Colten spent three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit after he was born. In the days that followed, I wrote a song for him and sang it to him in front of his mom, a couple of nurses, and the countless angels in that sacred space. To this day, I think it was one of my most important performances.
In time, Colten was diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Prader-Willi is a very rare genetic disorder with no cure. When Colten’s mom, Casey, returned to work, my wife was his first babysitter. Our family developed a special love for Colten as we shared life with him and watched him grow up.
Just a couple weeks ago, Colten turned 11. Matching digits are always good baseball numbers — Buck O’Neil, Kevin Seitzer, Hank Aaron.
When my family made college preview plans, I sent Casey a note asking if Colten would be available for a game of catch. And then I learned that, for his birthday, Colten was gifted a new glove.
Colten greeted me at the door, “I missed you so much, Ethan!” Which was quickly followed by, “Wow, you’ve gotten older,” “I got a new glove for my birthday,” and “Wanna play catch?” Of course, I agreed immediately. Colten rushed to his room and grabbed his glove, handing it to me with a smile full of pride.
Grant, Colten’s dad, told me that the glove still needs to be broken in, which immediately reminded me of the time my dad broke in my new glove.
After spending two hours picking out “the one” at Bass Pro Shops, we took it home and Dad carefully placed a grass-stained and concrete-and-asphalt-scuffed baseball right where I wanted the pocket to form. He then tightly molded the glove around the ball and tied it closed with multiple shoestrings. He filled a five-gallon bucket with water and dropped the new glove in, leaving it there for a several minutes until it was thoroughly saturated. Setting up a temporary clothesline in the garage, Dad hung the glove up with a couple of clothespins, allowing it to air dry.
It took five days of forever that fall for my glove to dry — five days of coming home after school and squeezing the leather to see just how damp it still was. Five days of sighs and reaching for my old glove. Five days of pre-internet waiting. That is still the glove I use to this day.
We stepped outside and Colten told me about his baseball team, his love for the Denver Broncos and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and we both cheered that Mike Moustakas has re-signed with the Royals.
He practiced his pitching and then invited me to play basketball with him at the goal across the street.
Colten said three sentences that will stick in my mind for a long time.
- While eating a snack after catch and after basketball, “Ethan, I love you.” Everyone needs to hear those incredible words more often.
- “You’re funny, Ethan!” It’s a gift.
- “Wanna watch a Royals game with me?”
We plopped down on the couch and celebrated when one of his favorite pitchers, Kelvin Herrera, pitched a 1 – 2 – 3 inning, finishing with a strikeout.
As with any rare disorder, life for Colten and his family is full of challenges.
But Colten is both a miracle and a gift.