I lost a good friend last night.
Her name is Rosie Salas.
She was what I liked to call the “den mother” of the little league baseball teams I helped coach.
Soon after moving back to El Paso in early 2008 to help out my family, I was welcomed into a new family, one I never could have foreseen when I was packing to leave Michigan after 25 years there.
That’s when one of my longtime friends, Pam Cross, asked if I wanted to help her husband, Rick Cross, and brother, Ray Stallings, coach their Little League baseball team.
I said I would as long as they needed me. But I stepped into a whole new world from all the men’s and coed softball and volleyball teams I ran for so many years.
This was a world of 10-year-old kids and — gasp! — their parents.
I met Rosie that first season.
If ever a first name described one’s personality, it was hers. She seemed to have a permanent smile on that sunny face. She was small in stature, but big in heart.
Rosie and her quiet, shy husband, Ruben, had entrusted their younger son, Alex, to us.
Rick and Ray were old hands at this. Me? I was kind of mortified, but excited by the prospect of passing along my love of the game.
Alex was a good kid from the start. Still is. Ever so polite. Still is.
And what a talent. Smart. Athletic. A quick study. And he’s a southpaw, a kid after my own left-handed heart.
Rosie and Ruben were consistently good about getting Alex (they have an older son, Andy) to practice and hanging around themselves and going out for a bite afterward.
We’re talking some long practices, especially on weekends.
They were very supportive of what we were trying to do, which was teach these kids fundamentals, and maybe a few lessons about life.
Alex, who’s now playing at Socorro High School, was the kind of versatile, instinctive, team-oriented kid that we could plug in anywhere. With both the Warriors and Heat teams, he played first base, center field and pitcher.
He also was one of our best hitters, usually batting in one of the top three spots in the lineup — a bona fide base stealer, run scorer and run producer.
If I told him to pump up his teammates, he’d say “Yes, sir” and do it.
That’s a reflection of his parents. That’s how Ruben, a steadfast guy, and Rosie, the consummate team player (and mom), were.
What made Rosie, 46, so special was her positive outlook, her upbeat nature and her willingness to help. She helped the coaches be coaches.
She’d call all the parents to remind them about the next practice or games (just in case their little Einsteins forgot to tell them).
She put together the post-season parties, and made sure that all the kids and their coaches felt appreciated for what they had done after each summer, fall or spring that we played a season.
I have a framed team photograph, signed by all the kids from last year’s team, on my bedroom wall. Rosie’s the one who put that project together.
She also kept the parents in line in her own sweet way. Rosie didn’t yell, scream or belittle. She was such a friendly soul, a real sweetheart. She made it hard for some of the less charming among our parents to let their bad sides out. We had few problems with parents because of her.
She also made newcomers feel welcome. This was no mommy mafia situation. She went out of her way to talk to anyone who was new to our extended family.
Last year, Rosie was stricken by cancer. She had surgery. She survived. But she felt a pain last November. She started chemo once a month.
It was time for us to help her. We started organizing team outings around her chemo. There was one at Julio’s, another at the new home of one of the player’s parents. By then, Rosie was almost too weak to make it up the stairs for a tour.
We wanted to do this monthly, you know, to boost her spirits and help her heal. But this cancer was too pervasive. Monthly chemo became weekly chemo. There was a brain tumor that had to be removed. Then a mass that caused severe abdominal pain.
She went in and out of hospitals.
We met for what turned out to be one last, tearful goodbye at their home last week.
It wasn’t easy. We gave her a signed team jersey and an apple pie, which she loved and had been craving.
Rosie got to savor a few bites and smile that incandescent smile, even through the pain and fog.
Goodbye, Rosie. I didn’t know you for long. But I know you are in a better place, and I’m a better man for having you and that warm heart of yours in my life.