Letter to a Friend by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Dear Marty:

Sorry this is late. I wish I had sent it a week ago when you were still here. Better yet, I should have delivered it by hand—I would like to have been there to say goodbye in person. I’m glad Furry was able to visit and let you know how much we all love you.

I remember the first time I saw you: it was opening day in the Ponce de Leon league and you showed up ready to catch. You looked like a garden gnome in a Chicago Cubs uniform, but you sure could play. You knew how to call a game; you could block balls in the dirt. You could get a bunt down. Maybe you weren’t all that quick down the line, but you were always one step ahead of everyone else on the team. You were a strategist; you knew the game; you had baseball in your Scandinavian bones. You, Mike, and I had some good years on that team. We were in our forties but we felt like kids again.

A few years later, you showed up again in my life. At Landon. The boys were in the Upper School, both fine baseball players and worthy young men. I was Drew’s assistant on the varsity then so I got to watch them develop their skills. Carl was a crafty pitcher with a nasty curveball; Neil anchored the team at shortstop. Both could hit. Before a game, I would hit fungos to the outfielders and you would catch me up. You were always loose and we would make bets on whether so-and-so would catch the next one. Sometimes, you would go warm up the pitcher or just sit in the dugout sharpening your pencils and arranging your yellow highlighters. The scorebook you kept was beyond accurate; it was an encyclopedic work of art—every pitch, every out recorded and rendered with detail and precision. I loved sitting with you, Charlie, and Furry down at the end of the bench, watching the boys play, thinking up the next prank, caring deeply about what we were doing but not taking it all to seriously. After all, it was high school baseball.

(Hey: do you remember the time when Charlie got under Drew’s skin and Drew actually threw him off the bench? His own father! OMG! Every time I think about that, I start to laugh so hard the tears come again. Even now.)

After the boys graduated and went on to college, we remained buds. I had been sent down to the JV, but you still showed up for games, keeping the book, hitting fungos, bouncing balls at the catcher in blocking drills. Thank you for doing all that. It just felt good knowing you were still there. But I wondered how you did it: after all, you had a big time law practice to tend, students of your own to teach down at Duke. I mean, really: how did you do it? How did you juggle all the big-time stuff and still find time to be fully present in my little high school life?

You were never a laugh-out-loud guy. More of a smirk and a twinkle-in-your-eye boy, but God, you were funny. Road trips with you were hysterical. More than once, we kept Drew from driving the bus off the bridge, made him laugh when he was deep in his you-know-what. You were the perfect foil; he had too much respect for you to stay mad for long even after a close loss.

As the years rolled along, we didn’t see each other as much, but we remained close. When my son came to you for advice and legal mentoring, you gave it thoughtfully and generously. I was always invited over for one of Neil’s healthy and delicious meals, followed by a wee dram or two of your good single malt from the top shelf. We’d sit around the kitchen table and it was like we were back in the dugout. Andrea would roll her eyes, but we knew she was amused. She loved you so much; hell, we all did.

So now you’re gone, but don’t worry: Charlie and I will get together and raise a maudlin glass to you soon. By now, I imagine you’ve looked up Buddy and the two of you are bantering each other again or having another fungo competition up in heaven. Your family and friends and colleagues down here miss you dearly. So do your students at Duke Law School, as well as the countless kids you coached with Dave in summer league ball over at St. Albans. If legacy is memory, yours is legion. You are an All-Star, a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. I’d give a lot for one more extra-inning game on a warm spring day in May, sitting next to you on the bench with Furry and Charlie, teasing you while you bone your old fungo with a Coke bottle, laughing so hard that I cry.

With so much love from so many of us,

Jamie

PS: I’ll be right back…

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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