Two old friends.
Three sports' hall of fames.
Six days and approximately 2,300 miles.
Planned to perfection. Did I mention no wives and kids?
My wife called it a "Man Trip." After hearing about it for nearly two years, and declining to visit the shrines of football, baseball, and basketball on a family vacation, she finally granted me permission to go with the guys. Actually, her long awaited approval came only after I confessed my ulterior motive, but I'll get to that shortly.
The trip idea was partly Brent's, my closest friend and long-time assistant coach. After games, when the players were headed home and the lights still shone majestically on the empty field, we would sit on overturned buckets in the dugout, spit sunflower seeds, and talk.
"I can't wait until I retire," Brent often said. "I'm buying an RV, and I'm traveling. First stop will be Canton, Ohio. Pro Football Hall of Fame." Brent was a football nut.
His passion and knowledge of the game was obvious. After seven years assisting in two sports, he was finally rewarded with the school's head football position. This being small town Georgia, where football is seemingly the reason for high schools, Brent instantly became more important than the sheriff. I expected him to give up his role in baseball, but he stayed.
"Brent, you know I can find another assistant coach," I mentioned once during a late night, seed-spitting discussion.
"I know Dale," he responded. "But everyone needs good help. Everyone needs a right-hand man."
Over the next decade Brent remained my "right-hand man" during baseball season, and I returned the favor each fall as an assistant football coach. Between long bus trips and late, post-game nights, I talked with Brent more than with my wife. She reminded me of this quite often.
My friendship with Brent went beyond the playing fields. We talked about family, finances, everything, even religion. He knew where I stood and I knew where he didn't. God he could believe in. The orchestrated universe, the seasons, conception and birth, all proved for Brent that there was an all-powerful creator. However, Jesus Christ, God's "right-hand man," was a different story. When I "preached" Jesus, Brent had questions. Tough questions.
"If Jesus was sinless, why was he baptized?"
"How can He judge people in remote parts of the world who have never heard of Him?"
"I'm sure Satan can read, so if he knows he is eventually going to be defeated by Jesus, why doesn't he just give up?"
My answers were never enough to satisfy Brent.
I needed a different approach. I prayed for guidance. I asked for assistance. I studied scripture more than ever. I talked with the pastor. I needed Brent as a captive audience.
I needed the "Man Trip." Perfect.
June. No school, no sports. Perfect
I called Brent. He begged his wife. She relented. Perfect.
I told my wife of the "Brent Salvation" plan. She smiled and kissed me. Maybe she just wanted me out of the house, but she eagerly helped with all the travel details. Everything fell into place. Hotel rooms seemed to be waiting for our call. Paul Wilson, another old friend, also agreed to partake of the adventure. Although Brent didn't know Paul, he was excited just knowing a third man would cut down on gas and hotel costs.
On the first Monday in June, before the sun peeked over the horizon, three middle-age guys left town cruising in a dented mini-van. I was giddy. I loved the open road. I loved knowing that God had orchestrated such an opportunity. I had nearly a week. I loved the challenge ahead of me, or to be exact, beside me.
Brent rode shotgun. Paul was in the back, yawning.
Sipping coffee and studying the road atlas, Brent broke the morning silence. "Canton, Ohio...Cooperstown, New York...Springfield, Massachusetts. Do you guys really think we can do this and get back on Saturday? It wouldn't upset me if we took longer."
"Well, I really need to get back," piped Paul from the backseat. "I've got work the next day."
"Really, what kind of work do you do Paul?" asked Brent, his eyes fixed on the atlas.
"Dale didn't tell you, I'm a pastor. I'm Dale's pastor, and a huge sports fan. Thanks for letting me tag along. What a blessing this trip will be."
Brent's eyes never left the atlas, but I noticed a grin of understanding begin to creep across his face.
I was giddy, real giddy. And I had brought along my right-hand man.
Jason Swiney is a Christian, husband, father and educator who lives and writes in NE Georgia (lettingitflow.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org