Beck wasn't the best player on our church league softball team that summer. But then, he didn't have to be. He was the lay leader of our congregation, which sort of made it his team. So nobody was going to tell him he couldn't play.
But somebody had to tell him about The Hat.
My brother-in-law, Tony, was the first to notice The Hat during warm-ups. I saw him laughing, and I asked him what was going on.
“Check out Beck's hat," he said.
I glanced over to where our fearless leader was warming up with his 18-year-old son, Kevin. The Hat looked fine. It was brown and gold with some kind of cartoon message on the front, and he seemed to be wearing it correctly.
(This was back in the day when people actually wore their baseball caps with the bill out front to shade their eyes — unless you were a catcher, in which case you wore your cap backwards so the bill wouldn’t get in the way of your catcher’s mask, or comedian Jerry Lewis, who would occasionally wear a baseball cap with the bill to the side so he could look, you know, goofy.)
“What’s wrong with Beck’s hat?" I wanted to know.
“Go look at it," Tony said, still chuckling. "Read what it says on the front."
I ambled over to where Beck and Kevin were throwing a softball back and forth. I noticed other members of our team walking away from them, most of them whispering to each other while fighting to suppress laughter. I greeted Beck, and while shaking his hand I read the message inscribed on the front of The Hat. It was stunningly vile, and not the least bit funny.
But it wasn't the hat's message that Tony and others were laughing at. It was the fact that Beck, a man of unimpeachable character and resolute goodness, was wearing it.
And he obviously had no idea what it meant.
Beck needed to be told — that was certain. But it was bound to be embarrassing for him — and for whoever told him. I mean, how do you explain to someone so pure and virtuous that the cartoon character on his hat represents something disgusting? I tried to devise a way to ease our spiritual leader off the playing field as unobtrusively as his indelicate predicament would allow.
Meanwhile, Kevin noticed the attention that was being directed at his father's head. He moved closer and peered at The Hat. Recognition registered on his face. Then shock. Then amusement. Then concern. He smiled affectionately as he called out: "Dad! Come here!"
Every eye on the team was on Kevin as he draped his arm around his father's shoulders and walked with him toward the parking lot, speaking to him confidentially. We couldn't hear the conversation, but there was no doubt about what was being said.
Beck stopped suddenly, looking at his son intensely. He ripped The Hat off his head and looked at it. He returned his attention to his son, who nodded, pointed and explained. Beck looked at The Hat again, then crumpled it in his hands and strode purposefully to a nearby trash can, into which he forcefully deposited the offensive chapeau. Then he returned to the team ‚ hatless, humbled and a little less innocent.
It’s sad that we live in a world that makes it so difficult to maintain innocence. But I’m relieved to know that there are still people like Beck who are somehow able to remain relatively unsullied by the moral ambiguity of our time.
While there are those who would mock his “naiveté” and criticize him for being obtuse and unaware, I prefer to think of the Becks of the world as islands in the storm. Surely they are aware of the dark, lascivious winds that swirl all around them. And yet somehow they manage to stay anchored to virtue, and not be blown away.
No matter what it says on their hats.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr