By Ethan Bryan
I am a storyteller. I write songs, shape sentences, and rake in the big bucks as millions of readers ponder over my musings. Or something like that.
I don’t remember this story first hand, but that doesn’t dismiss its importance. I know this story because I’ve heard Mom and Dad tell it on multiple occasions. I also know this story because I’ve seen its impact in my life. I have tried multiple times to find the exact game researching box scores through Baseball Almanac, but can’t seem to get all the pieces to fit together. Regardless, the story goes like this:
After Dad finished veterinary school at Mizzou, my family moved to Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Dad started working at a local animal hospital and Mom found a job at a preschool. Every fall, the workers at the preschool would go with their families to a Royals game.
It was a night game in September. The Royals were playing good ball and the score was tied after the regulation nine innings. Dad says I was still interested in the game, so they decided to stay.
Sometime around the 11th inning, Dad bought me a hot dog and a Coke for a bedtime “snack” of sorts. A few innings later, according to the legend, the Royals were victorious—a walk-off home run for the home team.
Even though I have no active recollection of this story, I don’t doubt its truth. As long as I can remember, I have been a passionate fan of the Kansas City Royals. There has always been something sacred about the game of baseball and the boys in blue.
Something mystical happened at the stadium that night. While grown men played with passion and perseverance on the field, in the stands a foundation was laid for a lifelong love of baseball, bringing together a father and a son. (Kinda sounds like Field of Dreams, huh?)
A few years after that game, we moved to Springfield, Missouri. Dad started his own veterinary practice making house calls. Some days he’d drive more than 200 miles and never leave city limits. And almost every day, as soon as I heard his car pull into the driveway, I’d rush out and greet him with ball gloves in hand. He’d smile, start stretching, and we’d “have a catch” for the next thirty minutes.
As I got older, he bought a catcher’s mitt and became my catcher for these afternoon practice sessions, helping me spot curveballs and change-ups from our middle-of-Eaton-Street mound.
This is what I remember most about growing up: playing catch with Dad in the street.
In a culture obsessed with competition, numbers, and athletes, we often miss the other side of the game, the side where sports encourages storied living.
Games will be won and games will be lost. Players will come and go. Seasons will be good and seasons will be bad. But through all the games and the players and the seasons, the sport provides a sanctuary (Annie Savoy and the church of baseball?) where families can share life and laughter and hot dogs in 11th innings. Cheering and shouting and screaming, dads and daughters and moms and sons root for the home team together, and years later look back and say, “Do you remember when…?”
I have two daughters. Last year, my oldest daughter wanted to play fast-pitch softball. The week before her first game, Mom and Dad came to town. We went to a local park and playground to relax when my daughter grabbed gloves and a fluorescent softball.
Tossing a glove to my dad, her grandpa, she asked, “Papa, will you teach me to throw and catch like you taught my dad?” On that gorgeous summer day, there were three generations playing catch, sharing stories of yesteryear.
Every year, every season, brings new stories. I cannot wait to see the stories that this year will bring.
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