The Royals and Cardinals were tied at 2 when I pulled into the parking lot of US Ballpark. US Ballpark used to be the stadium for the Ozark Mountain Ducks. Jamie and I went to one Mountain Ducks game at the formerly named Price Cutter Park; Dad bought me a souvenir mesh hat.
Thanks to the work of Mark Stratton and company, the new field at US Ballpark is in great shape. Field turf makes the playing field easily adaptable for teams of all ages. There’s a massive scoreboard past the right field fence visible to those headed south on 65 highway. And the concessions are reasonably priced and taste great.
I sat down next to Simone behind the dugout of the Aussie Spirit and commented on her drink of choice.
“Dr Pepper is my favorite drink in the world!”
As soon as Simone said those words, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. And then when Simone told me her baseball story, I was speechless.
Simone was a pitcher for the Australian women’s national baseball team.
She grinned, “Overhand. Not underhand.”
In 2002, Team Australia won the Women’s Baseball World Series. She was named the co-MVP of the tournament.
In the 2006 Women’s Baseball World Cup, she was chosen as an All-World starting pitcher.
“I could hit locations with my breaking stuff. I never really threw the ball hard.”
Twice, Simone has been elected as the Australian Women’s Player of the Year.
And in 2012, she was the first and only female inducted into the Australian Baseball Hall of Fame.
I was going to play catch with a Hall of Famer.
Simone is currently working with the Aussie Spirit in a logistical capacity which sounded completely overwhelming.
“When we were in KC, I did get to see a Royals game. They played Tampa Bay, though, and didn’t look very good.”
I remember well watching my team getting swept by the Rays.
Simone will be traveling with the Spirit, then switch to baseball, then take a week off in LA watching her favorite team, the Angels.
“I can’t wait to see Ohtani pitch.”
She pulled her glove out of her backpack; it was striking. I love a well-used blue glove. Where most players have their names engraved into the leather, there were two characters and her number just above the thumb.
“A friend gave it to me after knee surgery. It means, ‘Warrior.’”
I told her of my one connection to an Australian baseball player. Last year, side-arm reliever Peter Moylan was one of the best pitchers in the Royals bullpen. I loved watching him pitch. Thanks to his arm slot, all of his pitches had incredible movement. He reminded me of one of my favorite pitchers all-time — Dan Quisenberry. After one game, I sent Moylan a tweet asking him if he would consider being my catcher if I ever was invited to throw out a first pitch.
“Deal,” he replied.
I never got the opportunity.
Simone and I stepped on to the field behind home plate and played catch with a new softball. My knuckleball was pathetic, but she was able to get good movement on a 12 – 6 curveball. In retrospect, I should have run out to the van and grabbed a baseball. I have the utmost respect for the players on the Eagles and the Spirit and their skills with a softball, but a softball just doesn’t fit well in my fat fingers.
It started to sprinkle and I got a text from home requesting my assistance.
The moment I got back in the van, Drew Butera drove in two runs to put the Royals ahead in the top of the 10th inning. The Royals went on to win the game 5 – 2 and their second series of the season.
In two days, I’ve played catch with incredible athletes from China and Australia. I never could have imagined that back in January.
Thank you, Aussie Spirit and Beijing Eagles, for playing catch with me these past two days and sharing your incredible stories. You’ve got a fan for life in Missouri.
Baseball brings the world together.