“Bates” is one of the most significant words in my life for two very specific and distinct reasons.
Here’s No. 1. I went to school at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, same as my parents did, except that my stay there lasted only three semesters and ended with a letter from the Dean, something to the effect of, “Goodbye.”
I’ve since made my peace with that part of my life. Wait, no, I actually haven’t. I do, however, appreciate the fact that when I use those years as a measuring stick, everything else I do in life seems wildly successful.
And still on the subject of Bates College, my parents’ Bates friends are terrific and still a big part of our lives, and their kids are my pals (Hi Langdons, Cohens, Nusoms, Saylors, Sassevilles and Mr. Gary Watson!), and … Go Bobcats!
And here’s No. 2. My very first sports hero and role model was my next door neighbor growing up, Bobby Bates.
“Robert Q,” my mom called him (we still don’t know why), and Robert Q was, as the kids say, The Man. When he was a senior and I was a sophomore at Newport High, he was the winning pitcher on the state championship baseball team, winning quarterback (with three rushing touchdowns, by the way) in the state championship football game, and point guard on a basketball team that was ranked No. 1 in the tournament before bowing out early.
I should mention Fireball, too. That’s the aluminum bat/tennis ball game we played on the Bates’s property, pitching from in front of their garage to the strike zone posted on our garage, with every single unfielded ball shagged by the incomparable black lab Spooky. Brothers Dick and Jimmy and Bill and Timmy were all players, too, but Bobby was king.
That he saved me from a bully on the way home from elementary school one day is almost a surreal afterthought at this point, but he really did … and at the time, it was a really big deal.
So you get the idea. If you’ve seen those Dos Equis commercials featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World” (He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously, through himself. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact.), you understand that in my mind, my neighbor, Bobby Bates, was the original Dos Equis guy.
And now, he’s the Newport High baseball coach, and now he’s got a wonderful family right down Cheney Street from where we grew up, and now his family feels like one of those families that you could call your own family because it’s so comfortable to hang out with them, and now … here three of them were Saturday, at the Epsom homestead, Coronis grinders (the best sandwiches ever, don’t bother arguing) in hand, spending some time and offering to rebound. Bobby’s wife Becky, their 15-year-old sophomore-to-be son Ben, and 7-year-old sweetheart daughter Eliza. Bobby was going to join us, but work ran long and fouled that up.
And as much a downer it was that the King of Fireball couldn’t be there, the Bates threesome and the Cummings fivesome had a great hour or so rapping about the old days and the new days and the in between days. And then, with Eliza staying behind to go for a swim with The Beautiful Heth, Noah, Mason and Rosie … Becky, Ben and I had a very productive hour and 18 minutes at the Epsom Central School gym on what seemed like the hottest day of the year.
I’m not being even slightly disingenuous when I say that those two were doing the hard work while I stood at the foul line, flicking my wrist, and our well-oiled machine dropped in 1,500 in those 78 minutes — a solid pace which brought the overall total to 348,007 made foul shots. We cut it short because Ben, who I’m guessing over the next few years is going to be the same three-sport rock star that his dad was, needed to be off to a Junior Legion baseball game in Hudson. I should probably pretend I was disappointed not to go another half-hour or so, but … it was freakin’ hot.
So the bad news is that Bobby couldn’t get there. But the good news is that all four of them will be returning soon. Maybe we’ll shoot some hoops, maybe we won’t. Either way, it’ll be a good day.
(As of Monday, July 19, we’re at 351,007 down, 648,993 to go to 1 million made foul shots.)