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Friday, June 19, 2009
Father's Day tribute

By Garland Cooper
ESPNRISE.com

No matter how tall I grow, there is one person in particular that I will always look up to.

Growing up he always told me he was my biggest fan, but what he didn't realize is that I was his too. Ever since I was little I watched what he did and tried to do everything I could to be like him and most importantly, make him proud.

It started when I was very small, before I even played sports. It started with books. We read books together every night. Most of the time it was several books, one never seemed to be enough, but that was our time together, every night, just the two of us.

That was the just the beginning, there are endless moments that we spent having fun together. I can remember one day in particular. It was my sixth birthday and we had just recently moved to California.

It was a school day, but I was woken up very early in the morning. It was him, but without the suit and he didn't seem just to be checking in like he did every morning before work. This time he woke me up on purpose with a big smile on his face. "No school today," he said.

"Really? Why?" I questioned.

"It's a holiday." He smiled.

"Are you sure? It's October, is there a holiday in October?" I asked.

"There sure is, he said. It's your birthday! And there will be no school today because we are going to Disneyland!"

And we went. We spent the whole day there playing together and it was the best birthday I had ever had.

Later on when my hobbies moved from Disney to Easton and I started playing sports, that's when he and I started the good times. He taught me so much about playing softball and basketball. Not a weekend went by when he didn't take time to practice with me.

I never wanted the practices to end and after several hours when he threatened that it was time to go home, I never would accept it. "Ok, I'll throw this ball in the air and if you catch it we will stay, but if you don't we have to leave," he would say.

Of course the throw was impossible to catch, a mile in the air, and a mile to one side. I would sprint and run and dive for it, trying to stay out with him as late as I could, but in the end I never could catch that ball.

This continued well into high school and he and I only grew closer. He kept working with me and I never stopped loving it. With his help I got better and better. Even when I went to college and I was far from home, everything he taught me was ingrained in my head. Up until college my biggest fan never missed a game, no matter what.

In college, being 2000 miles from home, it was much harder, and I know it was hard for him to not be able and see all the games in person. Don't worry though, when he was there he made the most of it. I never heard anything from the crowd or the bench in my whole career. I was always able to tune everything out. Well, almost everything … The only thing I could ever hear was his voice. If he was there I heard everything he said, sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good.

I could hear him yelling, "Be aggressive!" as I walked up to the plate, and I also could hear the "Oh Garland don't swing at that!!!" when I took a whiff at a pitch over my head.

Wherever I go, in life and in sports, I take his words with me so that even when he can't be there I can still hear him. In the rare event where he hasn't left the specific words of guidance tattooed in my memory I will always call him asking for advice.

Throughout the years he taught me many valuable lessons to incorporate onto the field. He told me to never second-guess myself. He said to always work hard and do my best no matter what. I was told to be aggressive and to go after what I wanted. According to him I could be as good as I dreamed and I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I practiced endlessly and I learned to be a loyal member of a team. Quitting was never an option and he made sure to let me know that if I worked hard and did my best I would always win.

It wasn't until much later that I realized that he was training me for life, not for sports.

I still hope to follow in this man's footsteps even when I am done playing sports. He had to work hard for his family and I know now that one day I'll have the guts to do the same. He took chances and regardless of whether he was successful or failed, he put his all into everything and in the end, I was proud of him and the courage that he had shown in the process. I have always tried to show the same courage and determination he has put into his life, and to be as strong of a person as he is.

If it hasn't been clear, this person that I have strived to mimic is my dad. This father's day I know many of you, like me, have had a role model that has molded who you are as an athlete, but it won't be until later that you realize that you have been trained for much more than a ball game.

As I have gotten older I realize how much of who I am is because of my father. When I find myself staying after practice to perfect my swing, I know it is because of him, and when I find myself yelling at the drivers on the road I also realize that it is because of my dad. He gave me my height, my determination, my drive, my dashing good looks, and my bad temper, and for all of that on this Father's Day, I want to say:

Thanks, Dad.

I challenge you to think about all that your dads have done for you and how much of who you are is because of him. Like I said, I take his words with me everywhere I go, and even now I never hesitate to ask him for advice. After all, without his guidance, I never would have gotten to where I am today … right dad?

Happy Father's Day!

Garland Cooper covers high school softball for ESPNRISE.com.