It hit him like bricks last Friday because Paul Maytorena never saw it coming. His 12-year-old daughter, Brooke, was standing there, behind home plate, microphone in hand, singing the national anthem before Casa Grande played Windsor. Off to the side, at first, Casa's head baseball coach heard her words. Then her voice faded as if a switch somehow had been flipped. Out came the memories. One after another they came, in quick succession, and he saw it all, and felt it all.
Maytorena saw the dugout. That's where he had changed Brooke's diaper when she was an infant. As well as Tatum's, her younger sister by two years. Before games. During games. After games. Maytorena was a single dad there for about four years and infants don't pay much attention if it's bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded.
Maytorena saw the field. He remembered Adam Westcott was there before his fatal traffic accident. He remembered Rob Garibaldi was there before his suicide. He remembered Jonny and Joey Gomes played there, and how the brothers stayed with him for a while, rent-free, when they needed a place to stay.
Maytorena saw the third base coaching box, the place he never, ever occupied. The umpires, who didn't know why, would order Maytorena into the box. Maytorena would explain why he couldn't. The ashes of Bob Leslie had been spread there in 1998 after he had died from oral cancer. Leslie was his best friend, his mentor, the coach he followed at Casa, and he could never stand there. Ah, sure, no problem, the umps would say.
Maytorena saw his parents, migrant workers who worked the fields near Fresno, who wanted something better for themselves, for their two boys. And they did. They found their American dream, Phil as a public works inspector, Ruth in a cannery.
Maytorena saw all that in the relative blink of an eye, a journey so quick, only the human brain can cover such a distance at that speed. By the time Brooke was finished with the song the evidence of his journey was on Maytorena's face.
"I was a little misty," said Maytorena, 42.
From everything that has happened ... and from the one thing that might.
"This could be my last year coaching at Casa," Maytorena said.
Nine months ago, in a cost-cutting move, Maytorena was laid off as general manager of a fitness facility. As with all coaches at the high school level, Maytorena receives a modest stipend for his time: "$2,500 before taxes, $2,000 after taxes," he said. Maytorena can make it through this baseball season but not much longer. He does some paid work as a private coach but full-time employment soon will become a necessity.
"But the thought of taking a 9-to-5 job ..." and his voice trailed off. A 9-to-5 job would prevent him from coaching. Of course, bills need to be paid and Maytorena would take a job with those hours because "I'm not an idiot." Yet, to walk away from Casa baseball, it feels to him like a tooth extraction without Novocaine.
"This is my family," Maytorena said of the school and the sport. That is not an idle statement for him and, while this may surprise some people, the pain he would feel upon leaving has nothing to do with Casa's record since he took over in 1998. Yes, his 309-105 career record must be mentioned because that makes Maytorena the winningest baseball coach in the Empire. Those six NCS championships and eight SCL championships deserve mention as well.