I talked to an 8th grader yesterday who’s crazy into paintball. He goes every Saturday to a facility 40 miles from his house and plays for almost 12 hours with kids he didn’t know before paintball. Throughout the week his paintball compatriots are his constant digital companions. It’s the thing he loves most in life.
I tried to connect. “I have a buddy from high school who makes a TV show about a paintball team,” I said.
His eyes widened, and he asked, “What’s his name?”
Dan and I grew up together playing football at recess and little league on weekends. In high school we would go out to the baseball field and throw each other fly balls against the outfield fence. We spent many Friday nights driving around Aurora in his Hyundai looking for people to hang out with, suspicious they were all hiding from us.
Near the end of the summer before we would depart for different colleges, Dan Napoli and I traveled to Phoenix with the remnants of our varsity baseball team to play in a regional tournament. We smoked and drank and got embarrassed on the field. It’s lucky we didn’t get arrested. Or killed.
I haven’t seen him since.
But there he was, coming up in conversation with a 14 year old I’d only just met, five weeks into a transition that is taking me and my family farther from anything called “home” either of us have known.
The kid’s eyes registered recognition.
“You know that guy?! He just made a documentary called ‘Fifteen’ about the San Diego Dynasty. It’s amazing! You have to watch it.”
And so I will.
Here’s to you, Dan Napoli. They love you in Chicago.