Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Catching Up

The dialogue in this story has been somewhat fabricated due to my hazy memory of the events I'm attempting to relate here. There are certain specific details about the evening in question that I can't recall, and so there may be some minor factual errors involved. I apologize in advance if I've misquoted the person with whom I conversed that night, and for anything else I've gotten wrong in the retelling.

Some years back -- it has to be at least four, an assumption you'll understand at the end of this story -- I was riding the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan in the early evening. I was living out on Long Island at the time -- far enough east that the train was empty when I boarded, but the cars filled quickly because something major was going on in the city that night. I can't remember exactly what that something could possibly have been, but by the time we reached Freeport, things had gotten a tad cramped.

Baldwin station, hardly the most active stop on the line, would bring us to critical mass. A man in his mid-forties, clad head to toe in denim and lugging some sort of industrial toolbag, wedged his way into the seat next to mine, a maneuver that made me regret ever getting on the damned train in the first place. You have to be kidding me, pal. You have to sit here? You really have to sit here?

"Sucks, huh?" he asked, turning to have a look at his new seatmate. You have to talk to me, too?

"Sure does."

"I hate when the train's like this when I'm tryin' to go to work. I wonder what the hell's goin' on in the city tonight."

"No idea," I said. "What do you do?"

"Union stagehand. I work on Broadway. How 'bout you?"

"I'm a(n) (giveaway detail). I work in(at) (giveaway detail)."

"Really?" he asked. "Sounds like interesting work."

"Not really. Kind of sucks, actually."

"You're a pretty big guy. You play any sports?"

"Yeah," I replied. "Played football in college."

"Where at?"

"At (giveaway detail)."

"You ever play any lacrosse?" he asked.

"Yeah. High school. Defense. Wasn't bad."

"My son plays. Just graduated from Baldwin High School. He's going to Towson in September, and he's gonna be playing there, we hope."

"Oh yeah?" I asked. "On scholarship?"

"Not yet. They're giving him some money, but he pretty much has to walk on and earn his spot the first year before they give him anything. Towson was really the only school that gave us any kind of an offer. The coach down there's been pretty straight with us, so that's where he's goin'."

"Towson's a good program. They've always been up there."

"Casey's a tough kid. He gets a chance there, he's gonna surprise some people."

And so it went, shooting the breeze about work, life, college sports, and everything under the sun for the next forty-five minutes. Making the ride bearable. Good guy. Made an impression on me as someone who really gave a damn what his son was going to make of himself and his athletic career.

Finally, Penn Station. Not that I had noticed the train's overcrowding, however, so engrossed was I in our conversation. "Hey, what's your son's name? Maybe I'll keep track of him if I can remember."

"Casey Cittadino. And I'm Al, by the way."

"Good to have met you, Al. My name's (my real name). Good luck with everything."

"You too, (my real name). Good luck to you, too."

And so, over the next few years, life came around, and I forgot about Casey Cittadino. The name didn't come to mind once, even when I found myself passing through Baldwin. Hadn't paid much attention to college lacrosse lately, what with my work situation, the book and all the rest.

Funny how the pieces of one's memory begin to fit back together after a while, though, isn't it? I was on the train the other night, headed into the city for St. Patrick's Day, and the crowding of the cars reminded me of the night I had spoken to Al. A night train into Manhattan without a seat. Late Sunday night, sitting at my desk, cranking out material for the book, it finally occurred to me to check on his son, to see how the guy had made out -- a four year career encapsulated in one click of the mouse. I had no idea what I'd find. Hell, I didn't even expect the kid to still be there. You hear about so-and-so "playing ball" for such-and-such, and it never works out, and they're never to be seen again. Especially when their fathers are the ones telling the story. Delusions override the cold realities of Division I sports. You hear "My kid's trying out," it inevitably means "My kid ain't got a prayer," and that's the end of it.

You never know, though. New York's a tough place, filled with tough people. Riding the train every night? Working a union job? A sense of perspective on what your kid can expect on a college team? There was something there, and I found myself rooting for the guy before I even got off the train. I remembered. So, years later, I clicked. Right here.

And found what you just found, if you looked at the link. Captain of the team. Honorable mention All-American. Pre-season All-American this year. Still there, and it looks like he's been better every year. Lists his father as the person he "admires most."

What this did, was it impressed the hell out of me. Brought a smile to my face on a night -- one of those lousy blocked-up nights -- when I was struggling with my inability to make the pieces of this book fit the way I know they need to. And I realized what it takes to make this thing work -- from people I don't even know, save for a cramped three quarters of an hour on a decrepit commuter train -- is to do what I've done along. To put my head down, and go to work, and let this thing fall however it may.