He came to baseball, like many youngsters, an eager and willing participant. He soon discovered, however, that hitting a ball and running to a base wasn’t too difficult and was clearly a big deal to the grown-ups in the bleachers, but chasing after the ball and throwing it to some kid who could never manage to catch it wasn’t much fun. Thankfully, the game had more to offer: A brightly colored shirt with his number and name on it, a cap with a bill that could be bent to his liking, a slew of ants and the occasional butterfly or grasshopper in the outfield, doodlebugs near shortstop, planes and birds overhead, wads of old gum stuck to the dugout bench, and other neat stuff.
In his second year, he settled into the position he was told (and born) to play—Hind catcher. There, he discovered a strange, new world. Gone was the privacy of right field, or even shortstop. Others inhabited this world: A kid with a bat; some old guy squatting squarely behind him; and far too close—all those screaming parents. It wasn’t the best of worlds. But it was his world. And would be for years to come.
It quickly became evident to observers that the cute little boy all decked out in shin guards, chest protector, and mask (all of which appeared two sizes too large) had a strong aversion to anything remotely resembling pain. At the slightest hint of discomfort brought about by the game, off came the glove and mask followed by any number of writhing contortions and moans. And if the incident had evoked even the slightest “ooh” or “aaw” from the crowd, down he went; the umpire standing curious over him, fighting the urge to smile. Yells from mom and dad to “shake it off”, or, “you’re okay,” sped the recovery process only minimally. As a result, games were always laced with high drama in one form or another.
But even injury took a backseat to the heartbreak and exasperation of losing. Losing was not acceptable. Nor was substandard play, which he quickly discerned to be a leading cause of the “L” word. Should a batted ball find its way between the legs of a teammate, the catcher simply could not hide his displeasure. He would throw down his glove, stomp around kicking the ground and mumbling, and in what was to become his trademark feature, shake his head in disgust. If the transgression were his own, the resulting actions were multiplied two-fold.
The move from Pee Wee to Little League saw a decrease in the number of “bring me a stretcher” episodes, indicating an apparent increase in the catcher’s tolerance for pain. In addition, he was learning that demonstrations of annoyance at his teammates’ blunders weren’t really beneficial, so attempts were made to curtail them. Not eliminate. Curtail. Efforts to manage his displeasure at his own miscues, however, continued to fall by the wayside.
By high school, one thing was clear: The boy could play. He started for the Archer City Wildcats as a freshman, playing a prominent role is the team’s playoff runs in his sophomore and junior years. These days, any injury is simply a nuisance—producing disgust rather than woe. His loathing of failure, however, remains unchanged. As a result, mistakes by teammates are still often met with stares. And failure on his part to hit safely or throw out a runner results in the familiar furrowed brow, clenched jaw and head shake.
As expected, this—his senior year—has been his best season. Despite having led all area ball players in hitting most of the year and playing stellar defense, his greatest contribution has been the unbridled passion and leadership he’s brought to a team comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores—a team, on paper, with little chance to succeed. But in the last game of the season, this gutsy group of boys scored five runs in their final at bat to beat Chico 10-9 earning a tiebreaker game with Petrolia and keeping their season alive. That game, played at Hoskins Field in Wichita Falls, began with him hitting the fourth pitch of the day over the left field fence for a homer, setting the tone for the game and sending the message, “Hey! We came here to win, not just play, dadgumit!” I have to confess that standing with the Archer crowd, cheering and watching him round those bases, I had tears in my eyes. The Wildcats would go on to win 6-5, punching their own play-off ticket and attaining their seemingly impossible preseason goal of reaching the play-offs.
Then, on Friday, they beat Albany 4-1 becoming Bi-District Champions. Who would have thought it a couple of months ago? And where it will end is anybody’s guess at this point. But the season will eventually draw to a close, as all seasons do. And on that day, the catcher will don his Wildcat uniform for the last time. There will be tears, but he’ll leave knowing no one has ever played harder. Or cared more.
Dawson Reid will graduate from high school later this month, and his Aunt Lorrie and I are so proud of the young man he’s become. “D” has always marched to the beat of his own drum. I can still see him, years ago: Glove removed, kneeling in the dirt, fully engaged with that doodlebug—oblivious to his mom, dad, and coaches yelling at him to pay attention to the game. And I can’t help but smile.
I love you, Dawson. You’ll always be my hero.