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The Rookie.

A League of Their Own.

42.

Field of Dreams.

All of the above are baseball movies I’ve connected to this year simply through a game of catch.

And now Moneyball can be added to the list. Well, kinda.*

In January of 2002, Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro were traded to the Oakland A’s by the Texas Rangers in exchange for Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick, Mario Ramos, and Jason Hart. Six months later, Pena was traded to the Tigers which was a big source of tension in the movie. (Not quite as much the book.)

In August of that same year, Jason Hart made his MLB debut with the Rangers. He walked in his first at-bat. His first hit was against the A’s.

“I doubled off of Mark Mulder at the Coliseum in Oakland, where I grew up going to games. It was a sigh of relief because I was about 0-for-6 up to that point. Eric Byrnes was in the other dugout and he was so pumped for me, cheering me on. It was pretty cool having a lot of friends and family there to see it.”

Jason’s teammates on the 2002 Rangers included Alex Rodriguez, Pudge Rodriguez, Chan Ho Park, John Rocker, Kenny Rogers, Michael Young, Rafael Palmeiro, and Carl Everett, just to name a few.

Before the Rangers, Jason played for Coach Guttin (Day #31) at then-SMSU, attending the college at the same time as I did. Drafted by the A’s in 1998, Jason excelled in the minor leagues before making it to The Show. Over the course of 10 games at the end of the 2002 season, Jason collected 4 hits in 15 at-bats, plus a couple walks. He started the 2003 season in AAA at Oklahoma City, but knew something was off from the beginning.

“Balls I should’ve been barreling I was just…missing. I didn’t know it at the time, because it happened so gradually, but I developed tunnel vision, too.”

Jason played the 2003 season with a growing tumor in his brain. The tumor grew to the size of a golf ball and was surrounded by a fluid-filled cyst which kept growing to about the size of a baseball. Located near the cerebellum, the softness of the cyst was a blessing, preventing damage to his brain.

In April of 2004, Jason had surgery.

“Immediately, I felt better. I could talk right after surgery, which was my first concern. And then I noticed how much more I could see, my vision returned to normal. I felt like I was ready to play, but had to wait a whole year for the skull to grow back together.”

After surgery, Jason did compete and played two more years of minor league ball.

Jason just finished his 7th year of working with the AA Frisco RoughRiders as a hitting coach. The RoughRiders compete against the Springfield Cardinals, so I’ll have to watch for Jason next year at Hammons. In the off-season, Jason spends time with his three daughters — taking them to school and picking them up; cheering at their basketball games; creating an atmosphere at home where it’s the place everyone wants to hang out.

Ryan (Day #100) introduced me to Jason and opened up the doors for us at CY Sports, which will become my go-to catch-playing place this winter.

“What day is this?” Jason asked.

“Day 254.”

“Sore?” he asked looking at my right arm.

I smiled and nodded. “Just takes me a little while to loosen up, then I’m good to go.”

Instead of taking swings, Jason’s now throwing BP for his players. He showed me his modified technique which involved stepping with the same foot as his throwing hand. I tried it a few times and felt horribly uncoordinated.

We told Coach Guttin stories and MSU stories and stories about being the dad of daughters. Jason’s big dream for the rest of 2018 is to take a family trip. As soon as he said it, I thought of all the miles we put on the Bryan Family Millennium Falcon** this summer, the amazing people we met, the incredible memories we made. I encouraged him wholeheartedly to go and have fun with his family.

“I have always respected the game and done my best to treat it and my teammates well. I think that if you respect the game, it will take care of you in the long run. Do the hard work and even if you don’t get what you’re shooting for, you can sleep well at night.”

Maybe The Sandlot should be next.

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*Hey Brad Pitt. I’m ready for a game of catch anytime you are.

**We hit 190,000 on the odometer on the way to school this morning. We celebrated with high fives.

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