PLAY BALL!

Ever since he was a small boy growing up in Fairfax, Missouri, Will Horton was obsessed with baseball. Every chance he had he’d play ball with his friends and when no one was around, he’d put on his mitt and spend hours bouncing a ball off the old shed behind the house.  

In 5th grade Will was one of the starting pitchers for his Little League Team, the Badgers. They practiced three or four days a week after school and played a game every Saturday against the rival team, the Coyotes. By the time Will entered 7th grade, he qualified for the traveling team playing both home and away games.

Will lived on a dairy farm with his mother, June, and his dad, Tom. They tended cows, sheep and goats from dawn till dusk which was rough and demanding work. It was a hard life but the Horton’s were sturdy stock and enjoyed the farming life. 

Most nights during baseball season Will and his dad would enjoy watching the local Major League baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Will dreamed of one day playing with the Royals in Big K Stadium. He longed to go to a game but tickets weren’t cheap and Kansas City was 100+ miles from Fairfax. “Some day” Will would whisper to himself and fall asleep every night looking through his collection of baseball cards. 

On his 13th birthday Tom totally blew Will away with two tickets to the Royals game that Sunday afternoon. Will was so happy, his whooping and hollering got all the cattle skittish. “Sunday is three whole days off! I don’t think I’m gonna sleep a wink till then!” Will said excitedly. 

After what seemed like an eternity, Sunday morning dawned with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. After their morning chores were done, Tom and Will ate breakfast, then jumped in the truck for the drive to Kansas City. Will chatted all the way, going on and on quoting all the Royals stats. As they approached the city, they were in awe of its size. Driving into the Big K parking lot, Will swore it was the biggest building in all Missouri. Finding their way through the maze of gates and entrances, an attendant showed them to their seats. 

Will was speechless. The smell of peanuts, hot dogs and beer filled the air and the crowd was anxious for the game to start. Finally the Royals ran onto the field to the roar of cheers. They played a great game and won with a staggering score of 12 to 2. All the way home Will and Tom talked about the game. That night at bedtime he promised himself again he would one day be starting pitcher for the Royals. 

Time went on, Will graduated high school and was recruited by the University of Miami as pitcher for the Miami Hurricanes. After school he delivered pizza, saving what money he could. He was living the dream. One night that dream abruptly turned into a nightmare when Will’s delivery car was sideswiped by a truck and slammed hard into the side of a building. Will lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital .. his pitching arm amputated just above the elbow. He was vaguely aware of people in his room, hearing snippets of conversations – “Freak accident” .. “tried to save the arm” .. “tragic loss”  .. “baseball career over.” 

Will was devastated; his baseball days were over. He transferred to a college in Cincinnati, which was located across from the Cincinnati Reds ballpark. On game nights he’d go up to the school’s rooftop, wistfully watching the games. One dismal night Will pushed himself up and stood precariously on the ledge. A soft voice behind him said “You don’t really want to do that, do you?”

Turning his head slightly, Will saw a cute little brunette wearing a baseball cap. ‘What’s it to you? You don’t even know me.

“That’s true” the girl replied “but if you jump who’s gonna go to tomorrow’s game with me?

Will found himself smiling a little despite his depressed mood. This girl was cute and spunky. Offering her left hand, Will reached out and climbed off the ledge. “Hey, I’m Kate. Nice to meet you.” 

Kate meant what she said and the next day they went to the game together. Entering the stadium, Will felt alive again as all the sights, sounds and smells filled his head. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. He was home! Natural as can be, Kate tossed Will a mitt just in case a ball came flying right at them. She was a firecracker and he fell in love that day. They went to games in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and at their fifth game, Will proposed. Kate jumped into his lap, gave him a big kiss and said “YES .. under one condition, mister. We honeymoon in New York. I’ve always wanted to go to a Yankees game!” 

Will couldn’t decide which event thrilled him the most: his wedding day or actually stepping into the immortal Yankee Stadium. The experience was more than he ever dreamed and the game was perfect from start to finish .. even though his beloved Royals lost to the ‘Bronx Bombers’. They bought Yankee caps and jerseys and on the way back to their hotel he excitedly said to Kate “Let’s make a new tradition .. to visit as many ballparks as we can in our lifetime.’ Kate nodded happily in agreement. 

A couple of years later Will and Kate became the parents of twin boys. They loved playing ball in their backyard and Will even learned how to pitch lefty. They started playing Pee Wee Baseball and on their 4th birthday, Will made a big deal of presenting them with their gift. “This is a custom your mom and I started before you guys were even born. Now it’s time for you to join us in the ‘Horton Family Ballpark Adventure’!” 

Will beamed with happiness as his kids excitedly tore into the gift box to find two Royals baseball caps, official mitts and four tickets to the next Royals game. Will gazed at his family and suddenly realized THIS was his destiny all along. Winking at Kate, they grabbed a baseball, bats and mitts as Will shouted “PLAY BALL!”  

NAR © 2018

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