Written by: Jeremy Baumhower
My son has always been a professional baseball player. I mean, he’s always played for money and compensation, since he was 4 years-old.
Flashback: 11 years ago.
The rules for our front-yard game of catch, were pretty simple; Every time my son would successfully throw the baseball to my mitt, he would win a $1, and every time he caught the ball, he would earn another.
The first couple of outings, Brady, would make 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 of catch would continue. The amount of funds my son’s arm would generate, steeply inclined upwards of $100-a-night; but since our last name isn’t Rockefeller, and he was only 4 years-old (without an agent), I was always able to escape with buying baseball cards and or M & M’s.
He would eventually get paid 50 cents for first-pitch strikes and a dollar per strike out. Brady was in a hitting slump and his mom jokingly promised him a PS3 if he hit a triple or home run. Her 11 year-old son, hit the first pitch of his first at-bat and the ball sailed over 300 feet. Brady stopped on third base, looked at me, and grinned. Brady had a new PS3 the following week– his mom honored her word.
This bribery scheme was hatched with a simple goal and dream; I wanted my “1 in 68” 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 running topic for conversations and a chance to mask his unique traits amongst his peers. Miraculously, it has worked.
The phone rang on a Sunday night, it was a parent of Brady’s Kindergarten classmate. The unexpected solicitor wanted to see if I was interested in coaching tee ball, I had no idea why I was picked, or how many “nos” happened prior, but I proudly accepted.
The following evening was the night of our inaugural practice. Brady was outfitted in jeans, a Tiger’s t-shirt, an English ‘D’ cap, and a recently purchased green bat ($20). As we walked to the baseball diamond, my son tossed-and-dropped his mitt, with every stride. The first child and future teammate arrived moments later. Nick Olnhausen was wearing a Mud Hens’ tee, white baseball pants, autographed batting gloves, and double-wristbands on each arm. Nick was kind enough to bring his own personal catching equipment and batter’s helmet, in a equally-nice baseball bag ($150).
Many fears of fatherhood failure, instantly flooded my soul.
Tee 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 long enough, so when his body’s coordination would match his size., any potential talents would be utilized. 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.
Chester Lemon vs Magglio Ordonez:
When I was 9 years-old, the Detroit Tigers won the 1984 World Series. The summer leading up to Fall Classic, might have been the greatest 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 to be 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 base-path, but for the way he chased down fly balls in the outfield. Number 34 didn’t use the traditional, and coach-endorsed method of using two hands, Mr. 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 his approach to the game.
I knew if my son would find a Tiger of his own, he’d be cursed for life. Brady found #30, Magglio Ordonez. in late 2006. Magglio hit a walk-off home run, that sent Detroit back to the World Series. One of the symptoms of 1-in-68 children, is delayed speech. Brady received a gadget that contained Dan Dickerson’s famous radio call of Magglio’s blast. “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 Ordonez’s triumph track around the bases. He used this movement as a way to calm his brain, something he still does today. It did not take long, but Brady’s speech start catching up.
His love of the Tigers became an obsession. Like most 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.
Mud Hens’ Educational Enrichment Program:
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 rehab assignments, including non-Tigers like Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka. He would watch and interact with the Hens during one of their summer baseball camps, and proceed to see the very same players later… take the field in Detroit. Every season, we would take his baseball team to a Mud Hens game. One of the team nights, we were at Fifth Third Field, and watched on the jumbo-tron as Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter. The boys and the rest of the crowd went nuts, as the umpires were not impressed with the unapproved stoppage of play.
For his ninth 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 raised mound and the alleged advantage given to the pros. During his little league games, the distance was 40 feet, and his accuracy was always 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 with his effort. As he left the circle, he acknowledged the cheers with a simple tip of the cap, like he’d been there a 1,000 times before. It was one of those parental moments, where you simultaneously laugh and shed a tear.
Over the last decade, the Toledo 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 an ongoing shared experience and a way for us to talk about many other things, unrelated to the sport. This pastime has provided normalcy for my “1 in 68” child. Fifth Third Field has been the home of so many breakthroughs– it’s therapeutic for our entire family.
Brady celebrated his fifteenth birthday today, April 9th. Five days prior, he pitched from another raised mound– the season opener for his Freshmen team. While wearing the #30, Brady threw a complete-game, allowing one run, while striking out nine. It took 85 pitches and his teammates’ bats, to award 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!