It’s Opening Day! Because of this very fact, I’m posting a story I wrote a few years back. The more I study, grow, and live, the more I realize that “Everything Is Spiritual.” Enjoy!!!
And it was over.
Up 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth against Wheaton College and our All-American closer pitching, a spot in the championship game was ours. But like a hole in a sand sifter, the game slipped away. On a 3-run homerun lifted in the blustery day at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin, the game ended 4-3.
However, this last swinging strike ended more than just a game, more than just a season. It was the end of a great book, one that you enjoy reading so much and ends so abruptly, that you feel both heartwarmingly satisfied and deeply saddened by its conclusion. It turned the last page of a 19 year story that began on the t-ball fields of John Null Park.
After we accepted our third-place trophy, I motioned for my older brother Ryan to come on to the field. I grabbed two gloves and handed him my dirt-filled Wilson catcher’s glove.
“Wanna have a bullpen?” I asked. We began walking toward the bullpen at Fox Cities Stadium.
Fighting back the tears, I half-jokingly muttered I should’ve been a pitcher, referring to the pain I’d endured from catching.
Around the time Ryan was ending his two-hit 12-year-old season and taking an early retirement from the game 19 years ago, he was putting a bat in the hands of his three-year-old pesky little brother. Ryan took to teaching me a game he loved more than he could play. Grounders into the waning hours of the day, diving into the front yard flower bed to snag balls and caking my sweat pants with grass and mud; batting practice sessions on our own Field of Dreams, a converted cow pasture across the railroad tracks behind our home; mock at-bats, Ryan crouching behind the dish as both catcher and umpire while I pitched.
More than 19 years later, like we’d done thousands of times before, we began playing catch in the bullpen of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Seattle Mariners’ Class A affiliate. With the wind blowing crisply on that warm, early summer day and the field crew beginning to clean up what was left of our Chapman University hearts, the ball moved silently between our gloves. This game of catch became much more than simply throwing a string-filled orb back and forth.
I mentally drifted back to the days of Ryan pushing me to take visual cuts every night before bedtime; encouraging me to follow a pre-game routine of eating Wheaties and listening to Eye of the Tiger in his blue Toyota Carolla tape player on the way to John Null Park; and forcing me to swing an old wood bat 50 times a day.
Ryan was the pitching coach of my 11- and 12-year-old Western Little League all-star teams, serving as my bullpen catcher and pre-game motivator. But as I became older and more advanced in my skills, Ryan became less a coach and more of a cross between the ultimate fan, a sports psychologist, and a big brother. With each lowlight and highlight I endured through baseball, I imagine he felt them as I did, but still searching for meaning to bring to each situation.
After we tossed the ball around a bit, Ryan told me to get on the mound. As I began my windup in the Timber Rattlers’ bullpen, I became that eight-year-old, out in the back yard and throwing through the tire he had set up on the playground set. I was that little brother who begged Ryan to let me play homerun derby with his high school friends at St. Rose Catholic Church.
As I continued my windup, I became that kid who spent days practicing my whiffle ball pitches out back at Alexander Memorial Whiffle Ball Park so I could strike out him and his friends Curt and Ben — eventually developing the nastiest screwball this side of Lake Sacajawea.
I aimed for Ryan’s glove and let go of the ball, and with it flew years and years of impassioned discussions of how to achieve goals, the path to the Major Leagues, the dedication it would take to achieve such an outlandish dream, and the mental skills requirement of letting go of failure and approaching each at-bat 0 for 0.
Smack. A perfect strike.
The crisp sound of a game that had taken two brothers — one a mentor and a coach, the other a product – through a gamut of emotion into a bond uniquely formed only brothers, I believe, can truly understand.
In the same way that Ryan and I watch The Field of Dreams with symbolic yet hauntingly real reverence, the last 19 years were our “Field of Dreams.” We created our own fields in driveways and cow pastures—and lived out our separate yet completely inseparable dreams. The lines between baseball and life had become blurry.
I threw another pitch. Another strike.
With words choked and lost in the swirl of the wind – or perhaps the moment — we stood together in that bullpen arm over shoulder.
“This game has taught us a lot about life,” he said. “You are good man. You are becoming a great man. Now we have another boy to raise. John, I want you to help me raise Cy.”
Smack. The book had closed. No longer just older brother and younger brother. No, life had somehow noisily shoved us past that point. There were others now, like his newborn boy Cy.
It was one of those moments like a scene from a movie. In fact, better. It was deeply spiritual, a game of catch that had taken all of our previous games of catch, all our memories connected to baseball, and rolled them into the perfect game of catch.
It was a book bound by a bond of dreams and brotherly love and filled with pages of countless games of catch.
Thinking back, it wasn’t intentional I had only thrown two strikes, but perhaps fitting. While the story of this dream is over, maybe there are more chapters to write, more books to pen. There are more pitches to be thrown. More boys to raise. More fields to be created. More dreams to be fulfilled.
No, this was no ordinary game of catch.
This was the catch of dreams.