The end.

After the final out I stood in the dugout and watched TCU celebrate, keeping an eye out for a 6-foot horned frog hopping around the field. Kool and the Gang blared over the PA system, reminding me of dancing at weddings. But I felt like I’d been left.

So, I walked around the concourse alone in search of water fountains and reporters I recognized before walking down a flight of concrete steps and beyond a black iron gate. I saw a few people wearing maroon and white shirts. They chatted with each other, and I don’t think they noticed me.

I didn’t recognize anyone so I stood back from the gate, dodging a guy in a TCU polo driving a golf cart piled high with giant trash bags. I couldn’t remember how to find my way to my car. I had followed a crowd the night before, introducing myself to Bear fans, a father and son, whose relative swam for Missouri State. They knew where they were going, so I walked with them.

A shuttle idled by the curb, but I saw young guys still wearing jerseys covered in specks of maroon and white arranged in camouflage patterns. There was no mistaking them. They had tears in their eyes.

One mother reached for her son and held him for several minutes. I blinked and looked away. A freshman pitcher posed for a photo with two kids half his height, perhaps cousins he wouldn’t see while he was gone playing summer ball.

A young woman wiped tears away, heartbroken at being apart from her big brother. I told her maybe his new team wouldn’t be too far away. Turns out, it’s Chicago. They even have relatives there.

As each player walked through the gate – season over, and career for some – the parents, siblings, girlfriends, and essayist all clapped. Some players lifted their heads and looked at their supporters. Some couldn’t.

They walked to their shuttle.

I walked to mine.

The next day the players smiled as their teammate was drafted in the first round. He packed for meetings and interviews, and rookie ball somewhere. The other players packed for the Cape Cod League; the Coastal Plains League, the Prospect League. Still others scanned booklists for MBA programs, or emails from new bosses.

As for me, I drove back to Missouri, slowing down for Oklahoma tollbooths and gas station coffee.

That was that. For now.

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