Day #324

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On Major League Baseball’s Players’ Weekend his jersey would read, “Mad Hatter.”

“I was given that nickname when I was a little kid, from some friends on the street. Just a reference to the old fairy tale.”

Mad Hatter has called me “Big E” ever since I was 4, ever since the day I stubbed and bloodied my toe running down the sidewalk in front of his Lee’s Summit house in flip flops.

“C’mon inside, Big E, we’ll get that taken care of,” said Mad Hatter.

I haven’t run in flip flops since.

In the summer of 2001, I ran into Mad Hatter at a Royals game. I was single-digit weeks away from obtaining my master’s degree, had a newborn daughter, and was trying my best to juggle my last classes while planning for life post-graduation on precious little sleep. Thanks to the all-consuming nature of graduate studies, my baseball knowledge was at its lowest point in my life. (Confession: I sold a significant portion of my baseball card and autograph collection to help pay for school. There’s a part of me that still regrets that decision.) The only players for the Kansas City team I could identify were Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran.

As part of a job interview, my wife and I were in Kansas City and treated to the hottest ticket in town. The Royals were hosting the Cardinals and All-Star-Rookie-of-the-Year-Silver-Slugging Albert Pujols was the talk of the baseball world. In the top of the second, I bumped into Mad Hatter. Pujols was at the plate. With each pitch, conversation stopped briefly. A single to center and conversation resumed.

After moving to Missouri from New York, Albert Pujols attended Fort Osage High School in Independence. Mad Hatter was the Assistant Superintendent for the school district at the time. Part of his job was to check Pujols into the system.

“He came in with his dad. They were very warm and friendly people. He was lean, maybe 5’11” and 165 or 170 pounds or so.”

Because he’s been asked by opposing high school coaches so many times, he knows Pujols’ birthdate by heart — January 16, 1980. He also remembers the first time he saw Pujols taking batting practice, early in the morning before school started.

“The head coach, he’s a good friend, he called me and told me to get to the school. The assistant coach met me in the parking lot and I thought I was being set up for some kind of practical joke. Then the coach said, ‘Albert, it’s your turn.’ I’ve never seen a kid hit a ball so hard.”

The home runs Pujols hit in high school are legendary.

Like the home run against Liberty in the district finals. The ball cleared the 8-foot fence in left field that was 325-feet away from the plate and kept going, over the hill behind the fence and over the service road past the hill and finally landed, hitting the air conditioner unit of the service building.

Or the home run in Independence that sailed over the railroad tracks and bounced into the patio of a neighboring duplex.

Or the home runs he’d hit at Fort Osage that hit the roof of the house past the field at the school.

“Sometimes, he cleared the house.”

“Albert was a genuinely nice kid and humble. He never complained. He always said yes sir and no sir. I’m not sure he ever missed a day of school.”

Pujols went 3 – 5 in that interview game with 2 singles and a double. But, in the bottom of the 13th inning, Mike Sweeney hit a walk-off home run to complete the series sweep. I ended up getting the job.

Seventeen years later, that newborn baby is making choices about college and Mad Hatter’s in my neck of the woods. On a frosty morning, in a game of catch long overdue, Hatter and I threw knuckleballs that moved, even as the tips of our fingers tingled in the cold. And he asked me questions about Pujols.

“He’s got a career .302 batting average, with 633 home runs, and 3,082 hits. Should he retire?”

Albert Pujols is incredibly generous. He does not hoard his millions, but uses his wealth to make a tangible difference, both in the United States and the Dominican Republic. His legacy as a first-ballot hall of famer is guaranteed. If he is still having fun, keep on playing. The more he makes, the more good he can do in this world.

Mad Hatter’s a storyteller and I think my arm’s now in good enough shape to last through all of his stories — his Cooperstown stories and his decades of softball stories and his story about saving his money to buy his first glove. But Mad Hatter’s stories and presence are needed in KC, so we kept the storytelling short this time.

Albert, if you’re in Missouri over the next month and need a catch-partner, I’m more than willing.

Maybe I should put Big E on my Players’ Weekend jersey.

