October 10, 2009 11:40:00 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
It starts with a special mark in the dirt.
Anna McCrary''s bat touches the earth and draws the sign of a cross. She then touches the center of it to remind herself of her bond with God.
She also remembers her father.
She recalls the first glove he bought her. She still has it.
She thinks of the batting cage her daddy built her and the pitching machine he purchased to help her be the best softball player she can be.
There also are the memories of chopping wood with her father late at night when other teenagers were out with their friends.
Those memories flash by in an instant, offering a glimpse into 15 years of a loving relationship she cherished that has now changed.
Thomas Ambrose "Tub" McCrary died Aug. 15, 2009, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 52.
Annette McCrary, who was married to Tub for 23 years, and her daughters, Amber and Anna, are moving on with their lives, but it has been difficult.
For Anna, 15, a sophomore member of the New Hope High School softball program, her healing process is a little tougher because softball was an integral part of her relationship with her father.
"I was a fast-pitch pitcher once, but when he passed away I gave it up because he is really the only one I can see myself practicing with," McCrary said. "It has been hard. (Softball) has comforted me a lot because it has been a very big part of my life, but it is also hard coming back and thinking he is not sitting there watching me. I have to think about the bright side because now he is at all my games and practices and he is sitting there right with me."
There''s no question Tub McCrary would be proud of his youngest daughter. McCrary has persevered through a softball season filled with memories to help the Lady Trojans advance to the first round of the Class 5A North Half State playoffs. They will play Forest Hill at 4:30 p.m. today in a best-of-three series.
On Friday, McCrary was a sophomore maid in the New Hope High homecoming court.
"I looked up when I was walking out and I saw one star, and I thought about him," McCrary said.
McCrary thinks about her father all day, every day. As a self-proclaimed "daddy''s girl," she said it''s easy to remember his lessons and how she always tries to make him proud. She thinks back to when she was 2 years old and she first started to throw a baseball.
As she got older, she moved on to Tee-Ball and listened as her father coached her and taught her the fundamentals.
Tub McCrary coached Anna all of the way through her park league days and helped prepare her for her debut with the New Hope High softball program.
Even though Tub didn''t coach the Lady Trojans, he continued to be involved with athletics at the school as a member of its booster club and as a supporter of its softball program.
New Hope High softball coach Tabitha Beard said Tub McCrary was a special person who always was the first one to be ready to work on the field or to help build something the team needed.
"They were so close and they shared and loved softball," Beard said. "She was always here with a smile on her face, especially closer to the end (of her father''s life). We told her we will always be here and you have to do what you need to do. She has been a trooper."
McCrary and her family learned Tub had cancer after he was involved in a car accident Aug. 5, 2008, driving to work at Cash Distributing Company, where he was a sales manager.
The doctors told the family Tub had suffered a seizure as a result of the cancer that was in his brain. He also was suffering from lung cancer.
Annette McCrary said doctors told Tub he had three to six months to live. She said she discussed treatment options with her husband and he decided to try to fight the disease. After about 30 radiation treatment and countless chemotherapy treatments, Annette said Tub''s cancer went into remission. Three weeks later, though, doctors discovered 10 more tumor in Tub''s brain, and he decided not to take anymore treatment.
Annette said losing Tub has been difficult for everyone in her family. She said this season has been tough for Anna because softball was so special to her and to her father.
"He was tough on her," Annette said. "He expected nothing but 100 percent from her. He built her a batting cage and worked a lot on the (New Hope High) field with Wade Beard (coach Beard''s husband). He also would volunteer for a lot of hours. He was tough on her at times, but she would tell you he made her a better person and a better ballplayer."
Annette hopes her husband''s love for his daughters will help them carry on with their lives. She also hopes Tub''s love for softball will inspire Anna to keep playing the sport. She understands it will be tough, but she knows Tub always will be there for Anna, even if he isn''t sitting behind the backstop ready to offer her a batting tip.
"She learned a lot from him," Annette said. "He wasn''t a coach who just instructed her. If she did it wrong he would show her what she did wrong and what she needed to do to fix it."
Anna draws from that knowledge and strength when she traces the sign of a cross in the dirt before every at-bat. She admits there have been good and bad days. There have been days when she wondered why her father had to pass. She has been angry, but she also knows that''s not the way her father would have wanted her to be.
Tub McCrary would have told Anna to get into that batter''s box and to get a hit to make him proud.
Anna McCrary will do her best today -- and every day -- to make that happen.
"I know he is always there with me, and I know my daddy is always there with me," McCrary said of her decision to draw the sign of a cross. "I kind of did that to remind myself God is always here with me and he is here with me playing ball, and he will help me if I am having a good game or a bad game. It reminds me to try to be a leader. I do it for both.
"I know (my father) would be very proud. He would also want me to go harder and stronger on some things. I have kind of laid back on things, but I am trying to build myself back up to doing it so he would be proud of me."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.