One Shining Moment
By John Sullivan (August 2002)
Championship game, winner takes all. We had a little rally going. Trailing 5-4 in the last inning, our little league Yankees had 2 men on base and our sparkplug, Sam Sullivan, coming up to bat.
Sammy, 10, was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome 2 years ago. It hasn't been easy for him, but with treatment and support he has been able to adjust to his symptoms and lead a productive, active life. He gets up every day with a smile on his face because he wants to live in the solution not the problem.
He goes to school every day and is well liked. In the beginning, some of the other kids would tease him about his head and shoulder tics. That was hard for him, but he addressed it. In a class discussion about disabilities he was able to stand up and describe what it's like to have Tourette's. "I'm still the same kid that you've known since kindergarten. I can't control it and I wish I didn't have it, but I'm like everyone else here. Please don't make fun of me." After that it got better at school. My son is learning through his group at TSA and his counselor, Evan Michaels that having Tourette's is not the end of the world. Sometimes he gets down and withdraws but he has already learned that losers do what they want to do but a winner does what he has to do. Some adults never learn that. He's 10.
In Little League, Sammy had been bothered by his tics all season long but he wouldn't give up. He kept coming back. He came to every practice and every game. He batted leadoff and played third base and was involved in lots of exciting games. The team was 9-1 on the year and playing the Dodgers for first place. The Dodgers were also 9-1 and the winners of this game would be champs. With runners on 1st and 2nd it was Sam's turn. The park was crowded that day with parents, fans, friends and families all rooting for their favorite team. There were 2 outs and the cheers for "Defense, Defense!" were soon drowned out by the "Let's Go, Yankees!" from our side.
Sammy stepped in and fouled off the first pitch for strike one. Then the darned tics started. Almost imperceptible at first, I wasn't even sure I had seen it. But then, another one, his head jerking forward twice. As he concentrated on the pitcher in between tics, I was hoping no one would notice. Some people knew about his condition but most did not. His teammates knew, though. "Lets go, Sam!" they yelled. "Come on, Sammy boy!" The next pitch, Sam swung and missed. Two strikes, 2 outs, 2 men on base. Now the tics were coming rapid fire - short bursts of 3,4,5 head jerks. I heard the umpire ask Sam if he was OK. I called time out and met him halfway. I looked into his eyes. At that moment it was just he and I, father and son - together - no matter what. I saw courage there, courage that I knew I had never had as a kid. "Dad, I'm OK." "You're sure, son? If you want to sit down and take a break it's OK, it doesn't matter". "No I'm staying in."
The umpire called, "Let's go, Coach." I looked at Sammy and I knew. I knew what I was supposed to do. I gave him a hug for luck and I let him go. Sammy walked back to the batter's box and pounded the plate 3 times with his bat, his Mark McGuire "White Lightning" bat that he loves so much. He raised the bat above his head, just like Derek Jeter holds his, up high, and waited for the pitch. Since then I have thought much about what happened that day in the park. My son taught me, through his attitude and his actions, during that terrible, beautiful baseball season, 3 months in the life of a little boy who would not give up, though no one would have blamed him if he had.
When that white bat flashed in the sunlight as he swung at that last pitch everyone on both sides of the field jumped up. The ball took off like a rocket toward the left center field gap. When it landed it took a high bounce over the outfielders' heads. Pandemonium erupted on both sides. "Get the ball!" the Dodger fans yelled. Yankee kids were circling the bases. "Go, Sammy, Go!" "Go! Go! Go!" we yelled. Alan and George scored the winning runs and Sammy just kept running. As he rounded second base I watched him and I realized what he was doing. I knew what he was doing and I knew why he was doing it. My son didn't care that the game was over, didn't care whether we were champs or not. At that moment, that one shining moment, my son had to stretch that double into a triple. Just like the little Dodger left fielder had to make one more perfect throw to third, Sam had to keep running.
The play at third had to happen because the kids were doing what they loved and no one told them to stop.
The third basemen was positioned perfectly as Sammy slid headfirst into third. At the same instant he applied his tag, Sam's hand touched the bag. "Safe!" called the umpire. "Yes!" cried the fans. "Thank you, God", said his father.
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