A few weeks ago, Lloy Ball was coaching first base for his son Dyer's baseball team when he turned to his father standing behind the fence.
``I am more nervous for my son winning this game than I was in any Olympic game,'' a sweating Ball said.
That kind of explains the four-time Olympian's outlook as he watches the United State's men's national volleyball team compete in London. He's sprawled across the couch in the basement of his Lake James home, calmly predicting plays and explaining player strengths and weaknesses like the world's best scout. It's like watching a match with a volleyball savant.
``It's been entertaining,'' the 40-year-old now former world's best setter said. ``It hasn't been tearful or difficult. I've watched the guys now for the last quad in World Leagues and World Cups. I'm used to not seeing myself out there and seeing somebody else wear No. 1.''
But it can't that easy, can it? He gave the national team the best 19 years of his life so there must be some tug in his gut that makes him want to be in London, right?
``I truly don't miss being there playing,'' he says with almost a hint of relief in his voice. ``Having said that, it's awkward in that usually the last 16 years at this time I've not been home, I've been at the Olympic games. It's awkward sitting and watching the opening ceremonies from my couch instead of waiting outside the stadium like all the other athletes.
``I guess it's just an interesting transition from athlete to fan. I don't find my passion any less about it. I was excited today to wake up this morning and see the results, and I usually have the TV on all day so if I walk by and see an Olympic event... These are the most Olympic events I've seen in my four Olympics. When you are there you never get to see anything, where here I've watched all kinds of Olympic events.''
Maybe that's the biggest difference. There's no pressure, no expectations to live up to, just matches to enjoy now.
U.S. coach Alan Knipe tried three times within the last two years to get Ball to reconsider his retirement. With four returning starters, Knipe knew the U.S. had a chance for back-to-back medals, but the cause would have been much stronger with Ball running the offense.
Ball simply said ``No,'' each time. It was Donald Suxho's turn to chase his goal of an Olympic medal. Ball is happy to sit on his couch, chase his kids around town and pester his wife. For the first time in forever, he's experiencing a normal summer, though he still trains every day to push off the aches he knows would be there if he didn't.
``I didn't feel like I had anything more to prove,'' Ball said. ``Even if we hadn't won the gold, I don't think I would have gone back regardless. Having won the gold, that was obviously No. 1 on my bucket list of things I wanted to accomplish. Besides winning a national championship for Dad, the bucket list is pretty full. Second, and most importantly, I had lost that edge. I could have gone and set and played well, but if you don't have that fire that edge, that I will do anything to get this done... then I don't think you should be there.''
Instead, he called former teammates and buddies Clay Stanley and Sean Rooney and sent Suxho an encouraging message, wishing them luck and saying he wouldn't contact them again during the tournament. They'll be a little too busy to reply anyway.
``I don't miss it,'' Ball said. ``It seems like forever ago. I know it's only been four years ago, but I literally feel like I'm 100 years old and I played in '72 or something like that. I thought maybe I would second-guess things that Donnie did on the court or stuff the team does, but I really haven't put too much thought into it. I find myself cheering for good plays and being disappointed for bad plays pretty much like everybody else probably does.''
As the tournament progresses and the matches get more intense, Ball knows so will he. Then he might yell at the TV screen or ask rhetorically why Knipe doesn't try something.
But that's all it will be, the questions of a fan, though maybe a little bit better-informed one. If the U.S. loses, Ball will still drag Dyer, 11, out to hit some golf balls, or boat on the lake with Sarah or play catch with Mya, 6. He's not going to obsess over it the way he had to for half his life.
``A lot of people obviously think, `You don't want them to win the gold because that will tarnish what you've done,' but that's ridiculous,'' Ball said. ``I want them to do as well as they possibly can, and I will cheer for them regardless. I'm sure (three-time Olympian) Bob Ctvrtlik feels the same way or Clay's dad who played in the Olympics. We're an extension of these guys; granted an older, more beat up extension but we're all one big family.''
Frankly, he'd just rather spend more time with his own family now. Ball turned down ridiculous financial offers to play in Russia next winter, but he's looking forward to all the normal things he's missed.
``I have not had a Thanksgiving at home in 14 years, and I've had one Christmas at home in 14 years,'' Ball said. ``I'm really looking forward to that. Much to my wife's dismay, I told her I wanted to have a big Thanksgiving here with my family, and I could just see the fear in her eyes. I want to have our Christmas tree up and have it be big and loud in the window. I have a lot of stuff that I'm really looking forward to doing.
``Granted, after a year or two of doing that kind stuff that I've missed out on, I'm sure it will be nice to get back into some kind of routine and find something to do more permanently. Sarah gets worried about me being bored. If I get bored I'll go do something. I have no problem finding something else to do.''
It might be in volleyball, too, perhaps helping his dad's IPFW team. It's unlikely he'll be an official coach for a while.
``Right now with my young kids, I don't want to be away on the weekends coaching someone else's kids,'' he said. ``Will I someday coach? Probably. I'm dipping a toe in, but if my kid has his football practice, I can be there. My dad didn't take me to a lot of practices in high school and he missed a lot of my games because he was coaching someone else's kids, but that was his passion, that was his thing. Coaching may end up being like that for me, but right now I have two little ones who need my 100 percent attention before someone else's.''
Then the match is over as the U.S. beat Germany in three sets. As soon as the final spike lands, Ball heads upstairs to see what Dyer wants for lunch. Volleyball is over for now. It's time to try to fulfill the rest of his family's dreams.
``I'm real happy with the one medal I've got, so let someone else chase their dream now,'' Ball said.