“Thanks to you, I’m playing catch with my grandson,” Emilio (Day #181) said.
Emilio greeted me with a mile-wide smile and a gorgeous Stetson hat on top of his head. He and I met over coffee this morning which was much needed after last night’s Royals game was delayed more than two hours by rain. I kept watching “just one more inning…just one more inning…just one more inning.” I didn’t last the whole game and confirmed the birthday victory first thing this morning.
“#HEYHEYHEYHEY” was posted on Twitter as soon as I could reasonably function.
After our game of catch, Emilio did just what he said he was going to do. He went and bought new gloves and now he and his grandson, Andrew, are playing catch on a regular basis. He showed me the pictures and the videos and told me the story of the broken window.
Sometimes broken windows happen.
“I’ve been following your journey almost every day. The greatest thing you have to give is how you tell your stories. Your stories are full of courage and give encouragement and hope.”
Emilio then gave me a list of several of his friends he thought would be up for a game of catch.
“I’ll be back in November! See you then, my friend!”
Emilio’s words and contagious joy hyped me up as I drove across town to Killian Stadium. Walking On Sunshine started playing and immediately it felt like I was living a movie montage. I sang at the top of my lungs and danced alone in the Bryan family Millennium Falcon.
Coach Hesse was waiting for me in the third base dugout, glove at her side. Coach Hesse has been the head coach of the Missouri State University softball team for 30 years.
“There is no better training ground than sports for developing life skills and making a difference in the lives of student-athletes. Teamwork, hard work, attitude, selflessness, mental toughness, I just love competition.”
Her playing and coaching resumé is incredible. She pitched in three consecutive College World Series and has coached the Bears to 5 NCAA Tournament appearances. She’s served on boards and founded academies to help enhance the skills of women coaches of all sports and was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame this past January.
Even with Emilio’s words still fresh on my heart, I was nervous meeting and playing catch with Coach Hesse because I knew she would want to use a softball and a softball just doesn’t feel right in my hands. I took a baseball with me just in case, but my instincts were correct.
I introduced myself and she introduced me to Sue and Beth, long-time assistant coaches for the team.
“They’ve both been part of my life for over 25 years. I can’t imagine doing this without them.”
I wore my Bears jersey and Royals hat which immediately drew the attention of the Cubs and Cardinals fan. We stepped out on the turf of the beautiful stadium and I got a lesson in fast-pitch softball pitching. Coach Hesse still plays catch all the time and regularly throws batting practice. I have no doubts that I could hit her pitching as long as I get thirty or forty or fifty swings. She showed me the various grips for the rise ball and fast ball and drop ball and change-up and I loved watching the spin on the ball as I caught almost all of them. I learned that almost no fast-pitch pitchers throw a knuckleball because hitters could see the grip — a dead giveaway of what’s coming.
After I tried my best to throw a softball straight and true, Coach Hesse sat me in the dugout and talked me through her brilliant philosophy of coaching. She wrote a book, “The Diamond of Success: A Philosophical Model for Coaching,” and if I ever coach baseball I am going to have to purchase it immediately.
We talked through the concepts of her coaching position by position and the more she talked the more I wished there was some way under the sun I could play ball for Coach Hesse.
Side note: Coach, if you ever need someone to shag fly balls during batting practice or just stand in the batter’s box while a pitcher is throwing or anything, please let me know!
“The most important thing I’ve learned as a coach is there are things more important than winning. It goes beyond the W and the L. Our student-athletes learn how to be bold and take risks, to go all in and put forth their best effort, to truly be selfless and play the game for the good of the team.”
This year especially, Royals fans know that there are more important things than winning!
On Saturday, September 22, the Bears softball team will play a doubleheader at Killian. I plan on being there, hopefully with Kaylea and Sophie in tow, to cheer on Coach Hesse.