I’ve been a bit obsessed with a new pitcher in the Ranger’s Organization. I first heard about him from my friend and favorite blogger Tepid Participation. From the moment I heard his story, I was hooked. You can read about him here.
He has been a pretty dominant reliever in AA with Frisco, but I did not expect him to get the call quite so soon. The moment I read the news on Twitter, my stomach was in knots. If you have been close to someone who suffered with alcoholism, you know that building a new and safe routine is vital. Had this guy – recently released from prison, in a new organization, getting a second chance not only to live a new life, but to play baseball on the professional level – had enough time and experience to not let the pressure and elation of living his dream send him back down that path? I was very concerned. Baseball fans can be ruthless. They are not kind or compassionate if you are part of a team loss. God forbid you contribute to said loss. Could he take the outrageous ups and downs of this love/hate relationship?
I watched. I held my breath. I cheered. And then, I cried. Not a sweet tear streaming down my cheek with pride, but an ugly, sobbing mess. What was I so moved by? His post-game interview was sincere and his steady gaze and demeanor showed that he is grateful and aware of the gift he has been given. But why am I so broken up about it? The answer finally dawned on me as I cleaned the kitchen continuing to cry into the dirty spaghetti pot – Uncle Larry.
My favorite uncle was a ridiculously talented high school athlete. He received multiple athletic scholarships to Division 1 schools for both football and baseball. His 6’4″ frame, wavy strawberry-blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes were hard to miss in his hometown of Santa Fe New Mexico. Everywhere he went, he was a star. Free meals, free gas, lots of friends, and a very popular and charismatic preacher for a father. Larry was living large. When it came time to choose colleges, his father insisted that he go to a Southwest Conference school. Larry was more interested in attending the University of Colorado to which he also received an athletic scholarship, but pleasing his father was already almost impossible, so off to Texas Tech he went.
He did not make it through even one semester. Playing football as a freshman at Tech was a far cry from the superstar life he left in Santa Fe. He felt more like a piece of meat than a star quarterback and scholarship athlete. His family did not know it yet, but this is where his already raging relationship with alcohol began morphing into a way to cope with his disappointment. He dropped out of school, moved back home to New Mexico, met a girl, got married and began working in construction. He and his bride moved to Colorado into a small home overlooking Pikes Peak. It was paradise to me when we visited. Land on the side of a mountain, three dogs, a pond and wildlife everywhere. We had no idea what was going on behind closed doors. That marriage ended, the home was lost, He tried AA meetings and met another wonderful woman. She thought she could change him with her love and guidance. They had a baby and lived near Santa Fe. We were so happy for his new chance at happiness, but once again, we had no idea what was really going on.
It was here when life and his story took a turn for the worst. He is on his way to pick up his wife and infant child from the airport. He looses control of his car. The car flips end-over-end again and again until it finally comes to rest. He is dead, but revived at the scene. He spends months in a coma, more months in the hospital. He does not remember anything. His blood alcohol level at the time of the accident is alarming, but the focus is his recovery. He has what was then referred to as a “closed-head injury.” This traumatic brain injury changes the way he thinks. He wants to cook a chicken but does not take it out of the packaging before placing it in the oven. He just puts the package of chicken in the pan and sees nothing wrong. He is resistant to accept help. He is no longer the man we knew and loved. Another marriage ends. He is still drinking. He strikes out at his family and then, he is gone. We do not know where. For a while, we do not search for him.
When relatives die, my mother must find him to notify him. He writes a letter to his daughter. He has brief conversations with my mom and then disappears into the darkness again. A reporter writes an article about him when he is living homeless back in Santa Fe. My mother tracks him through social security checks all over the US. The details of this sketchy existence are not as important as the loss. He is gone. My favorite uncle. Alive somewhere in the world, but practically dead to me. My children do not know him. They have never seen him, never heard his booming voice or seen the knuckles on his enormous hands. He is not here to teach them to whistle like he taught me or to pick them up and hold them in his strong arms. I am so sad. I am so grief stricken when I see what he could have done if he was only able to get away from the alcohol. If only…
Good luck to you Matt Bush. I hope and pray that you will be able to live your dream and stay away from your demon!