We had just won the last game of our high school careers, beating a good team in the 1995 Kentucky High School Baseball championship. I ran in from shortstop after our ace, Eric Bishop, struck out the final hitter. I wound up on the bottom of a dogpile we had worked so hard to achieve.

We were like small children that day, running, jumping, hugging, celebrating.

Fans and parents filed onto the field, congratulating us, taking pictures, and owning the moment with us.

After the trophy presentations, the All-Tournament selections, and the joyous team picture, we did what we always did after a game, going to right field to hear from Coach.

Before he spoke, it began to sink in. I had just played my last game for him. I wept.

Oddly, winning the state championship game couldn’t overcome my grief of losing him as my coach. Celebrating that final out was overshadowed by this new emotional combination of sadness and confusion.

It was over.

There’s no way to track the number of hours I had spent practicing, working on the field, fundraising, and doing anything else Coach asked us to do during my four years as a player.

We had come so far. A frustrating freshman season gave way to a heartbreaking sophomore season, which gave way to back-to-back championships.

And, just like that, it was over. I wept some more.

I was going to play college ball, but I knew nothing would be like the family we had been a part of in our high school program. It shaped my life. It still does.

After the final game, I knew life would go on, but I knew it would be different. We won, but we also lost.

I felt much the same this past week, as we played what was truly our final game for Coach. Before, during, and after his passing, grown men gathered to celebrate. And to weep.

He had stood by us for years and now it was our turn to stand by him.

And, just like that, it was over. I wept some more.

Over a period of several days, we hugged, told stories, celebrated, and mourned. We won, but we also lost.

After that final game on the field, I moved on to college ball, taking the lessons and foundation with me.

After this final game in Coach’s life, we will move forward, better people for having been loved deeply by someone who will now live on in spirit.

I’m glad you knew Jesus, Coach. Your final game here was just the first pitch for your life there.

See you soon.