What Happened The Day My Son Got His First Ever At Bat…
(By guest writer Steve Katsoulis)
So, my 9-year-old son Kiefer was diagnosed about 4 years ago with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It’s the worst kind there is. While we still battle our moments of sadness, he is still active and you wouldn’t really notice it until you watched him run. Anyway, earlier this winter he, out of the blue, said he wanted to play baseball this year. I was really surprised. He had never expressed that interest before.
We joined a local Little League team this spring and I have had the opportunity to help coach. But mainly I just stick with him and help him through. During one of the practices he got hit while batting … he had never hit or caught a ball before in his life. He cried and didn’t want to bat again.
How Team Sports Helped One Very Special Kid
Up until last night we had played about 5 games and he had yet to bat. After talking with him last week he made the decision he was going to bat on Thursday (last night). I was coaching first and he was on deck … bases loaded, two outs, down by one. I couldn’t believe the potential situation he was going to be in for his first at bat. Unfortunately, his teammate struck out. He sat in the dugout for the fielding half inning … he was calm, I was pacing. Trying to give him little tips. Finally, the inning ended and I had to coach first base. So, I was standing there as my little dude walked to the plate. Helmet too big, choked way up on the bat. He stood at the plate and the umpire sort of showed him how to get closer to the plate. His teammates’ parents were going crazy. His teammates were chanting. It was amazing. I was trying to take a picture of him. First pitch was high, but he swung … sort of a downward hack.
The previous inning something had caught my eye. It was the other team’s pitcher’s dad behind the fence at home plate. Throughout the first inning that his son pitched he was shouting things out about taking breaths, stepping to the plate, following through. I stress totally positive words of encouragement. Nothing negative at all. Just a dad enthusiastically cheering on his son. After the first pitch to Kiefer, his son’s next pitch was a lob that went high. The coaches on the other team who were right behind me sort of looked out at the pitcher and asked if he was tired and needed a break. At that moment I saw his dad come running over to their dugout and motioned to them to let Kiefer walk. At that point they understood. The next pitch was short (Kiefer checked his swing) … the next pitch was the same thing. Then the umpire asked if they wanted to intentionally walk him and they did. He comes running to first with this huge smile. I have the tears streaming. The coach from the other team comes out and high-fives him. The fans on both sides are standing and cheering. He gets to the base and says, “Dad have you been crying”? I told him how proud I was.
The next batter came up and the pitch went to the backstop which usually means the kids can run. Naturally I had him stay. Before the next pitch the coach tells me to have him run. Which I do. The catcher then throws the ball to the outfield. Once Kiefer got to second the ball came in to the pitcher and the coaches had him throw it to the outfield. At this point I think even these 9- and 10-year-olds knew what was going on. So, he did and everyone was yelling for Kiefer to run. And he did. All the way home. Everyone was going crazy. His teammates and the other coaches came running out of the dugout and were all over him. Picking him up and cheering. It was truly something I’ve never witnessed in person before. The coach for the team that was playing in the next game after ours yelled over to the opposing coach, praising the team for their awesome display of sportsmanship. All because one dad on the other team realized what was happening in that moment. As I was watching him celebrate from across the field, with tears running down my face, I realized this is what Little League should be about. And so did everyone else who was watching that game. I went over to that dad and to his son after the game and just thanked them for what they had done for Kiefer and for me.
(Steve ‘Katso” Katsoulis is a proud father of two and works as a freelance producer for ESPN.)