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Dog-gone proud

I'm supposed to stay insulated from the outside world, shielded behind the plastic, metal and glass components of my cameras and lenses.

I'm not supposed to be a fan.

I'm not supposed to cheer.

I'm not supposed to cry.

I'm supposed to follow my newspaper instincts and remain an unaffected observer at all times.

But there are times...

Thursday night was one of those times.

After the final out of Thomson High School's season, I had a job to do: Document the immediate aftermath of one of the best seasons in school history. I watched as the coaches addressed the somber Bulldogs in right field, Jason Osborn first, followed by Aaron Hall and finally Head Coach Terry Holder. I was intentionally just out of earshot, but could see the emotion straining on their faces.

After it was over, the players walked past their coaches, shaking hands and hugging them. They then gathered quietly to comfort each other in the dugout. Austin Cooper couldn't speak through the tears. Starting pitcher Phillip Anderson just sat there, propping his head on a bat and staring at the cement floor.

It was emotional, gut-wrenching and hard to watch. But it's what I do. And I can handle it.

That's when I noticed Zach Washington. He was sitting alone on the far side of the dugout, struggling to catch his breath between sobs. For Zach, the game meant much more than just the end of a season. As a player who has literally sacrificed his body over the years for baseball, a summer surgery will mark the end of his playing career. The game was his last chance, his last opportunity to stand in the batters' box, his last opportunity to cross that chalk line as a team player.

Finally, he stood and walked toward his coaches who were standing just outside the dugout. He hugged each coach tightly, talking quietly and crying with them. He hugged my co-worker, writer Billy Hobbs. And as he headed toward the door of the dugout for the last time, he stopped and hugged nearly every player. Even on his way out, he touched lives and tried to bolster others. Once outside, he held tightly to his mother, both of them shaking with emotion in the evening sun.

And I felt my own tears flow as I watched.

Zach Washington is a good story. But he's only one member of the team, one face in the Bulldog nation that has come alive in support of a sport that isn't played on fall Friday nights.

Yeah, I'm not supposed to be a fan.

I'm not supposed to cheer.

I'm not supposed to cry.

But at my soul I am human.

And I am honored to have watched the young men, families, fans and coaches who dedicated themselves to history on the Thomson High School diamond this year.

Web posted on Thursday, May 21, 2009

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