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Day #323

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With the sun setting earlier and earlier, trips to CY Sports will probably increase in frequency.

At least over the next 40 days.

I checked in with Ryan and Chandler and Zach and Doug and Seth and Luke and watched one of the pitching instructors assign homework to his students, “When you get home, I want you to turn on that TV and cheer for the football team from KC.” A whole host of future Kickapoo players were practicing and Ryan was using the pitching machine to give pointers to a young catcher and Zach was stretching out his arm after national signing day last week. Fingers crossed, Chandler will get an offer to play college ball in the next couple weeks.

Wyatt, the 13-year old, six-foot tall, Yankees fan warmed me up before his pitching lessons, which finished 15 minutes before kickoff.

Chandler, the Saints fan, stepped in the cage with me and we threw sliders and splitters and talked about a New Orleans and Kansas City match up for the last game of the season which is the same day I’ll be telling catch-playing stories to some of the prisoners Aaron (Day #203) works with.

Opening Day can’t come soon enough.

Day #322

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“When I was 9, I met Stan Musial. I met him again when I was 14. He attended a game I was pitching and told me, ‘You’re going to make it to the pros.’”

Dick pitched in high school at Republic, then pitched for four years at Southwest Missouri State University for Coach Rowe (Day #66). As a freshman, pitching in his very first collegiate game, Dick took a no-hitter into the 9th inning.

“I knew the first hitter. We had played against each other in high school. He dropped down a bunt and I threw him out at first, but he was called safe…”

As a junior, Dick posted a 7 – 2 record with a 0.59 ERA — second best in the nation that year. His senior year, however, he injured his arm which pretty much ended his professional aspirations.

It was while he was at SMSU that A Sporting Chance was born, even if it didn’t come to be a reality for another 20 years. The baseball team was on a break because of bad weather. Dick and some teammates were bowling when a bus pulled in to the parking lot. The people exiting the bus had various disabilities, wheelchairs and crutches and walkers. One of the employees asked if the ballplayers wanted to stay and help out, and Dick agreed. He was paired with a man using a walker who was having great difficulty not throwing gutter balls.

“I gave him some pointers and he started knocking down a couple of pins. And then he got a strike and kissed me on the lips. He was so excited for that strike and I have never forgotten that, it really got to me.”

Because of his experience, Dick started volunteering for the park board and the Special Olympics. From those experiences came A Sporting Chance (ASC), which is now celebrating its 25th year of working with athletes throughout southwest Missouri. Dick has been the Executive Director for all 25 years.

ASC’s goal is to make sure any person with any disability gets to compete, either in competitive or in recreational sports. Dick mentioned that Addi (Day #76) is one of ASC’s athletes.

“Twenty-five years ago, out of the 30 known disabilities, only 4 qualified to participate in the Special Olympics. We wanted to provide a way for anyone to participate and compete in sports.”

ASC now serves 26 counties with hundreds of partner organizations.

In Springfield alone, there are:

77 basketball teams;

36 volleyball teams;

40 softball and tee ball teams;

92 golfers at Horton Smith;

the last bowling tournament had 680 athletes;

and then Track and Field.

“Track and Field is the big one. It’s at the junior high in Branson. There’s usually 1,000 athletes who’ll compete and stay the night, then go to Silver Dollar City or a variety of shows.”

Not counting celebrations or fundraisers, ASC programs 48 weeks each year with seasonal sports just like high school.

“The only stumbling block is finances. For example, we rent this gym for basketball, four nights a week, five hours a night, for nine weeks. That’s just one gym. We use four during the season.”

One of the board members told me that Dick doesn’t take a salary.

“He works 60 hours a week with no pay. His golf habit has to come out of his own pocket.”

“ASC is here to be a positive force in the community and we’re doing it through sports. I have a feeling you know exactly what I’m talking about,” Dick said. “If I took a salary, the programs would suffer.”

I met one referee, one coach, and at least a half dozen other ASC volunteers who all told me the same thing — the joy of volunteering for ASC is contagious.

