Baumhower: Baseball much more than a way to pass the timeWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | email@example.com
My son has always been a professional baseball player. I mean, he’s played for money and compensation since he was 4 years old.
Flashback to 11 years ago.
The rules for our front-yard game of catch were pretty simple: Every time my son successfully threw the baseball to my mitt, he would win $1, and every time he caught the ball, he would earn another.
The first couple of outings, Brady — whom I affectionately call Jackie — made between $5 and $10. We would end the evening session with tense negotiations, with management successfully able to negotiate the sum down for either ice cream or candy. Over the following weeks and months, our game continued. The amount of funds my son’s arm would generate steeply inclined to upwards of $100 a night, but since he was only 4 years old (without an agent), I was always able to escape by buying baseball cards and M & M’s.
This bribery scheme was hatched with a simple goal in mind; I wanted my “1 in 68” (1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum) beautifully gifted child to fit in. I believed at the time that if I could give my son the love of baseball — specifically the Detroit Tigers — we would have a venue for conversations and a chance to mask his unique traits amongst his peers. Miraculously, it has worked.
Years ago, the phone rang on a Sunday night; it was a parent of one of Brady’s kindergarten classmates. The unexpected solicitor wanted to see if I was interested in coaching T-ball. I have no idea why I was picked, or how many “nos” happened prior. I proudly accepted. The following evening was the night of our inaugural practice. Brady was outfitted in jeans, a Tigers T-shirt, an English “D” cap and carried a recently purchased bat.
As we walked to the baseball diamond, my son tossed and dropped his mitt with every stride. The first child that arrived moments later, Nick Olnhausen, was wearing a Mud Hens tee, white baseball pants and double wristbands on each arm. Nick was kind enough to bring his own personal catching equipment and batter’s helmet, in an equally nice baseball bag.
Many fears of fatherhood failure instantly flooded my soul.
T-Ball evolved into “coach pitch,” which turned into “kid pitch” and eventually travel baseball. My dream for my son, since that first time stepping on the grass at Sylvan Elementary, was for him to love the sport by the time his body’s coordination matched his size. My bigger fantasy was the hope that he could one day make his high school team. It wasn’t about potential letters sewn on overpriced jackets, but social acceptance.
When I was 9 years old, the Detroit Tigers won the 1984 World Series. The summer leading up to that Fall Classic might have been the greatest ever for children in Northwest Ohio. There wasn’t a single day we failed to play baseball. Armed with long yellow wiffle ball bats and tennis balls, kids would dream about being Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Larry Herndon or anyone else in Sparky’s lineup.
My favorite player was the center fielder, Chet Lemon. It wasn’t for Chet’s tenacity on the basepath but for the way he chased down fly balls in the outfield. No. 34 didn’t use the traditional and coach-endorsed method of using two hands; Lemon used one. I quickly adapted his style, and remember my dad yelling from the sideline, “Use two hands, Chet Lemon.” My dad was not a fan of Lemon’s approach to the game.
I knew if my son could find a Tiger of his own, he’d be cursed for life. Brady found No. 30, Magglio Ordóñez in late 2006.
One of the symptoms of 1-in-68 children is delayed speech. In ’06, Brady received a gadget that contained Dan Dickerson’s famous radio call of Magglio’s walk-off home run blast, which sent the Tigers back to the World Series that year. “Monroe edges off of second. … the one-oh, a swing and a fly ball, left field … it’s deep … it’s WAAAAAY BACK … THE TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!”
My son would play this audio track repeatedly, while mimicking Ordóñez’s triumph trot around the bases. He used this movement as a way to calm his brain, something he still does today. It did not take long before Brady’s speech started catching up.
His love of the Tigers became an obsession. Like many boys, he wasn’t a fan of books, but we started catching him reading (unprompted) and memorizing the back of the Tigers’ baseball cards. The statistics made sense to him.
As he learned about the inner-workings of the major leagues, the Toledo Mud Hens became the focal point of his education. He got to witness up-and-coming players, rookies and veterans on a rehab assignment, including non-Tigers like Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
He got to witness and interact with the Hens during one of their summer baseball camps, and proceeded to see the very same players later take the field in Detroit. Every season, we would take his current team to a Mud Hens game. On one of those team nights at Fifth Third Field, we watched on the Jumbotron as Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter.
For his 9th birthday, Brady was given the chance to throw a first pitch before a Mud Hens game.
He had recently started pitching, was fascinated by the mound and the alleged advantage given to the pros. During his Little League games, the pitching distance was 40 feet and his accuracy was suspect. Imagine a smaller version of Charlie Sheen’s character from “Major League” — before he got the eyeglasses.
With his teammates watching from the stands and two nervous parents watching from the infield, Brady took the ball, climbed the mound and delivered a 60 foot, 6 inch strike. The crowd was appreciative of his effort. As he left the circle, he acknowledged the cheers with a simple tip of the cap, like he’d been there a thousand times before.
Over the past decade, the Mud Hens have been a part of our extended family. Going to a ballgame at the corner of Washington and Huron has felt the same as a car ride to grandma’s house.
The game of baseball has provided a running topic of conversation between a man and his son.
It’s been a shared experience and a way for us to talk about many other things. This pastime has provided normalcy for my 1-in-68 child. Fifth Third Field has been the home of so many breakthroughs — I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Brady celebrated his 15th birthday on April 9. The Mud Hens’ season had yet to reach the Glass City. Five days prior, he pitched from another raised mound — the season opener for his freshman team.
While wearing the No. 30, Brady threw a complete game, allowing one run while striking out nine. It took 85 pitches and his teammates’ bats to give him his first high school win.
I don’t know where it goes from here, but I am excited to find out what he does next.
Happy Birthday, Jackie!