It’s been a fabulous blessing to my son, Ryan, but also a real challenge, as well. When we found out he had some interest from some colleges to play baseball this fall, he was ecstatic. When choosing a school meant he’d be hundreds of miles from home, we were tentative. My advice for Ryan: follow your dream, wherever it may lead.
With that, my son and I set out on a whirlwind adventure. Since his finals are coming up, Christmas is imminent, and airline tickets are increasing daily, Ryan and I decided to check out these schools, pronto. We made our arrangements, enlisted the help of family and friends, and set out on the baseball college quest.
We left on a Wednesday afternoon, right after Ryan’s last class at school. We were seriously cutting the time close, and Ryan’s girlfriend, Brooke, drove as if she were on the Autobahn. Ryan and I ran through the airport and made it to the gate in just enough time.
“We pulled an O.J. Simpson in that airport,” I commented to him after we made our way onto the plane. He looked at me quizzically. “Of course, you don’t remember the O.J. Simpson commercials for Hertz when he would run through airports, leaping over obstacles, back in the day.” He gave me a disapproving look and put in his earphones.
Later that afternoon, we landed in Dallas, Texas, to check out a small school in a Dallas suburb. We ate at the Texas Roadhouse (of course–nice prediction, Brooke!) and met up with the coach. He said they were looking to complete their pitching staff and had heard great things about Ryan. As we drove onto the campus, we were met by a guard gate, complete with an arm barrier that raised as we entered the campus. We drove along a tree lined drive and marveled at the beauty of the campus itself. I wanted to go to school there! Once we made almost a full circle around the entire campus, we found the baseball fields. The coach met us there and escorted us around the campus on that brisk Thursday morning.
I was in awe of the beautiful trees and surroundings and commented to Ryan that Texas had an abundance of leaves, something that is lacking in Arizona.
“It must stink to have the job of raking all these leaves, ” he said. Leave it to Ryan to hate a chore.
As the coach took us from building to building, I found myself thinking that I could see Ryan living there. The campus was small, easy to maneuver, and the coach told us that the guard at the gate keeps record of the time that every person enters the gate past 11 p.m. When he mentioned 2 hour study hall that is monitored by a coach, I was sold.
Then, came the bad news: Ryan would have to make up a class in Arizona before he could play on the Texas team. That meant taking an online class over the Christmas holiday to prepare for January classes in Texas! Also, Ryan struggled a bit while pitching, and his nerves didn’t help. He was welcomed to the team, but told in no uncertain terms that he would have a secondary role.
Ryan was dejected, but I told him obstacles are meant to be overcome, and I mentioned the O.J. Simpson commercial again. For some reason, he did not see the humor in my analogy and pointed out the error of my logic: things didn’t turn out too well for O.J. Point well made, logical son.
So it was off to Philadelphia for a dinner-sized layover and then off to Columbus, Ohio, the second destination in our baseball college quest. We arrived at 11 p.m., grabbed a rental car (not from Hertz), and drove our way over to Springfield, Ohio. Once we checked into our room, we settled in and Ryan watched “Sportscenter”. Of course.
The next morning, I wandered out to the common area to graze on the continental breakfast. There, I met an Amish family who was also in the breakfast line. We smiled and exchanged pleasantries, and as I was pouring my coffee, I admired their traditional Amish dress. I wondered if they took a gander at me in my sweat pants, clipped up hair, over-sized t-shirt and socks. Then the whole family sat down to eat together and watched t.v.! I felt like I should call the Amish police!
Ryan and I then made our way through the cornfields of Ohio to a small school north of Springfield. Ryan asked me where the city was located, and I explained that the three stoplights in the town constituted “the city”. He looked at me in disbelief. The closest my big city boy has been to farmland is Farmville on Facebook. Quite the culture shock.
While the college campus was not as scenic as the previous school we visited, the enthusiasm of the coaches far exceeded their predecessors. They made Ryan know that he would have innings to pitch and that he would be a key player for them. They assured him he would be a “big fish in a small pond”. To Ryan, it felt more like a birdbath, but he was excited about the opportunity. I appreciated the extra time they spent with us and the stress they placed on the education factor of school. While Ryan questioned whether he could live and attend school in an area smaller than his high school, he couldn’t help but appreciate that they wanted him, pitching style unseen.
When our day had ended, we had a lot of information to absorb, as well as a flight to Minneapolis to catch. We Hertz’d through the airport once again, just in time to make our flight. We then took our connection flight back to Arizona, where we arrived just after midnight. We had touched five states in two days!
Ryan has a big decision ahead of him-choosing a school. He must weigh his options and his feelings very carefully and I will support him in whatever he decides. While I am sad to see him go, I know that this is just the experience he needs to grow up. I spent seventy-two straight hours with my 20 year old son. It was interesting to spend so much time with him since our schedules at home are so varied that we some times miss even seeing each other for days. I got to see how naive he is about some things (no Ryan, you can’t joke about bombs in the security line) and how wise he has become (he was the voice of reason when I was all stressed about making it to our plane in time). I hope he uses the chance to play baseball somewhere other than home to learn how to deal with all the lessons of life. Especially the obstacles.