As I sit here watching the struggling Rangers being pummeled once again by the mediocre Toronto Bluejays, I continue to see kids in the stands with posters about their fathers, pictures, and other means of shout outs to their Dads. It truly is a wonderful day for kids or those who were once kids to give credit to those men in their lives who made such a difference.
Everyone has a different story and those kids at the ball game with their Dads probably have a great story about how he helped them along in the world of sports. Many major leaguers, collegians, and budding high school stars give so much credit to the time that the number one man in their lives gave, to help them attain that level of their dreams.
I too owe my Dad so much for helping me to achieve at the maximum level in every sport that I ever played. As most, or all, of you know my maximum level was achieved at a very low level because of my extremely limited skills. But had I had that God-given talent that it takes to make it to the “bigs” I think that I would have, just because I wanted to play the game as long as I could. And when I speak of the game, I mean any game played with a ball unless it was soccer.
As for what my Dad gave me, I probably have a different story than most. He had a genuine love of sports and I know that he was more than proud of those little things that I accomplished while playing high school sports. But as far as going out and playing catch, teaching me how to kick and throw a football, or take a shot off the dribble, or how to hold the baseball to throw a slider, well that was pretty much non-existent. And by gosh that is okay. My Dad was a hard working dry-land cotton farmer in West Texas and he had other things to worry about.
When I reached age 11 and headed to school in the fall of 1960 with the most anticipated joy of my youth, which was to suit up and play for the junior high Yellowjackets, my Dad told me that if I wasn’t good enough to at least get to play some that I would have to quit so that I could make myself more useful on the farm. Now that was a pretty tall order for a skinny little sixth grader who didn’t even know what shaving cream was much less needing to shave. But that was the most useful and still one of my most cherished bits of subtle information from my Dad.
My Dad meant that and not just for that year or for football but for every sport that I played and every year that I played. He was dead serious about my usefulness on the farm which was the livelihood of our entire family. So unlike many of my buddies, every snap, every shot, every at-bat meant something to me. It was do or go back to slopping hogs, building fence, pulling cotton, or whatever else needed to be done on the farm.
By that same age of 11, I knew that a career in agriculture of any kind was not in my future. I wanted no part of any career that was so dependent upon a timely rain. The feast or famine scenario just drove me crazy especially since hard times came around a lot more regular than good times in regard to prosperity.
I wasn’t a mad man or a prime example of the gung-ho athlete but I made sure that loafing was not part of my game. What my Dad’s advice did for me was to make me a lot braver and a little more daring when it came to being willing to take on an older, bigger, faster, and stronger athlete in blocking or tackling drills. I had to show the coach that I was willing to take on anyone if he would just give me a chance to play in the game. I knew that getting into the game was crucial for my Dad to see or hear about because he would know that I was not wasting my time.
It was quickly and completely understood very quickly, as well, that any lack of or reduction in playing time would not be blamed on the coach. My Dad believed, pretty much as I still do, that if I was good enough to be a contributor that I would be on the field or court, because contributors mean a better chance for success.
So I learned at a very young age what “sense of urgency” meant. My Dad gave that to me along with a willingness and readiness to do whatever it took to impress and earn the respect of my appraisers. That was so much more valuable than him tossing me one ball or teaching me any skill that it would take to play any game. It has served me well through the years.
As I grew older and my years of playing ball at Roaring Springs High School cast me in some pretty important team roles it was quite evident that my Dad was very proud of those small accomplishments that had been molded by his stern belief that any effort or task should be done so with maximum productivity as the goal. I don’t think he ever realized what a difference, of what he had demanded, had made.
My Dad didn’t get to see every game in which I played. With a commitment to spend his money on the most basic necessities of providing for our family, gas money to travel to out of town games was simply out of the question. That never stopped me from feeling the presence of my Dad in every huddle and with the beginning of every play. I knew that he was depending on me to do my very best.
The two games that he did see that meant the most to me was my final high school game in Darrouzett Texas in far northeast corner of the Texas panhandle. It was a game that he and my Mom had to drive probably four or more hours to see and put them home well into the early morning hours on their return. I was so proud they were there.
And then after the all-district teams were named I had made both the offensive and defensive first teams and had been picked as one of four representatives to play in the Six-Eight Man All-Star game to be held in conjunction with the coaching school at Midland the following summer. He really was brimming with pride at that point. He made that trip to see my last game as well.
When I began my coaching career he and my Mom made a few trips to see my teams play. Their presence made me so proud and I always hoped to win for their satisfaction which I doubt mattered to them.
But whether it was playing, coaching, and now writing about sports I rarely if ever have a moment in any task that I don’t think about my Dad and what he demanded of me. It was that quiet but yet echoing demand that I do my best and make my time spent doing it mean something or suffer the consequences.
Thanks Daddy, the great Clyde Clifton, for giving me something more valuable than money, property, and especially athletic skill.