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Playing to Win

By Jeff Musillo

When I was younger,

there was a point when my family had little money.

I didn’t see or feel this though.

I was a kid and my mother made sure we had something to eat each night.

I still consider this to be amazing.

Now that I’m older,

I understand that my mother struggled.

She’s no longer struggling since she worked her ass off,

but there were days when we were living a little thin.

My mother worked two jobs

after divorcing my father,

not including the job of raising me and my older brother.

She owned and operated her beauty salon in South Amboy

and oftentimes,

after a twelve-to-fourteen-hour shift,

sped to New York to work a make-up gig

for some commercial.

There were nights when she didn’t stop home

and drove to New York right away.

Those were the nights she slept in her car,

making sure she was on time and ready for work.

My father was struggling too,

so I’m not sure how much Alimony came through.

My father owned an Italian deli.

Business wasn’t doing well.

That deli burned down and he opened a new one.

That second deli burned down and he opened a third.

I also don’t know how much insurance money came through,

but things remained tough.

A little tight.

But my mother’s goal was to make sure her kids

lived an ordinary life.

Baseball was a major way of providing that normality.

This was back when I actually enjoyed sports.

To my mother,

it was good for me to be around coaches,

people who could keep an eye on me for a couple of hours a day.

Being around other kids,

my teammates,

would also be good.

They would teach me social skills.

I just thought it was fun to run around.




No trophy.

I didn’t care.

Not then.

Just let me hit the ball so I could run around the bases.

As much as my mother loved that I was there with coaches,

out having fun,

my baseball days also hit her with some sadness.

A lot of kids in my mother’s town

came from money.

Good money.

So the kids had all the good gear.

I didn’t notice this.

I had a glove, so I could play.

And when it was my turn at the plate,

I simply borrowed another kid’s bat.

It was all good to me.

But my mother didn’t see it this way.

She saw the other kids showing up to play

with their expensive gear stored in their new bags.

She saw her son joining those other kids

with his glove stashed in a brown bag from Shop Rite.

This broke her heart.

She had bills to pay.



Food to purchase.

Gas to get from one job to the other.

She had plenty of expenses.

What she didn’t have was a willingness to play the victim.

My mother upped the ante.

I have no idea how many additional hours she put in.

I don’t know how much sleep she sacrificed.

I could never tell because she never complained.

She never made me feel like I caused hardship.

All she made me feel was ecstatic,

especially when I came home one day

to find a brand-new equipment bag

with my name printed on it.

I never thought I was missing anything,

but once I had that bag,

I felt I could dominate anyone on the diamond.

I felt beyond confident.

And at my game later that night,

as if electrified by a new form of confidence,

I absolutely crushed it,

getting on base with each of my at-bats.

My mother had a rare night off and watched the game.

The entire game.

She cheered me on from the stands.

She showed her support.

The best damn support

a kid could ever ask for.

Jeff Musillo is a writer, visual artist, actor, and director. He's the author of The Ease of Access (2013) Can you See That Sound (The Operating System, 2014) Snapshot Americana (Roundfire Books, 2014) The Eternal Echo (Strawberry Books, 2016) The Charming Swindler (Michelkin Books, 2016) Small Boy, Big Dreams (Michelkin Books, 2017), and Three of a Kind (Michelkin Books, 2017). His paintings have been commissioned for buildings throughout New York as well as exhibited in shows and magazines in both the U.S. and Europe. His work in film, as a screenwriter, director, and actor, has premiered at The Hoboken International Film Festival, The Jersey Shore Film Festival, and The Katra Film Series. He was most recently cast in the pilots Holiday Shelter and Tinder is the Night, as well as the feature film, Love Comes Later. Jeff is currently directing his own feature film, The Persistence of Time. 

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