His red jersey with number 13 on the back was neatly tucked into his khaki pants. Unlucky number 13. That's what he chose for this year. He can't have number 7, the number he's worn on his back ever since his chubby little legs ran around the bases the very first time at six years old.
The number that most men in this baseball-loving family have worn is no longer available. His cousin was the last to wear it around here. Out of respect for Heath's tragic death twelve years ago, no one wears it now. His name and number hang on the fence at the VFW field instead.
But that's not what drove my emotion today. No, it's something far heavier.
On the same day that my boy looks forward to taking the field as a Bulldog, another boy lies in a hospital bed.
That's what has the tears flowing today.
This other boy. The same age as mine, less than a week apart in birthdays. He loves baseball as much as my own. We have played both with him and against him over the years. He's a fierce competitor, small in stature, but big on the pitcher's mound. He's a lefty and throws a mean curve ball.
But now things are so different. In a blink, so much is different.
Today he's recovering from an accident that has altered the course of his life. His left hand, that very pitching hand, is now forever mangled and missing the three middle fingers due to a freak accident over the weekend.
As my boy walks out of the house, it's on his mind, too, I know it. He's excited for today, but the stark reality of Layne's accident is present all around us in the silence.
"Everything can change so quickly," were his words yesterday as he talked about it. "I can't even imagine."
It's so heavy when life throws the knuckle ball when you're primed and expecting the fast ball to knock out of the park.
It's heavy because when you contemplate the brevity of life and the interruption of plans, it bears the weight of a thousand tons on your mind and heart.
Watching him leave the house today, my mind was splattered with all the ways life could change in an instant for all of us.
The whole reason he wears 13 on his back is because 7 isn't available.
Heath left the house that afternoon planning on riding his motorcycle roughly a mile down the road to the baseball complex. In an instant, that plan was changed and he was gone.
Layne left his house Saturday night looking forward to baseball in the coming week. That plan got side-swiped and parts of him are gone.
So I'll reconcile this the way I do when life doesn't make sense...in light of God's sovereignty.
I don't do this simply or flippantly, but most often with clinched teeth, tight fists, and tear-stained cheeks. Not because I fully understand and accept, but because I choose to trust as best as I can, sometimes often by just a thread of hope.
Our Creator and Maker knows our days and the number of hairs on our head. He knows the accidents that haven't yet happened and the rugs that haven't been pulled out from under us. He knows the phone calls that will come bringing the bad news or the diagnosis that will be told to change our lives. If we knew them all, it would simply be too much to handle.
It catches us by complete and total surprise, but not Him.
He Who designed the very atoms and cells and organs that make up our bodies, does not get caught by surprise when something goes awry.
He is also the very One to whom we run when the heaviness hits like a boulder. He can handle it because He knew it in advance, before the foundation of the world. He is the only constant in our ever-changing lives.
Does He allow it? I have to believe a solid Yes. If I believe He's in complete control, then I ultimately believe nothing is out of his control. Because sin entered the world, it brought death and destruction in all its forms. He had a plan for that, too.
If He would send His perfect Son to die a ruthless and painful death on a cross for a world of undeserving sinners, then I must believe He allows us to suffer pain as well, for our good and His glory, even when we can't understand it.
This world is not our home, thankfully. This world, of baseball games and motorcycles and cancer and miscarriages and bankruptcy and political unrest, is temporary. The good and the bad are fleeting. He is saving the perfect home, with no sadness or tears, for eternity. For those who believe in Him.
Regardless of the number my son might wear on his back, there is no luck in this - or anything else, for that matter. It's not a roll of the dice. We will all face hardships and difficulties, loss and grief. We will have our plans changed and our lives wrecked, in ways big and small. Ultimately, it matters not if our whole world is wrapped up in baseball or in crocheting, but in whether our lives make much of the Savior.
If suddenly our outward identity changes - if we were once a baseball player, a mom, a business man, or an astronaut - and it all comes crashing down around us - it doesn't change who we are at our core if we are a child of the one true God. That can never be changed - no matter the phone call or the diagnosis.
But to all who believed him and accepted him, He gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12