When I was 15 years old, during the late innings of a high school baseball game, I stepped into the batter’s box.
My team was down by a run, but we had the go-ahead run on base.
And there were two outs.
I stepped out for a second, took a few practice swings, and then I dug back in.
The first pitch whizzed just past my right ear and over the catcher’s outstretched glove, allowing the runners to move up to 2nd and 3rd base, respectively.
I let the next pitch go by for a strike, and I decided that I was ready to take a hack.
Call me a purist, but there’s nothing quite like the sound of a baseball being well struck off of a wooden bat. (Especially vs. that tinny, almost annoying peal of an aluminum one.)
As I hustled down the line (hoping to make my turn at first, just in time to watch our go-ahead run cross the plate), I could hear a few scattered cheers, anticipating the path of the ball. The batted ball, though blistered, skidded along the ground on the way into the outfield.
But it never got that far.
Even after more than 40 years, I can still see the moment materializing in front of me.
The shortstop left his feet, knocked the ball down, picked it up, and threw an absolute seed to first base, getting me by a half-stride.
I didn’t even have time to slam my batting helmet down in anger. I just stood there, thinking of what might have been, as I watched that slick-fielding shortstop trot back to the opposing bench.
Funny how those things work, huh?
You never realize how significant certain isolated moments can be, until you get a chance to look at the bigger picture.
What do I mean?
Well, it turns out that I hadn’t seen the last of the guy who turned in that fielding gem, essentially robbing me of the potential game-winning hit.
I couldn’t have possibly known it at the time, but that same guy and I would not only end up in college together, we’d also raise our families in the same town, coach our daughters in softball, and live about a a mile apart from each other for 22+ years.
So, that picture?…
That’s him, the one in the white tee shirt. That’s the slick-fielding shortstop. Yeah, that’s the guy.
And for those of you, lucky enough to know him, I’ll bet that picture doesn’t surprise you at all. I’m sure you’ve seen many other pics like it – that unmistakable smile.
If you don’t know him, though. If your paths never crossed, if you simply just missed him.
Well, you missed a lot.
To me, Robert S. “Bob” Lerose always personified the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. (Please interpret that as the high compliment it’s intended to be.)
Some people do things out of obligation, while others do them to garner favor or maybe build a reputation. Not Bob.
He did what he did because he loved it. He just loved it all.
From baseball to barbecue to two highly-successful careers in both sales and later as a restaurateur/bar owner/event organizer/walking, talking music library, Bob sometimes made you feel like you were running in place. That’s how many different past times and pursuits
he mastered – and loved.
And he shared that love for all those different things, especially the music.
As mentioned above, Bob was bordering on encyclopedic in his overall musical knowledge. Not only could he tell you the names of recording artists and specific years of songs, and A & B sides of old .45 records, he actually knew a large number of those very same musicians.
And the pictures of him hugging and smiling and celebrating with so many of those singers, guitarists, drummers, roadies, and all people who had even the littlest thing to do with any of his events, each told a story of why all those same people came back every year. Sure, they wanted to be part of the show and play to the crowd, but above all else, they just wanted to be around Bob.
Yeah, that same smiling guy in the picture you see here – the same slick-fielding middle-infielder who robbed me of that sure-fire game-winning hit. Yep, that rockabilly/rock ‘n-roll-‘lovin jack of all trades who once organized what he called a “guilty pleasures” evening of music, featuring songs that went against all musical convention, yet required you to admit that you loved them anyway.
And no matter the song, no matter the artist, no matter how hopelessly random the selection seemed, the man just knew the words to every one of them.
I think the hardest thing about a person you care for being gone is that you can’t see him or her. You can’t say things like, “Hey, remember the time we went to that place next to the house where that guy you know lived?…”
Missing those sorts of moments is really difficult.
Lucky for me, though, and for all those who knew him for even as little as an hour, that baseball-playing, music-loving, dream-making husband, father, and friend had a gift. A true pied piper doesn’t come around very often, but we certainly had ours.
So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, may I present #6 on your scorecard and number 1 in your hearts, Robert S. Lerose.
Missing you every day, brother.
“Can’t you see I’m the pied piper. Trust in me. I’m the pied piper. And I’ll show you where it’s at.” – Christian St. Peter