Dick and I spread out across the basketball gym that was decorated for the 25th anniversary celebration.

“I played catch a couple of years ago, with some of our softball players.”

A steady stream of people entered while we tossed the ball. Dick even threw a couple of curves my direction, which was his best pitch during his SMSU years.

“I’m dreaming of doing this for another 25 years. I’ll only be 93.”

To donate to A Sporting Chance visit: www.asportingchance.net or

P. O. Box 11337

Springfield, MO 65808-1337

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Day #321

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My family volunteered to help deliver Thanksgiving groceries as part of Victory Mission’s program and successfully found the warehouse despite road closures for construction. More than 350 families received holiday food from VM, the majority of those meals delivered this morning courtesy of a volunteer pool of 80 drivers and 12 Fed Ex trucks. (It’s really cool to watch a Fed Ex truck load up with groceries and imagine the surprised smiles of those on the receiving end.) We waited our turn in the pick-up line, following a green Kia Soul, and were greeted by Captain Springfield (Day #194) who gave us our marching orders, sending us out with food for three families. Somewhat joking, somewhat serious, I asked her to find me a catch partner while we delivered the food.

An hour later we returned, all deliveries successful along with requested prayers for a child in the hospital, a spouse in prison, and a dying parent. My heart was already humbled by the immeasurable blessings I take for granted on a daily basis.

And then I played catch with Jimmy.

In the alley next to the warehouse, we played catch for about 20 minutes, and I bet I didn’t say 20 words. With almost every throw, there was another twist in Jimmy’s story.

Jimmy lived in Florida and Alaska before moving to Missouri. His mom died of a drug overdose when he was just a kid and he started using meth when he was 17 years old.

“I’ve been doing drugs for almost half of my life, spent more time in prison than not,” he said. “I was in prison for the seventh time and looking forward to getting out, running away again, and getting high. I got off the bus fully prepared to run and something — Something — stopped me, and I knew I had to make the phone call.”

Jimmy called Mark at Victory Mission.

“And Mark said, ‘We turn dope dealers into hope dealers.’ And I decided to give it a chance.”

Jimmy told me of going through VM’s restoration program and being hired as an intern to work in the warehouse. He told me that he’s working on his relationship with his daughter and all the changes taking place in his life. People who knew him in prison are able to see the transformation in his life.

“The people here, they are family. We are family. They know the difference love can make, the difference Jesus has made in my life.”

Jimmy first learned how to do art in prison. He’s now using his art to give hope to others, doing drawings during worship services at his church.

“I pray over each piece and trust that God is going to lead me to give it to the right person. God is doing good things. I have hope for the future.”

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God is about the business of setting prisoners free and using those our culture often overlooks to be the bearers of audacious and beautiful hope.

Day #320

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The Lion King is coming to Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts which means that Josh is in town.

“Come before 10 and we can play catch. I’ll save a donut for you, too.”

Deal.

I had not seen Josh since our game of catch on Day #81, but I’ve tried to stay in touch through various social media, enjoying his pictures at minor league stadiums across the Midwest.

But baseball season was interrupted.

In August, Josh had surgery.

“It was just supposed to be a simple kidney stone surgery. Stay overnight, then back to life the next day. I’ve since learned never to call any surgery ‘simple.’”

Josh’s stay turned from one night into four. His lung collapsed, his oxygenation levels dropped, and his pain was unmanageable.

“I was on so many painkillers. They didn’t come close to touching the pain. I can’t describe how scary it was to not be able to breathe and be in excruciating pain. I couldn’t take air in and force it out.”

Thankfully, all is now good. A full recovery. No follow up necessary.

Just before he went in for surgery, Josh received an opportunity to do video scouting and player write-ups for 2080 Baseball.

“Since surgery was supposed to be a one-night deal, I took the opportunity.”

On the sixth day after surgery, Josh drove 90 minutes to Springdale, Arkansas and obtained his first media credentials with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, recording 7 different players between the Naturals and the Springfield Cardinals.

“My wife almost killed me for taking the assignment.”

