Dreamfield was originally non-fiction. Over the years, I had collected about fifteen stories of the intersection of baseball and life and had a few leads on new stories. Brian’s story was going to be one of the featured stories. It’s one of those stories I’ve held close to my heart for a long, long time.
In high school, Brian was my catcher. Even though he was on varsity and I was on junior varsity, he regularly caught me in the bullpen and during various drills. Like Mad Hatter (Day #324), Brian also called me Big E, which is absolutely hilarious if you ever see how small I was compared to the rest of my teammates.
“You always threw strikes. Never hurt my hand like Bratten and Al, didn’t have the movement of Casey, but you always threw strikes.”
I’ll take that tribute.
I loved pitching to Brian — his nonverbal affirmations, the way he pointed his glove to me, shifting his body weight to pitch inside or out, flashing signs for various pitches. Fastball. Curveball. Changeup. Brian was solid behind the plate and a fantastic teammate.
On March 4, 1990, Hank Gathers, a phenomenal collegiate basketball star at Loyola Marymount University, collapsed on the court seconds after scoring on an alley-oop dunk. Moments later, at the age of 23, Hank Gathers died from an untreated heart disorder, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Brian has the same diagnosis as Hank did. He collapsed on the field at Nichols Park. So much of what happened immediately following that is a blur. While someone administered medical aid, Coach Pittman gathered the team for prayers. Brian was rushed to Cox North Hospital, his heart shocked multiple times in the ambulance on the way. Over the past couple of years, Brian and I have talked about that day on multiple occasions. With his permission, his story is still featured in Dreamfield.
Jamie invited me to her classroom today to play guitar and sing Christmas carols for her students. I got to the school early to play catch with Brian.
For the last 26 years, Mr. Brian, as he is now known, has worked at Delaware, the same school where Jamie works. I call him “Catch” and he smiles.
Brian’s a Cardinals fan, of course, and I’ve seen him at the Springfield games on multiple occasions. He wasn’t able to make it to St. Louis this year, but did go to KC and took in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for the first time.
“What an amazing place. What a great experience.”
In the cafeteria where I ate my lunches from grades 2 through 6, for the first time since the beginning of my junior year in high school and using the same glove, Brian and I played catch.
“Now this feels great.”
He asked to see my grips again and I showed him a variety of the things I’ve learned from catch partners this year.
When the clock struck 1, the catch party ended and the singing began.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!