Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Detroit, One More Time (part one)

"Dad, I'm going for the sweep," Eli 14.8 said two months ago.

"The sweep? What's that?" I asked.

"We're going to sweep both rounds of the state playoffs. I'm going to TAC and be the first kid from Austin to make it. Then I'm going to tryouts in Detroit and making a tier one team."

"It sounds so straightforward when you describe it," I said.

He burst out laughing. "I know! Easy, right?"

Two weeks later, they had swept playoffs and won state.

"The sweep lives, baby!" he said on the way home.

Two weeks later, he went to TAC and made it.

"Two legs of the sweep!" he said, laughing.

Improbably, he was almost there. This, though, would be the toughest step by far.

There are eight tier one teams in Michigan. That's sixteen goalie spots. Most of those spots aren't open, though, as we found out--many teams already have both of their goalies committed from the previous season, or as transfers from other teams.

Really, there were three or four open positions, at most, and you had to figure out where they were. And that coach had to not mind that you couldn't play with them in spring, because we weren't in Michigan yet (even though it felt like we were).

We stumbled around, at first, trying to understand the process, but we were starting to make a little progress.

Like I mentioned in last week's post, a team called him and wanted him to play with them in a tournament the next weekend. The biggest spring tournament in Michigan.

That was a big, big deal.

It was such a big deal, in fact, that the second team that was interested in him offered him last Tuesday. I think they were concerned that the first team would like him and offer him, and since Eli would have been around those kids all weekend, he'd want to play for them instead.

"You just got offered," I said to Eli when he walked in from school.

"What? I did? WHAT IS HAPPENING?" Eli said, laughing.

"I know," I said. "You didn't make a team while you were up there, but all of a sudden you're red hot. I'm practically expecting the Penguins to call at this point."

We went and did his workout, then came back home, and I told him to think a bit and we'd talk about it later.

I wanted to take the offer. It was with a top-fifteen program, and I really liked the coach. Every other coach I talked to, I didn't really talk to at all, because they talked to me. I had two forty-five minute conversations with coaches and couldn't get a word in edgewise.

This coach, though, listened and asked questions. He was soft-spoken. He seemed grounded and stable. I thought it would be a great fit for Eli's personality.

He said he didn't want an acrobat. He wanted a calm goalie who controlled the game. That's a perfect fit for how Eli plays.

Downsides? Well, we wouldn't be living in Detroit. We'd be living in Grand Rapids, which is about two hours away.

Except, to me, that wasn't a downside.

This was going to be a huge adjustment for Eli, and he needed to be able to focus on getting his work in without distractions for him to move toward his goals. Being in Detroit was going to be a brighter spotlight.

Take the bird in hand, man. Don't chase those birds in the bush.

"So, what do you think?" I asked Eli after dinner.

"Coach hasn't seen me play in person," Eli said.

"I know," I said. "But he's seen tape, and other people who have seen you have talked to him. This is a firm offer to play for one of the top fifteen teams in the country."

"But two weeks ago, you both agreed that him offering me without seeing me in person wouldn't be fair to the other kids who had tried out," he said. "What's changed?"

"Nothing, really," I said. He was right.

"I don't want an offer handed to me," he said. "I want to go play for it."

"You know this is taking a huge chance," I said. "What happens if you go up there and get hurt, or this coach withdraws his offer and the coach you're playing for doesn't offer you?"

"Then we go to Detroit and I play AA for a year," he said. "I'm playing for it, Dad."

At that moment, I was reminded that there are times when my son is a bigger man than I am. Not to mention that, at fourteen, he has bigger balls than I've ever had.

"You know what, buddy?" I said. "I love you. Let's go to a tournament."

TOMORROW: A Rough Start

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