I fell in love at the age of seven.
It was 1971, and in June of that year my father brought me to my very first professional baseball game at Shea Stadium. A few weeks later, my uncle took me and my two cousins to a double header at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. I saw Tom Seaver pitch, Duffy Dyer catch, and Willie Mays bat. I witnessed Thurman Munsun block a runner trying to score from second base and Bobby Murcer hit a home run into the bleachers. Never before had I laid my eyes upon grass so green or skies so blue. Soon, no white tee shirt in my wardrobe was safe. A black marker helped me convert every one into a Mets jersey.
Years came and went. In high school, I accepted the reality that I was not a very good baseball player. But I never lost my love of the game. I could not wait to share my passion for baseball with my children.
It is said that people plan and God laughs, not at us or our misfortune, but at our adherence to the notion of what we believe will make us happy.
My beautiful son was born in 1998. My wife and I were on our way to building the family we dreamed about, but there were signs that things would not always be as planned. In the delivery room, Edward was not immediately responsive. After he reached 18 months, his verbal skills began to decrease. By the time Edward reached age 2, we were advised that he suffered from autism.
As I learned more about autism, I accepted that my son may not have friends. I understood that Edward would probably not go to college. And my dream of buying my son a baseball mitt was dashed. I grieved the loss of the child I planned to raise and the father I planned to be.
In 2007, I learned that a group of parents had organized a baseball program for children with special needs. On the field, I saw children with Down syndrome and autism wearing baseball uniforms and holding baseball gloves. Parents stood by to keep their children on task. And miraculously, the task was playing baseball. Edward participated for the remainder of the season.
Since then, I have become Coach Ed for a group of wonderful athletes in South Huntington. There are no outs. There are no errors. The last batter of each inning hits a home run and victoriously does their own unique home run trot. The joy in their eyes is surpassed only by the tears of joy in their parents' eyes.
I love my son and I love baseball. I learned a valuable lesson these past few years. Sometimes dreams aren't dashed. They are merely delayed and reformed. I will never forget the day I shopped for a baseball glove for my son. I said then, with tears in my eyes, “Today, I bought a mitt.” I trust that God laughed.
Edward J. Nitkewicz '86 is a senior attorney at the Sanders Law Firm in New York City, where he specializes in personal injury cases. He is also an education law attorney and parent advocate for families with children who have special needs.