Monday, July 26, 2004

Coach's Wife

The phone call I got on my lunch hour was shocking. Totally floored me. My chiropractor, Suzanne, who played fastpitch softball for the University of Arizona, was on the phone, audibly disturbed. Her coach while at UofA was Mike Candrea, who is now the head coach for Team USA.

When Team USA traveled through town, Suzanne, her partner, me, my boys and my wife all went to the exhibition game. Now Suzanne has bragged for years and years about Coach Candrea and how great a guy he was. Being a former fastpitch player, and having followed "Coach" through the years, I had been chomping at the bit to meet him. I came close three years ago when Suzanne invited me to go to Tucson with her for an alumni game, but I declined, not wanting to intrude on her weekend. While Team USA was in town, I finally got to meet this great man. Every single word Suzanne had spoken about this man was not only true, but she understated the facts. He is gracious, kind, patient and you can tell he is a man of the highest integrity. After Team USA beat a college "all-star" team 8-0, Coach Candrea took 15 minutes out of his night to speak with me. We talked about fastpitch, aspirations, goals and, of all things, family. He told me, "JP, I have done a lot of things in my life, but none of them wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t have my wife, Sue, by my side. She is the glue that holds me together." After Coach and I had our 15 minutes, he thanked me for MY time (if you can believe that), extended an invitation to come to Tucson this year for the alumni game to "talk fastpitch and hang out" and then went to sign autographs for thousands of fans, even though he hadn’t yet eaten dinner and it was fast approaching 10:00 p.m.

When I turned around, I noticed that Suzanne was talking with a woman. When she saw that I was done talking with Coach, Suzanne motioned for me to come over to her. She said, "JP, this is Sue, Mike’s wife." We exchanged the customary hellos and she asked me what her husband had to say to me. I told her that I was so excited to meet him and that he invited me to come to Tucson in January for the annual alumni game. She said, "Well, if you come with Suzanne, then you must stay at our house." I couldn’t even comprehend how someone like that who just met me 30 seconds before could even think to invite me to their house, let alone the wife of the head coach for Team USA. I said, "Thank you for the invite, but I don’t want to impose. You guys probably have enough going on." Sue said to me, "Sweetie, if you don’t stay at our house, Mike and I will be offended and you don’t want to offend the coach of Team USA, do you?" Good point, Sue, good point. Sue and I spent 30 minutes "getting to know" each other and when I left the field, she offered me a hug and I felt like I had known her my whole life.

The phone call I got today was that Sue was dead at the age of 49. Died last week as she was getting on a plane in Wisconsin. She had an aneurism and after surgery, passed away.

I find myself sitting here, weeping over a woman that I have known for a grand total of 30 minutes of my life. I think that speaks louder than anything anyone can say about someone else. RIP Sue, even though I barely knew you, I miss you already. Coach, you’re in my prayers.

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