I woke up at 6:30 to the sound of rain, one of my least favorite weather obstacles. After getting dressed, putting on my t-shirt that most closely resembles a Buck O’Neil and KC Monarchs jersey, I stuffed multiple changes of clothing into my backpack. Bring it, rain.
The rain brought it. All morning.
Thankfully, Jake (Day #33) was a skilled chauffeur, navigating rush hour traffic and the rain, even driving me past an empty Kauffman Stadium on the way to the first game of catch.
I met Dave because of Sungwoo. Dave helped chauffeur Sungwoo around KC during his short and magical stay in the summer of 2014. Dave has since visited Sungwoo in South Korea, watching baseball, seeing the sights, daring to eat all the foods, and dressing as a king. I’ve seen the pictures. He was in Seoul when the South Korean president was impeached. He compared being in the middle of a parade to the presidential palace with the raw emotions of the 2014 AL Wild Card game. I’ve also seen the pictures of Dave playing ball at Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp. I loved hearing his stories of baseball under the high skies of Arizona, getting two hits for Cookie Rojas and playing ball for John Mayberry and Kevin Seitzer.
On the last day of 2018, Dave and I met at the Fox4 studios in downtown Kansas City for catch. Dave and I tossed the ball in close (but thankfully dry!) quarters which helped keep my nerves at bay during the interview. I received a personal invitation to Dave’s Epic Opening Day Tailgate Experience which is only 87 days away.
Come quickly, baseball!
The T-Bones came to Kansas City in 2003 as part of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. This past September, the T-Bones won their second league championship, beating the St. Paul Saints in a best of five series. Chris has been with the team from day one, taking over General Manager responsibilities in 2008. He got his start in baseball serving as the batboy for the Royals during their 1985 World Series run, a job he kept through high school and college.
“I grew up in a major league clubhouse, with my heroes, getting the chance to work with them. And now I still get the chance to work with them as friends.”
Chris listed the names of players he knew from his Royals days who have continued to help him during his tenure with the T-Bones. The pictures lining the wall of his office served as a witness to his stories.
On the last day of the year, Chris was picking out the championship rings. I was privileged to get a sneak peek.
The rain continued to fall, but the concourse kept us dry as we played catch. Chris told me stories of Buck O’Neil’s at bat in the 2006 All-star Game — “He was supposed to walk, but couldn’t keep from swinging” — and Willie Wilson’s day back on the field in 2011 — “Of course, he wore #6 and hit lead-off.”
The Bermuda grass was yellow waiting the return of warmer temperatures and players shagging flies. The infield was flooded, courtesy the unyielding rain.
“Nothing’s easy. Keep the dream alive. Plow through and persevere.”
The Kansas City Urban Youth Academy officially opened in March 2018 with a mission of empowering the youth of KC through baseball and softball. The skills the athletes learn at the academy prepare them to be leaders both on and off the field.
Darwin spent five years in the minor leagues. On his 25th birthday, playing at Charlotte, North Carolina, he hit two home runs and a triple. He grew up playing shortstop and switched to the outfield later in life. Drafted by the Pirates, Darwin learned about playing the outfield under the eyes of Bill Virdon.
“Bill Virdon made me a 100% better outfielder. I worked with him in the instructional league, in Spring Training, and whenever he came to one of our minor league cities.”
Darwin knows how baseball raises leaders. He shared stories of watching Barry Bonds work in the field. The Spring Training days Darwin spent in the major league camp, Bonds teased him to no end, asking the rookie if he thought he was going to get Barry’s job. Darwin replied that he just wanted a job. Darwin had utmost respect for the man in the 500 home run, 500 stolen base club.
“Of the guys I saw playing in my era, Bonds is simply the best.”
Darwin is now the Executive Director of the KCUYA and passes on his wisdom to the next generation.
“I am truly blessed to impact other lives here, to continue to be around the game every day. Not many people get that opportunity to work in their love and passion.”
Before coming to KC, Darwin lived in Houston and got the opportunity to spend time with baseball legend Monte Irvin.
“Mr. Irvin was just a wonderful gentlemen, a pure southern gentleman. He made you feel like the more important person. The first time I met him, he wanted to talk about my five-year minor league career more than he wanted to talk about his career as one of the true greats of the game.”
While high school players were practicing turning double plays behind us, Darwin and I played catch on the warm and dry infield, just past the Alex Gordon fence.
“Play every game like it’s your last. The time goes by way too fast.”
Jake kept a watchful eye on the time as we traveled back across KC under snowfall.
