The first car my husband Dave bought was a 1991 Honda Accord, a proud purchase of a new car to accompany a proud new job as an assistant baseball coach at Stanford. Over the years the car took him to work at Stanford, and then to work at Pepperdine as head assistant, and then for 18 years to work at UC Berkeley as head coach. At some point early in the Cal years another car was added to the family and he rotated between the new car and the Honda. There were increasingly longer spans of time when the Honda was more of a driveway adornment than a mode of transportation. And then he’d drive it to work to keep it running, the team would win, and he’d keep driving it to keep the streak alive.
That kind of superstitious behavior happened during one of the most dramatic coaching years in his life, when the Cal athletic department announced they were dropping five sports, one of which was baseball. It was announced in the fall of 2010 that after the current year, baseball would no longer exist at Cal. This was a sport with a long tradition at Cal, it started in 1892, and in 1947 the Cal baseball team won the very first baseball national championship against Yale, with a little known player named George Bush senior playing for Yale. During that supposed last season Dave joked that he was simultaneously trying to ‘run a program, save a program, and dismantle a program.’ Even as he was training players in hitting and pitching and fielding he was sending them out on recruiting trips to other schools. He wanted to make sure each one of them had a place to land but he did joke that ‘it’s like letting my wife date.’
The players who stuck around (and all but 3 did) had a fierce sense of purpose. They were going to go out in a blaze of glory. Part way through that season Dave drove the Honda to work. They won. He kept driving it. They kept winning. The car became a superstitious talisman. A symbol of not quitting, ever. Keep doing the thing that got you here, even when people say ‘here’ won’t exist after June. Keep driving the thing that got you here, even though it has over 200,000 miles on it. Sometimes that is all you have to offer when life gets challenging. Keep going. Keep doing what you know to do, sometimes just a minute at a time.
Ultimately, passionate alumni raised 10 million dollars in a matter of weeks to save the program and the baseball team played their hearts out clear to the College World Series. Dave drove his Honda to campus, flew to Omaha and was driven to TD Ameritrade park on plush buses with a police escort and cheering crowds along the way. To the surprise of nobody but Dave, while in Omaha Dave was named the 2011 National Coach of the Year. The team took a private jet back to Berkeley where the newly anointed Coach of the Year climbed in his battered Honda and drove home, the same person he was before the College World Series.
Sometimes a car is just a car, just a means of getting from point A to point B. But sometimes a car can take on greater meaning and I suspect the Honda has been this for Dave. It is a symbol of him. It is a well built, long lasting, solid machine. It has been kept in good condition by his mechanic father. It is workman-like, as is Dave, as are the family from which he comes. Like its owner, it is modest, it does not ask for attention, it just accumulates miles and continues to do its job without fanfare.
It is perhaps an emblem of level of expectations or entitlement. Dave has never acted entitled, not one minute in the 22 years I’ve known him. He expects to work hard for everything. He does work hard for everything. Even for the things that come easy, he expects to keep working hard (which is the recipe for success if you ask Carol Dweck, she of the ‘Growth Mindset’ theories). He is a masterful coach, he is a skilled leader, he is an almost effortless speaker, so it is not that he lacks confidence, but he has never strayed far from the humble man who drives an old Accord.
And here comes his opinionated wife, someone a little more comfortable with spending (okay, a lot more comfortable with spending). Someone not attached to cars (but definitely attached to him, and wanting him to drive safely). I must have seemed insensitive to him, not respectful of what the car means. Too eager to toss out the old. For years I’ve tried to get rid of the Honda. It seems too old and rickety to me (there are no airbags, for one) but he resists. The car is in its 26th year of life, literally twice as old as our son. What will be the deciding point? What will happen for him to let go of the car? It isn’t going to be that it stops working, his dad has made sure of that. Peeling paint off the top? Nope, been like that for a couple of years. Hardened crusty upholstery? Nope. Faded everything? Nope. Busted radio? Nope. Been replaced at least four times over the years.
So many things in life come and go. Players, in the natural order come and go. Assistants come and go. Jobs come and go. And the Honda has been there, all along, longer even than me, his wife. Maybe it is hard for him to think of it as something that comes and goes. It came, and now the ‘go’ part, well, he’s resisting it.
But lately, the car seems to have gone downhill, like a person at the end of life ready to transition. Even Dave agrees it has deteriorated rapidly in the past couple of months. To me, it looks like a car that has fulfilled its mission and is waiting for permission to be done.
In June Dave was hired as the new head baseball coach at Stanford. In all the excitement of the new job his nice car, the one only five years old, picks up an odd sound in the engine so his dad takes it to work on it. Just like that, he is back to driving the Honda. And there it is. Full circle. From a young assistant coach at Stanford with his proud new car, to a not as young head coach with his loyal old car. The Honda has brought him the whole way around. It has brought him home and it is proud and now it can rest.