugh even though he is now laughing. Introduce yourself to Tim, Heath and Jeff and tell them to play a little catch. I’ll be along in a bit and we can get the game started.

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