Big, fat flakes fell alongside the rain.
At least the snow was pretty.
Jeff Passan is an MLB columnist for ESPN — “starting tomorrow.” He’s the author of New York Times’ Bestseller The Arm, a book which took him four years to research and write. I deeply admire and appreciate the diligence and passion it takes to stay with a story that long and bring it to life. Stories from that book stayed with me throughout this endeavor. There was always a small part of me worrying and waiting for a pop or tear. When I visited with players on travel teams and other young fans of the game, I tried my best to recommend the book to their parents as a must read.
“The youth baseball system, not just in America but in the world, is broken and our relentless desire for competition at an early age will wind up leaving a generation of broken arms if we don’t change our priorities.”
Jeff speaks both from passion and as a parent of two sons who have a talent for the game.
I love how Jeff shapes his stories and have read the vast majority of them. His favorite story of 2018, though, surprised me.
“My favorite story was my biggest screw up, saying Shohei Ohtani couldn’t hit. It reminds me how fallible I am and how incredible baseball is. Some of the brightest minds in the game can look at someone and see something and be so incredibly wrong. To me, that encapsulates the beauty of the game.”
In the rain and the snow, we played catch. Trying our best to stay as dry as possible, we played a version of speed-catch. My plant foot landed in a mud puddle and slid and I immediately felt the effects in my quad and hamstrings. My PF Flyers were soaked and I could not have cared less.
It was a joy to meet and play catch with such a fantastic baseball writer, even in the rain and the snow and sloshy mud pits.
Friends from Kansas City encouraged me throughout the year and expressed interest in participating. Just up the road from the Frank White softball complex, which left multiple permanent scars on my legs from the few seasons I played softball, we planned to gather for coffee and catch.
Except the coffee shop was closed. So, catch commenced immediately.
Jake and Kaylea and Sophie and Gabe (Day #187) and Katrina (Day #266) were joined by a host of new catch-playing friends.
Brandon is in charge of all things embroidery at Freestyle Graphics and helps bring Squints Apparel’s ideas to life. He was instrumental in the printing of the Sungwoo shirts to help raise funds for the Bishop Sullivan Center. He gifted me a one-of-a-kind Squints hat with a Wendy Peffercorn kiss print — the Sealed With a Kiss Edition. It is gorgeous.
Leslie, Alexis, and Sabrina have been friends from church who encouraged my quirky and folksy vocal and guitar efforts. Leslie understands my ridiculous passion for Royals baseball and was thrilled to be a part of Catch 365. Sabrina’s planning on playing softball next year and we even convinced Alexis to throw the ball. Just once.
Brenna and Gracie were the youngest participants of the day, preferring mittens to ball gloves and grounders to pop-ups.
When I played guitar at church, Jesse used to be my drummer. We had an annual tradition of playing my arrangement of Little Drummer Boy which gave him a long solo. “Just the other day, my daughter asked me, ‘Dad, what’s that song that goes pa rum pum pum pum?’ It was awesome, dude.”
After thirty minutes of catch, everyone had wet socks and cold fingers. So we found a different coffee shop.
365 days of playing catch.
530+ different catch partners.
12 road trips in the Bryan Family Millennium Falcon.
7 really good sliders I’ve thrown.
2 books written.
1 new glove perfectly broken in.
Countless incredible memories.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Tip of the hat to all of you.
Nash had to work and couldn’t meet for the community game of catch.
“Got time for one more game?”
I spent a year working with Nash on a book called Jesus is for Losers. The book was a conversation about imagining what it could look like to live cooperatively and collaboratively in a culture obsessed with competition and winning at all costs. (See Jeff Passan’s comment above). A publisher bought the manuscript. A year later, they returned it.
We lost the publishing game.
Over and over and over again, this catch playing year taught me brilliant and beautiful things happen when people collaborate, say yes, and take risks to do something new.
Nash is a southpaw and a musician, playing and writing for the local KC band, Tiny Escalators. His dream for 2019 is to continue playing, writing, and growing his music, for music also brings people together in amazing ways. He works for the library in downtown KC and brought me a gift: the end-cap card with the Dewey Decimal numbers for the catch-playing book.
Just a few hours before the end of 2018, with the help of Christmas lights hanging from the gutter and the headlights of the Bryan Family Millennium Falcon, we played catch.
Terrance Mann: “There’s something out there for me, Ray. And what a story it’ll make: a man being able to touch the perfect dream.”
Ray Kinsella: “Then you’ll write about it?”
Mann: “You bet I will.”