Even with the setbacks caused by the surgery, his non-profit is also making great strides.

“I’ve had some good dialogue with people in the industry. I’m having continual conversations finding the players who need help. Next year, I’ll be helping at least one player, probably a housing stipend during spring training, and will be putting even more energy into it after the new year. The work is slow, but steady. A lot of good things are starting to fall in place. Next year will be a big year.”

After donuts and catching up and encouragement from Josh’s co-workers, we stood up to play catch. The baseball was gone.

I always, always, always keep a baseball in the new Wilson glove. Always. I remember pulling the glove out of the glove backpack and flipping the ball in the air as confirmation. I put the ball back in the pocket, grabbed the old Wilson, and carried them both into Juanita K to see Josh. I walked, maybe, thirty yards until I was inside. But when Josh picked up the glove, there was no baseball to be seen. My only conclusion is the Phantom took it. All year long, I have carried a spare baseball in my writing backpack just in case I needed it.

Today was the day I needed it.

We walked out the doors and stood across the street from where I played catch in the blizzard with Matt and Jeff (Day #35). No matter where I stood, the sun reflected off of the performance center and the best throwing lanes were obstructed by trees. So we threw the ball over the trees and through the trees. Every golfer knows that trees are 90% air.

In this thankful season, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play catch with a dear friend who is not only doing brilliant work, but who is healthy.

And, for the third day in a row, I was able to play catch with a Royals fan — tic, tac, toe.

Day #319

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Andy is a 7th generation Methodist pastor.

And this is the genealogy of Andy the pastor, son of Jim the pastor.

Marion Francis Monk, in the early 1800s, was the first pastor in the family line.

Marion’s son was Simeon and Simeon’s son was Alonzo.

Alonzo had a daughter, Era, who married Gideon Bryan, who pastored in Dallas, Texas.

Gideon’s son was Alonzo, who was a bishop who moved to Missouri from Texas and went by the name Monk. Monk is Andy’s grandfather, and Monk’s son is Jim.

“I resisted becoming a pastor for a while. I didn’t want to just go into the ‘family business.’ My first master’s degree is in music and I did that for five years. That’s where I learned the most important thing — God’s call is unique on each individual. Don’t try to compare what God wants you to be doing to what someone else is doing. God’s calling you to do something unique. I’m grateful for those years to discern that uniqueness of my call.”

For the last 11 years, Andy has served at Campbell United Methodist Church on the south side of Springfield. He moved to Springfield after serving a smaller congregation in North Kansas City upon graduating with his Masters of Divinity from St. Paul School of Theology.

“I was nervous about moving to Springfield and the responsibilities of a larger congregation. My mom said, ‘You just be the best Brad Bryan you know how to be.’ That’s my brother’s name. Of course, she caught herself right away.”

I can relate to Andy’s mom; I know all too well the feeling of saying one child’s name and meaning the other. I don’t think I’ve thrown in the dog’s name or the cat’s name, yet.

Side note: Andy’s brother is also a pastor in Columbia, Missouri.

Thanks to his time in KC during formative years, Andy is a passionate Royals fan. His favorite player is Frank White — “I like his on-the-field attitude” — and he uses the boys in blue as sermon illustrations. Much to his dismay, he has observed that they seemed to play worse in weeks following when he preaches about them.

“Same thing with the football team. The only time I used them as an illustration this year, they lost.”

I implored him not to speak of Patrick Mahomes or any of his teammates who share parking lot space with the Royals.

Behind his church, there is a softball field. I stood near home plate and Andy stood near third base, keeping the sun to our side so neither of us would be blinded. He pitched for his church’s softball team this past summer, so his last game of catch was relatively recent.

“We didn’t do too well, but still had a lot of fun.”

After years in the ministry, Andy’s best advice is simple and stems from his own call experience.

“Be yourself. Embrace who you are.”

I’m doing my best to fully embrace the uniqueness of a catch-playing call.

Like most pastors, I just wonder if it’s making any real difference.

Day #318

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Giving is in every fiber of Rick’s being.

