It’s something I never really talked about, or at least not very much. But I’ve been recently reminded about the past, and felt that maybe it’s time to share a little bit about myself, and the road I traveled down at a young age.
Back in 1985, my life changed forever. I lost my father, Duncan (OK) Lake Ranger Darrell “Jack” James, when I was a kid. He was shot and killed in the line of duty, not far from where we lived. The night it happened, I was playing in a little league baseball game, and if I may brag, was having a good game. But sometimes you just see something happening and deep down inside you know it’s not good.
I remember standing at second base when I saw my grandfather and uncle talking to a couple of people, and felt something wasn’t right. Then I saw my grandfather walk away. I thought maybe they were going back to the hospital since my grandmother wasn’t feeling well. So after the game, I left with some family friends. A few days later, once the perpetrator was caught and the preliminary investigation was complete, I was brought back home, along with my sister, and told my dad wasn’t going to be coming home again. In a matter of seconds, I grew up fast.
The last time I saw my dad I was in his squad car on our way to the game before I jumped in with my grandfather and uncle. I am fortunate enough to at least get the chance to say goodbye; I just didn’t realize it would be for the last time.
Ever since then, the game of baseball has always been a part of me. My dad was the one who got me started. We use to go out in the yard and play catch whenever possible. He would also help coach some of our little league teams. The first time I played “hot potato” with him, my hands were sore afterwards. That’s probably why I was always good with the glove; I really didn’t have any other choice.
One of the last things I ever said to my father was that I wanted to be a baseball player. Now, I felt it was my duty to follow through on a promise. I was on a mission.
So the journey began. There was a lot of hours growing up spent in the backyard of our house or my uncle’s house throwing “simulated games”. Sometimes I would even drag my sister out in the front yard to play catch. While other kids were out running around, it was nothing but practice, practice, and more practice for me. I didn’t care because in order to get where I said I was going, work needed to be put in. And it showed on the field.
I wasn’t letting anything get in my way. Knee injuries, arm injuries, nothing was stopping me. The passion allowed me to overcome any obstacle. The journey led to college as a pitcher/first and third baseman, and a fair share of looks along the way. After a couple of years at the junior college level, I eventually ended up at a school in Missouri, my father’s home state. I remember soon after transferring there, I stopped at a popular fast food joint and grabbed some dinner. I sat there eating, and despite the fact I was alone, it sure didn’t feel like it. Something inside was telling me that I wasn’t the only one sitting at the table. I think that’s when it finally hit, I’m really doing this and someone has been watching all along.
The year the injury bug finally caught up to me to the point of no return was one of the toughest years of my life. It was more of the emotional pain then it was physical. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to continue keeping my word, taking that next step, and have never really gotten over that. I was so close, and then it was gone.
The other reason why it hurt deeply, I also wanted to help my mom. It wasn’t easy being a single mother who shouldered the fight for her family, along with families of other crime victims. While growing up, my mom became the victim’s witness coordinator for the local district attorney. She was not only highly respected in the Sooner state, but throughout the nation. I always have been, and forever will be, very proud and grateful of my mom. She took care of everyone else, so I felt it was my turn to take care of her. I thought by achieving the dream of going pro, I could finally bring her the relief she deserved.
I grew up without a father, but I’m fortunate to have one now. He’s a retired Sergeant Major, United States Marine Corps, who served his country for 30 years. I’m proud to point that out every chance I get, and also proud to call him my father. What was once a void in my life was no more.
I never really talked about any of this much. It wasn’t anything I was ashamed of or trying to avoid. When asked questions about it, I would always answer, just maybe not too in depth. Growing up I didn’t want to be treated differently, didn’t want to be the subject of that “awkward situation” when real life meets something you only read about or see on TV. But now, and even back then, I realize my family is proof to others that it can become a reality, not a reality show.
I guess I was just always wary of the attention. Maybe the fear that by talking about everything, it would seem like I was the focus, one of those “hey everyone, look at me” type of scenarios. Even at the moment, there’s the feeling of too many “I” and “me” in this.
Despite the fact that life goes on, there are still reminders every day. You don’t even have to try, it will happen subconsciously. Maybe it’s good whether I’m at a game or watching on TV that I’m reminded of all those games growing up, all those games in college, and how it all began.
So I guess this is as good of a time as any to break a little of the silence, share some of the story. The suggestions to do it have been mentioned before, it just never happened.