"So, no story tonight? Are we just going to look at a million cards before you go to bed?" she questioned.
"Mom, you know I don't have a million cards. I wish I did, though! I'm looking at all my baseball cards to find a good number. Since I made the baseball team, my coach wants me to pick a number for my uniform. There are so many players I like and I think I want to have the number of my favorite player. It's a hard decision. It seems like my favorite players all have different numbers. I can't make up my mind," he stated as he continued to puzzle over his plight.
"Well, let me ask you a question. Why is the number important? How come it makes a difference?" Mom countered.
"I don't know. Some numbers are cool. Maybe if I have a good number, I'll play better. Naw, that's silly! The uniform has nothing to do with how you play! I guess I have a choice and I want to make a good one!" he replied.
"Maybe, you want your number to advertise your favorite player. So when they see your number, they'll think of Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter? To be honest, son, I didn't ever know your father's number because we got married after he finished playing baseball and he never mentioned what his number was. He played in both high school and college, and when we met, well, I was too busy with my own studies to pay attention to his number. It makes me feel a little sad when I think about it." And her voice softened.
"Yeah, I wish I could have seen him play. He told me he was a good hitter, and I know I'm a good hitter. I wish he could see me play."
She hugged her son and it became quiet as they shared a brief time of loss. He pulled his mother close to him as he was reminded of what he would never have, a cheering father in the stands. The tears flowed freely for a few minutes, as they had many times before during the nightly bedtime rituals. It was most difficult during the holidays, father's day and birthdays, and now with the beginning of many baseball seasons to come.
She loosened the embrace and with a warm smile on her face she slowly stated, "There are two things I want to say to you. First, I am so proud of how you share your feelings. It shows me how strong and mature you are becoming. Second, and I want you to remember this every time you go out on the field: Your father is cheering for you. He has the best seat ever to watch you. He is up in heaven watching us at this very moment and I know he is just as proud of you as I am. Remember how he loved the Lord and he used to pray that you would grow up to be just as you are. You are a great kid and your father is very proud of you. Whatever number you choose will be OK. Let's put away this colossal card collection and hit the hay. Athletes need to get their rest!"
"Mom, I decided on the number 7. That's the Lord's number, you know. He made the earth in seven days. And according to the Bible, we need to forgive others, not seven but 77 times. I think Dad would be proud of that number. That way, when I see my number I'll think of Dad and God at the same time. Well I like all baseball players, but when I think of it, Jesus is my favorite! I'm ready to go to sleep. Let's pray!"
And the great scorekeeper in the sky smiled and was well-pleased with his little player.
Jim Shinn is an El Centro resident and a counselor at De Anza Junior High in Calexico.