When I was younger Rick gave me golf lessons. He’s the reason why, at one point in my life, I had a single-digit handicap.

Because of our time spent together through lessons, when he discovered I love the Kansas City Royals like he loves the Kansas City Royals, he gave me an autographed picture of Bo Jackson. That picture hangs on the wall in my Royals room next to Bill Virdon, Kevin Seitzer, and Dan Quisenberry.

Rick gave me the opportunity to caddy during the first year of the Ben Hogan Tour and tournament at Highland Springs Country Club. When the local pro, Perry Leslie, played an exhibition match against Payne Stewart, Rick gave me the chance to carry Perry’s bag and hang out with Payne for the day. We shared hot dogs at the turn.

This past January, Rick was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions in the sport of golf. He was also chosen as one of Springfield Business Journal’s 2018 Men of the Year. Because, through golf, Rick continues to give.

Rick is a champion for junior golf. He invites students from elementary schools to come and explore the game, treating the kids and their teachers to lunch with ice cream to follow. Jamie’s class has been the beneficiary of these invitations on multiple occasions, students most people wouldn’t associate with the game of golf. Rick keeps the day filled with fun games and loves the opportunity to connect with the students and teachers.

In 2014, Rick’s knees required replacing. He postponed the surgery to attend the Wild Card game against Oakland with his wife.

“The 2014 Wild Card game was, by far, the most exciting sporting event I’ve ever witnessed in my life,” says the man who has attended The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on 16 different occasions.

“When we were 5 runs down, I told my wife that all we had to do was get a couple of runs and we could do it. I’ve since watched Perez get that hit a million times and every single time I think Josh Donaldson is going to catch it. After the game the fans wouldn’t leave. The whole stadium was notified via intercom that a storm was on the way. Of course, the natural thought was they just wanted us to leave. But they were right. By the time we got to the car it was pouring.”

Two weeks after having his knees replaced, Rick attended Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.

“My wife wheeled me through the K in a wheelchair. I wasn’t going to miss it.”

Rumor has it that people who utter the name of a certain San Francisco southpaw in Rick’s presence are forbidden from ever playing golf at Rivercut Golf Course.

In 2015, Rick bought tickets to Game 7 of the World Series.

“They weren’t needed.”

His favorite Royals player is George Brett, naturally, and his favorite golfers include Payne Stewart, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Bobby Jones.

On the way to school this morning, I told all the riders in the Bryan Family Millennium Falcon to keep their eyes and ears open in search of miracles. When Rick told me the story of how he came to play 54 holes at Augusta National, I knew I had found my miracle story.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll only repeat a small portion of the story, the part after he sat next to Byron Nelson for three hours during the par-three tournament in 1999 and Lord Byron spoke of Rick to his dinner mates that night, “That guy knows what he’s talking about.”

It was all made possible because a complete stranger was generous to Rick, and a little generosity can make miracles happen.

Every morning starts exactly the same way for Rick.

“I begin every day by thinking, ‘Jack Nicklaus is coming in for a golf lesson.’ I want to act and treat others in such a way as if they are Jack Nicklaus.”

Rick has a chapter of the PGA’s HOPE Program at Rivercut — Helping Our Patriots Everywhere. Over several weeks, he helps veterans who suffer from PTSD play golf and have fun.

“It’s all about giving. Giving is what we’re here to do.”

Rick wholeheartedly understood the joy of Catch 365.

“It’s not about baseball any more than what I do is about golf. It’s about connecting with others.”

Rick dressed his best for today’s game of catch; I was quite envious of his Royals slacks. We stepped out in the parking lot since frost covered the grass of the driving range out Rick’s office. Using the glove he always takes with him to games at the K, knuckleballs were thrown and laughs were shared. He told me stories of Mantle and Maris that were good for the soul.

Rick’s dad grew up across the street from Mickey Mantle in Oklahoma and Mickey gave his dad a ball from the 1951 World Series. In the heat of competition in a game of backyard baseball, Rick hit a ball into a bush. He “Sandlott-ed” the Mickey ball and hit into the bush on the next swing.

