WHEN HIS FATHER GAZED AT HIM FROM THE HOSPITAL BED with those sad eyes that had drawn so narrow from the drinking and the smoking and the endless heartache, Mike Winchell had been thirteen years old. He knew something was wrong because of the way his father acted with him, peaceful in the knowledge he didn't have to put up a fight anymore. Mike tried to joke with him as he always had, but Billy Winchell didn't have time for playful banter. He was serious now, and he wanted Mike to listen.
He brought up Little League and warned Mike that the pitchers were going to get better now and the home runs wouldn't come as easily as they once had. He told him he had to go to college, there could be no two ways about it. He let him know it was okay to have a little beer every now and then because the Winchells were, after all, German, and Germans loved their beer, but he admonished him to never, ever try drugs. And he told his son he loved him.
He didn't say much more after that, the arthritis eating into his hips and the agony of the oil field accident that had cost him his leg too much for him now. In the early morning silence of that hospital room in Odessa, he let go.
Mike ran out of the room when it happened, wanting to be by himself, to get as far away as he possibly could, and his older brother, Joe Bill, made no attempt to stop him. He knew Mike