DRIPPING SPRINGS, TX - The music starts before every game, and the chords envelop his thoughts, ringing through from every direction.
"OH SAY CAN YOU SEE..."
At that momenr, Keith Tuck can.
Looking up at the sky, listening to the words, he can see his daughter Brittany.
The Dripping Springs softball coach knows his daughter is up there,looking down at the field, at the team ,at her father and her younger sister, Megan.
"OH SAY CAN YOU SEE..."
"During every national anthem, I look to the sky, wink at her and tell her I love her," Tuck said." I know she's smiling down on us. I know she's watching. ANd I know she'd love to be out here playing the game."
Brittany Tuck could never tear herself away from the softball field. It was where she became Central Texas player of the year in 2000 and where she earned a scholarship to Sam Houston State University before a car wreck took her life.
The Tucks grew up on the softball field and that's why Keith couldn't stop coaching even after Brittany's death in 2003. The former Lake Travis coach fought through the pain, the year he spent in Dayton,TX just months after the wreck, when his heart wept for Brittany -- his star pitcher at Lake Travis, every time he stepped on to the pitcher's mound.
Then this year ( 2006), everything came together for the TUcks.
Megan decided to join her dad again on the field. The Dripping Springs team pounded out victory after victory earning its way to the Class 4A state championship game. And Keith found himself having fun again, enjoying his time on the Diamond like he did when he coached Brittany at Lake Travis.
That attitude, along with the Tigers' 30-6 record and run to the state title game has earned Tuck recognition as the Austin American-Statesman's Central Texas Coach of the Year.
"He's just a realy good coach. He treats us all like he treats his daughter," said Dripping Springs center fielder, Kristen Sumner."He lets us have fun and keeps us really relaxed."
Perhaps that's because Tuck is relaxed himself.
He's a passionate, happy go lucky father who enoys every moment he has with his children, his wife Sandra and his softball team, but this year was even more special --because of what he had lost.
"This past year with Megan, I woudln't have asked for more," Tuck said of his daughter, a senior first baseman."It's not that I didn't appreciate it before but now, to be able towatch her paly and spend that time with her, you just learn to cherish every second."
Because one second, everything is normal. And in the next, your life can be flipped quicker than a light switch.
It happened to him on Dec 15, 2003.
As Brittany drove back home to Dayton,TX, north eart of Houston, to take the annual family Christmas photos, she lost control of her car coming around a turn, just three miles from home.
The truck hit her head on. She never stood a chance.
Hours later, sensing that something was wrong, Keith TUck went looking for her.
What he found was a parent's biggest fear.
" I drove up on the accident and when I saw the emergency lights, I just started praying," Tuck said."And I told myself if it was my worst nigthmare, that we were going to bury her in the Hill Country because that's the place she loved the most."
That's exactly whet he did.
One year later, in 2004, the Tucks returned ot Central Texas. They wanted to be near Brittany's grave. So they packed up for Dripping Springs.
"That's where Megan wanted to go," Tuck said."Actually, she wanted to move to Dripping Springs because of the basketball program. She wasn't even going to play softball."
That changed this year, when Megan decided to leafe up the cleats again.
"Watching her this year --actually, reminds me of Brittany," Tuck said."Every time I look at her, I see so many qualities, so much Brittany in her.
"Megan never has been the fiercest competitior, not as fierce as Brittany was, but she has just as much fun and is a wonderful, wonderful person off the field."
Megan has her own wasy of remembering Brittany too.
" I found myself doing more things lately. I would write her number in the dirt. I would tap the back of my heels with my bat like she did,"Megan Tuck said. "I do tons of things to remember her all of the time. I mean, she was my big sister, so I always think about her."
And by being back in the area he loves, with Megan by his side, and Nikki Brown -- this year's Central Texas player of the year -- on the mound, Tuck was able to coach the Tigers the furtherest he' d ever taken a team. They dinished in second place behind New Braunfelsin District 27-4A, but they got hot in the postseason.
They came back from a one-game deficit to beat Vista Ridge in the area round, nipped favored Justin Northwest 1-0 in eight innings in the state semi-finals and extended LIttle Cypress-Mauriceville to 11 innings before the 3-0 loss in the state championship game.
In all, the Tigers went 10-2 in the playoffs, ouscoring opponents 46-22.
" A lot of the credit goes to the seniors, " Tuck said." I can't tell you how much this group of seniors means to me because they just immediately took myself and my family into their hearts. They became family."
Megan, however, credits her dad.
"He's always there to motivate, to push us in the right direction when we need it and to help us relax when we need that," she said." He's not one of those coaches who's the mean screamer. He knows how to handle girls."
That's Tuck's motto:"They won't care what you know if they don't know that you care," Tuck said.
And Tuck cares.
Just look in his eyes during the National Anthem.
Oh, Say can you see...