“I looked through that bush with a flashlight all night. We never found it.”

On October 1, 2017, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar walked off the field for the final time as teammates. Rick was at the game sitting behind a couple wearing jerseys with “Groom” and “Bride” across their backs. They were married at the ball park before the game. Of course, Rick took his glove to the stadium, as would I, and Lorenzo Cain sent a foul ball right at him. The Groom reached up and caught the ball.

“Can you believe it? On his wedding day, he caught a foul ball at the K. He’ll never forget that!”

Time spent with Rick is always memorable and leaves you feeling both encouraged and inspired.

I am most grateful for the gift of his friendship over the years and can only hope that my games of catch with friends new and friends old can begin to echo his generosity.

Day #317

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The rivalry between Royals fans and White Sox fans is quite intense. A large part is due to the two teams playing in the same division. Like the Cardinals and the Cubs. Like the Dodgers and the Giants. Like the Yankees and everyone under the sun.

Relations were not improved when two White Sox fans attacked the Royals first base coach in 2002. The coach suffered permanent hearing loss as a result of the attack.

“That crazy attacker did not help my defense of Sox Park,” Dan said.

Still, and I think Steve (Day #221) and Jim (Day #18) can testify, I try my best to extend hospitality and kindness toward all White Sox fans.

When I lived in Kansas City, I went to several Royals and White Sox games. I once sat next to Mark Buehrle’s family. Buehrle was an All-Star-and-Gold-Glove winning left-handed pitcher who had great success against the Royals. It was one of the few games the Royals lit him up; I tried my best to be polite in my exuberant cheering.

A couple years later, I sat next to Joe Crede’s family. Crede was also an All Star and a Silver Slugging third baseman. He had a fantastic day at the plate and on defense and was probably the player of the game. I congratulated his family on his behalf as we left the stadium.

With the wind chill in the single digits, I was beyond grateful Dan agreed to play catch today.

“Honestly, I expected worse. The sun really helps.”

I didn’t expect him to be wearing the White Sox jacket when he got out of the car.

“This used to be an older Molloy’s jacket.”

Within the last couple of weeks, Dan was playing catch as he warmed up for his softball game. Last week’s rainout was supposed to be made up last night. With the temperatures and snow, however, it was a no go.

Until he gets married, Dan is claiming October 26, 2005 as the best day of his life. On that day, the White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series, winning the championship for the first time in 88 years. Former Royals player Jermaine Dye was the World Series MVP.

“I remember watching it with dad, getting the big hug when it was over. It’s just one of those memories that’s burned into my brain.”

The 1994 movie Angels in the Outfield is Dan’s favorite baseball movie.

The movie stars Danny Glover as the manager, Tony Danza as the pitcher, Christopher Lloyd as the head angel, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the hope-filled inspiring little kid.

“There’s something I love about that 90’s genre of baseball movie, of little kids making an impact on MLB players. From being just a fan to being in the clubhouse in the middle of the playoff run. The news conference to talk about angels is genuinely hilarious. And the way the players dress for the slow-pitch softball pick-up game….I went to Royals Opening Day one time and they were playing the Indians. So I wore a Brewers jersey and a Rockies hat, kind of a tribute to that scene.”

Dan was also at Royals Opening Day this past year when the White Sox unloaded for a 14 – 7 victory courtesy of 6 home runs, 3 by Matt Davidson. After leading 4 – 0 through one inning, the Royals only tallied three more runs, and those came long after the White Sox had secured the win. That game was an apt summary of the team this year.

Now a member of the sports team at KOLR-10, Dan shares his passion of sports and storytelling through broadcast journalism. Dan loves the great variety of sports he has the opportunity to cover and the involvement and support each sport receives from the greater Springfield community. He dreams of one day working for ESPN or MLB and broadcasting nationally.

Dan’s “Mt. Rushmore of White Sox Players” includes: Joe Crede, Mark Buehrle, Paul Konerko, and Frank Thomas.

I struggled greatly answering the question for my favorite four Royals’ players, but eventually chose Dan Quisenberry, Alex Gordon, Bo Jackson, and Kevin Seitzer.

