For the good of the permanent public record, and expose the unreliability of human memories that aren't mine, I will be presenting a series of "How We Met" tales about various prominent figures in my life. The second in this series is about Dustin "Lucky Boy" Reed. (Read the first "How We Met" here)
I met Dustin a long while before we officially became "friends." We were teammates on the Paddock Bowl baseball team in the Pleasant Hill Baseball Association during the summer of 1990. This was in the era before teams were named after real professional teams, with matching logos and uniforms. In the years before Paddock Bowl, I played for Oakmont Memorial, Sunvalley Urgent Care Center (try fitting that name into the "two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?" cheer), IPM Health Plan, ABM Security, and McCaffery Construction. Though I faced them many times, never did I play for Produce King, VFW Post, or Lou's Giant Chef Burger.
When I first began playing baseball, I was a pretty solid player. I was never much of a hitter, but that mattered less in the era of hitting off tees, or having coaches pitch to you. My main talent in those early years was knowledge of the game. Because I knew what a force play was, I was head and shoulders above most seven year-old second basemen. Often, I would turn unassisted double plays when more confused players ran to the wrong base, or continued to run on fly balls. Less often, I would hit the ball out of the infield.
As I got older, everyone else slowly began to match my ability to catch pop flies and throw to the correct base. My continued inability to hit, and my struggles with making throws from third base meant that I spent a great deal of time on the bench. It was there that I first bonded with Dustin. Dugout smartassery and on-field suckery proved to be the foundation for a long friendship.
We had probably met and talked at practice before, but the first strong memory I have of Dustin came when we were both seated on the bench one game. Our team only had eleven kids that day, but Dustin and I were still too big of a risk to have on defense for more than our minimum requirement of innings. For a few minutes, we amused ourselves with rhymes about pitchers and belly-itchers, until the opposing team's coach gave us something far more interesting to focus on.
Opposing Coach was one of those really loud coaches, constantly yelling at his players from the third-base coaching box (located right in front of our dugout). The guy was about twenty pounds overweight, and gave me the impression of being an overgrown kid. He yelled at umps, yelled at opposing coaches, and yelled at his own kids. It wasn't like he was overly confrontational; he just talked really loudly and obnoxiously, as if he were trying to impress the team parents sitting in the bleachers with his wit.
This day, Opposing Coach was focusing his attentions on "Mike," a player on his team who had drawn a walk. Through an elaborate series of hand gestures, he gave Mike a message. Mike apparently misread it, and took off for second on the very first pitch. Although Mike stole the base successfully, Opposing Coach was incredulous.
"Mike!?! Mike!?!" he exclaimed, sounding like he was on the verge of tears. "Gosh, Mike! I told you not to steal!"
He may have gone on longer than that, but the above is the portion that stands out in my memory. Mainly, because we repeated it twenty or thirty times that inning. We were both making each other laugh, so we just kept going, talking in whiny voices, pretending to cry while yelling, "I told you not to steal!" over and over. Opposing Coach was really not pleased by this, since we were only about fifteen feet away from him. I think he tried to say something about it a few times, but we were laughing pretty hard. Plus, it's difficult to yell, "Stop making fun of me!" at two eleven year-olds in front of their parents and everyone.
This went on for the remainder of the game. There'd be a pause, and then Dustin would say, voice breaking, "Gawsh, Mike!" and we'd immediately crack up. Opposing Coach seethed. Mike himself looked perturbed. We didn't care. Whether we were sitting on the bench, standing in left field, or walking back to the dugout after a strikeout, Dustin and I kept up our "Mike!" routine going.
We literally did this all season long, whether we were playing that team or not, whether anyone was actually forbidden to steal or not. Precedents were set, both for incompetence and beating jokes into the ground, that are still core elements of our friendship today. I wonder if Dustin and I would be so close today had Mike simply listened to Opposing Coach and kept his ass on first base. My first liver might have lasted a lot longer, that's for damn sure.
Though the Mike incident didn't launch us immediately into friendship, it did establish a fraternity of funny voices and teasing. When I transferred to Valley View in seventh grade, we eventually became pals. I went to his fourteenth birthday party and his dog took a bite out of my shirt. Later that year, mere days before Dustin moved to Fall River Mills, we went and saw a movie together at the Capri Theater (or, if you were hip, the "Crap-ee" Theater). Our inspired choice was "Weekend at Bernie's 2," a movie that would foreshadow many elements of our later college careers. My last memory of Dustin, before his triumphant return to the Bay Area, was of walking dejectedly outside the theater, our spirits broken by the horrible film. His mom picked him up, and we exchanged a cursory goodbye.
What should have happened next is clear. As he rolled down his window, I should have shouted, "Gosh, Dustin! I told you not to see such a terrible movie!" And Opposing Coach, driving out of the parking lot after lunch at Emil Villa's Hickory Pit, should have overheard and swerved angrily into a parked car.
Instead, the car just drove away. As I watched the van disappear down the road, I thought to myself, would I ever see Dustin again?