Pat Richards sat in the metal bleachers behind home plate, watching his son Nick Richards and the Greenbrier baseball team practice before it started the Class AAA state playoffs in May.
Pat talked about Nick's summer plans. The Wolfpack right-fielder had also played quarterback on the football team and signed a scholarship to play at Valdosta State next season.
Pat talked about SEC football. He told a story about how Nick attended a passing camp at Tennessee and immediately struck up a conversation with then-Volunteers offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.
Pat talked about how he thought then that his son had a shot to play for the same guy who'd coached the Manning brothers.
He didn't talk about the cancer.
Pat has been diagnosed with cancer in his tonsils. He learned of the biopsy results while on vacation with his family during spring break.
"Definitely didn't see it coming," Nick said. "Just a complete shock."
But the prognosis was encouraging, and Pat started chemotherapy treatments soon after.
Rodney Holder, Greenbrier's baseball coach at the time, gave Nick a couple days off from practice upon learning of the diagnosis and worked with his class schedule so Nick could be with his dad during treatments.
On the baseball field, Nick was torn.
"It was hard to concentrate on practice and getting better when something like that was going on," Nick said. "I just remember being as positive as possible about this and taking it in stride."
And that's what Pat wanted.
He continued to make it to Nick's games, donning a Greenbrier baseball cap over a head of hair that had thinned considerably since the treatments started.
Pat talked to the umpires, talked to fellow parents, talked on his cell phone and talked without words -- slamming a soda bottle in the trash after a close play ended an inning with Wolfpack runners on base.
Nick was playing as well as he ever had. This is why he decided two weeks after baseball started that he wanted to play again, after originally planning to take the season off and concentrate on football.
Baseball was too much fun.
His father's diagnosis might have redirected his priorities, but it didn't change his approach.
"I know it's good for him when he sees me do well," Nick said after a game.
Later, there was proof.
Nick launched a game-ending home run to close out a 15-0 romp of Jones County in the second round of the state playoffs. Pat was all smiles as he was mobbed with handshakes and pats on the back from fellow parents.
The father was on hand in Greenbrier's cafeteria earlier this year to surprise Nick when he was given the Terry Holder Award, which honored a senior athlete. Pat was there when the run was over, embracing Nick after the Wolfpack fell short of their goal of another state championship.
And Nick expects his dad to be there in the fall when he takes the field with Valdosta State.
"I heard they're going to be the first team in college to open the season," Pat said. "All eyes will be on Valdosta State."
Pat underwent his final chemotherapy treatment last weekend. He'll begin radiation treatments in about two weeks.
The chemotherapy has shrunk the tumor. The radiation should destroy it.
Nick said the doctors told them the treatments could be done and the disease under control by August -- just in time for football season.
"I don't like to make headlines like this," Pat said. "But if it's inspiration to somebody, that's what I want to be."
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