Growing up and playing sports, I hated having family and friends in the bleachers. When my mom came to my high school games — cross country meets, basketball games, softball matches — my angsty teenage self disliked having eyes on me.
Every athlete has those people who are at your games no matter what, whether you want them there or not. My grandfather, Poppy, was an athlete, avid golfer, military man, and gentleman. Poppy encouraged me no matter what.
When he would visit from San Diego, he’d come to my Little League games, and saw me transition from a scrawny baseball player to a scrappy softball catcher. He’d make note of the smallest moves I made. I always felt pressure to put on a show when he was at my games, and they were always some of my best.
After the games we would talk about everything from the form of my swings, to how I threw down to second, to how proud he was. During phone calls he would always ask how softball and any other sports in my life were going. We’d talk about school, and how when we had enough time together, he’d teach me to play golf. He’d say I was already an athlete, so I should have no problem picking it up.
Poppy was at the cross country meet where a girl hurt her ankle on the path. When the officials told me to leave her and keep going, I didn’t. So I showed up 45 minutes after the race ended.
I felt guilty that Poppy didn’t see me really race, but afterwards we went to a diner. I’ll never forget the discussion we had. We talked about the military, and the values of completing the mission versus never leaving a man behind.
When I decided not to play varsity sports in college, I was worried I’d disappoint him. During our phone calls in college he would always ask about what I was going to do with softball. I didn’t know how to answer. I called my mom to talk about it. She laughed and told me that I could do nothing to disappoint Poppy. That all he cared about was if I was happy, and he would support me even if I didn’t play a sport. He loved me no matter what.
Last October he visited Rochester with Grammy and my mom. We walked around campus, and he was stunned by the University. We talked about my extracurriculars and my aspirations, and how I was considering a career in the Army Corps of Engineers.
It was the same weekend I ran for Social Media Editor for the Campus Times, so we discussed that and how nervous I was. Poppy told me not to be and he was sure that I’d give it my best shot. Poppy reflected on how incredible campus was and how proud he was of me for everything I was doing. I was smiling for the rest of the week.
I was beginning another phase of my life and Poppy was still in the bleachers cheering me on.
In December I wrote my first article for CT. My mom sent it to him and he called me about it. He told me it was great, though I didn’t think so myself. He said he was happy I was involved with CT, and to keep sending him my articles. I was my cruelest critic and Poppy was my greatest supporter.
I wrote a piece about the word “Kobe” a couple weeks later and got a call from Poppy again. He said he felt my words, and described how much he loved it with a delight only Poppy could articulate. I stopped believing he was disappointed in my choice not to play softball.
I was planning to visit him in San Diego for the first time over spring break. Poppy was finally going to teach me golf. On Feb. 26, Poppy passed away.
Everyone has a person in their bleachers cheering them on. Supporting them, waving a poster with their name on it. You have one, too. It doesn’t always have to be family, but you have someone. Your fans will watch you chase the ball, fumble a catch, and make the winning shot. They see it all, and cheer you on no matter what.
You don’t have to be an athlete to have your bleacher section. Poppy was my fan, whether it was sports or writing, or any choice I made. I feel silly now that my preteen self hated having family in the crowds. Now that I’m in college, I would do anything to have my family see my wins and my losses. To see my successes and failures. To see me grow.
I know that Poppy is still in the crowds, a golf cap fitted proudly on his head, cheering me on with a warm smile on his face. He still gives the best advice.