“I would like to dedicate playing catch to Mom,” Byron said.
Conversation stopped for a couple moments after he said that.
Byron’s mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s ten years ago. He sold the family farm and moved her to Springfield so he could help take better care of her. She hasn’t recognized him since last December, although she once informed her roommate that she had a baby and named him Byron.
When Byron mentioned Alzheimer’s, I remembered Nate who worked for the Alzheimer’s Association (Day #13) and his stories affirming the simple power of presence.
“The support Mom gave me, through all my playing days, through all my years of coaching, it is impossible to overstate her impact. It didn’t matter how I did on the field or how my teams did, her support was constant. And now it’s my turn to be there for her.”
Byron grew up a Cardinals fan and played shortstop at Licking High School, the town that used to have two Rawlings factories. He pitched in relief on occasion because he threw strikes consistently. He played second base at Harding University and started his coaching career after college.
Byron coached high school baseball for 28 seasons, accruing all of baseball’s best accolades, including back-to-back state championships. He’s returning for his ninth season as the part-time assistant pitching coach at Drury, where he coached Miami Marlins pitcher Trevor Richards for three seasons.
“He’s the first one I’ve coached to make it all the way to the big leagues. I remember worrying about him pitching against William Jewell, and now he’s pitching against the Yankees.”
Not just pitching against the Yankees, but winning. In his August 22 game, Trevor threw 5.1 innings, struck out 9, and only gave up 2 runs. Trevor’s change-up has been featured on Pitching Ninja multiple times which is one of the highest of pitching honors. I can only hope to make Byron and Pitching Ninja proud if the day ever comes that I throw out a first pitch for the Royals.
Byron’s pitching philosophy is quite simple.
“Don’t walk hitters. Throw your fastball for strikes.”
I first met Byron several years ago, back when I was chasing down batting practice fly balls for Drury and Drury’s home field was Meador Park. He asked for someone to catch one of his pitchers and I volunteered. I then got the opportunity to throw a few pitches myself. After twenty pitches, doing my best to work inside and outside and back inside again, Byron shook my hand. “Good work. You threw strikes.”
In 2015, Byron was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame as one of the winningest high school baseball coaches in state history.
“As a coach, you learn a whole lot about people. Really, it doesn’t matter what your job is, if you’re a teacher or work in insurance, if you do your best, that’s all you can do. Imagine the difference that could make in our society if every single day everyone truly busted their tail and did their best.”
Gusting winds helped my string-straight throws appear to have movement as we played catch on Drury’s football field across the street from the baseball team’s indoor facility. The majority of my time was spent laughing as Byron entertained me with his adventures as a coach. He really needs to write a book.
His bus driving stories and being the only male coach at the school and coaching all the sports stories and senior trip stories were hilarious. I heard the story how he hurt his shoulder and still threw batting practice for another fifteen years. Through it all, he was keenly aware of his mother’s faithful support.
In my ball playing days, I remember coming home and stripping out of my uniform so Mom could bleach my pants and wash my t-shirt jersey so I could wear them again the next day. This year, I’ve met several baseball moms who love the game mostly because their child loves the game, who drive their ballplayers to practices and games and clinics and tryouts and eat meals on the go.
So, today’s game of catch is for mothers everywhere.