Under a blinding sun and in the bitter cold, with the outfield grass still wearing yesterday’s snow, we threw the ball across the gravel infield downtown. We didn’t rush our efforts, and got some longer throws in after “warming-up.” When the fingers of my glove hand started to tingle, we took a quick selfie and shook hands and finally discovered common ground.

Jake Burger.

Jake was one of the first players Dan covered when Dan moved to Springfield in the spring of 2017 and Jake played for MSU. I cheered for Jake when I was part of the grounds crew at Hammons Field. I’m pretty sure I caught one of his batting practice home run balls. (Most likely, that ball has already been used up, thanks to this year.)

Drafted in the first round last year by the White Sox, Jake tore his Achilles trying to beat out a ground ball during Spring Training. And then tore it a second time in his back yard. 

Dan and I would both love to see Jake succeed at the MLB level. 

I hope Dan gets the opportunity to interview Jake Burger when he makes his White Sox debut. I also hope Jake hits three home runs. But if it’s against the Royals, I hope they lose the game.

 

Day #316

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Chris was the first person to text me that I was an MLB.com notification. We agreed to play catch on January 11 (Day #11), a day filled with ridiculous weather. Once my book published, we talked about a possible music and poetry collaboration at some point in the future. On January 11, I could not begin to imagine what 2018 would look like.

Chris didn’t know what this year would become for him either. He won an Alaskan cruise and took his wife on an extended vacation at the end of July.

“The weather was absolutely perfect. Every single day was sunny, it was truly gorgeous and there was so much to see. We saw big brown bears much closer than you would want to see big brown bears.”

Chris showed me pictures of breath-taking beauty — waterfalls, humpback whales, and glaciers. He told me stories of watching sled dogs train in preparation for the Iditarod.

“There were at least 80 dogs, maybe more. They’d bring multiple sleds in and the dogs would just go crazy until they got hooked up to the sled, then they were focused, ready to run. The dogs that weren’t hooked up, though, they were so loud. It was incredible.”

Chris’s story reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s Winterdance.

Much like I read The Soul of Baseball each Spring Training, Winterdance is the book I read each winter, a book of a Paulsen’s courageous perseverance and ignorance as a rookie racing the Iditarod. I usually don’t even start thinking about Winterdance until after Christmas. I might have to break it out early this year.

Chris and I bundled up and headed to the ball field, determined to catch video proof of playing catch in the snow. We were successful.

When the snow on my glasses finally interfered too much with actually seeing the baseball come my direction, we stopped playing catch.

On Sunday, April 28, the Royals will host the Angels. Maybe there will be a Shohei Ohtani sighting. That same afternoon, about the time the Royals secure the victory, there will be a celebration of music, story, and art. Please mark your calendars and bring your gloves.

Who knows what weather will be like on that day.

Day #315

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Matthew slid into home as I walked onto the field. He then popped back up, dusted himself off, and tore around the bases to slide into home for a second time. On his third dash around the diamond, I tossed a ball to his dad (Day #290) and we tagged him out at the plate.

Matthew is 7 and dreams of one day playing for the Royals. We warmed up with a few grounders and some pop-ups before I learned that Salvy is his favorite player and catching is his preferred position.

So, I toed the rubber and practiced my pitching to Matthew. Once he squatted behind the plate, I remembered having my own Royals-catcher dreams.

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It took me a couple of throws to find the release point from the flat mound that was only 35-feet away from home plate. Eventually, we worked into a rhythm and re-enacted the last pitch of the 2015 World Series multiple times, complete with Matthew jumping up and down.

That memory is such a vivid expression of joy, which is an apt summary of playing catch with Matthew. He’s a child after my own heart, too, as he didn’t want to stop playing catch.

Lauren, his 5-year old sister, joined us on the field and also got involved in playing catch and running bases. I gave Matthew homework, “Before this week is over, play catch with your sister.”

We agreed that snowball fights count.

Only 50 catch-playing days left.

Who’s up for tossing a ball in the snow?