I emailed Derrick and he called Jessica at the Valdosta-Lowndes Parks and Recreation Association and she called Chris’s wife who passed on to Chris my desire to meet for a game of catch.
“It’s something I learned in the military, when an opportunity comes you’ve gotta seize it,” Chris said.
Derrick suggested we meet at Freedom Park and kept in contact with me and Chris to coordinate today’s catch-playing effort.
Chris is a couple years into his career in the Air Force as a helicopter mechanic. (I am pretty sure I would score a zero on any mechanical aptitude test.) Chris has coached little league for four seasons and loves watching his players grow in their understanding of the game, seeing the difference from their first game to their last.
“Baseball is a game of the meeting of the simple and the complex. I can explain the basics to you in just a couple of minutes and we can spend a lifetime studying and learning all the nuance.”
Chris was accompanied by his son, Cameron. Cameron is getting ready to start middle school next fall and dreams of piloting a fighter jet. Cameron is the catcher on his baseball team and wore a shirt that Aaron (Day #170) would have loved — “Steal. I dare you.”
After a quick introduction and with little sister in the stroller serving as a witness, we spread out for a game of catch near the Georgia Pines.
Chris wore a Cleveland Indians hat and t-shirt so we had to talk about divisional rivalries and favorite players. In a season in which all the numbers are pointing to the Yankees winning the World Series, I’d much rather cheer the Indians. He brought up José Altuvé’s name “because Cameron is one of the smallest players on his team.”
I know that feeling quite well.
In high school, I wore the #2 jersey for the junior varsity team because the #1 jersey was lost. I was the smallest player on the team both years I played. As a junior, I gave up the game because I was ignorant and foolish and thought I needed to be at least six feet tall to be a success. It took me years to learn and appreciate that baseball is truly a game for all, from José Altuvé to Aaron Judge to Mary Moore (Day #152).
Chris told me that Cameron’s season is already over, finishing around Memorial Day. I can’t imagine wearing all the catcher’s gear in southern heat and humidity. Thankfully, today was overcast and a steady breeze helped keep the heat at bay. After catch, Derrick interviewed Chris and Cameron. I sat on a bench and spotted a red-headed woodpecker while I stretched my arm and lower back. Instantly, I had a flashback of Woody the Woodpecker.
While we played catch, Derrick took pictures and notes. Derrick is the Sports Editor for The Valdosta Daily Times and it’s just not every day a family from Missouri is driving through town hoping to find someone who’ll toss a ball on a lunch break. Derrick interviewed Jamie and Kaylea and Sophie as we ate a fast-food picnic lunch in the van.
He shook our hands and sent us off with best wishes on our journey, for we have miles to go before we sleep, so many miles to go before we sleep.
Thank you Derrick, Chris, and Cameron for helping me on this adventure!
Baseball really does bring people together.