Late Friday afternoon, we found ourselves racing down a New Jersey highway. Well, “racing” is an exaggeration. We were crawling, stuck in bumper-to-bumper weekend getaway traffic. I nervously eyed the clock.
Ryan was due at the ballpark at 5 p.m. for the finale of his week at sports broadcasting camp. He was due to interview players and managers on the field before the Somerset Patriots minor-league baseball game against the Lancaster Barnstormers, then call five innings of play-by-play into a digital recorder.
We were going to be late.
Once, that would have been cause for panic, as Ryan’s anxiety about being late kicked into overdrive. Maybe even very recently. But not on this night. I looked into the rear-view mirror and saw Ryan happily listening to his iPod, the device that has made travelling anywhere in the car markedly easier. He was psyching himself for the upcoming assignment with some classic U2. He was aware of the time. He also wasn’t worried.
He asked a couple of times if we were going to be late. We told him the truth, but assured him that we weren’t the only ones likely stuck in this brutal traffic. We told him he would still be able to conduct his interviews.
We pulled up to the park 10 minutes late. Ryan and I dashed for the gate, spying one of the leaders of the camp, Brooklyn Nets play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle. He greeted Ryan and they walked inside. I called after Ryan to tell him we’d see him at the start of the game in two hours.
No big deal, right? Except it was a huge deal, on so many levels. His willingness to embrace baseball represented a broadening of his horizons that was once difficult to achieve. He studied diligently. He asked me about stats. He learned the rosters of the Patriots and Barnstormers. He practiced calling play-by-play over major league highlights from MLB.com.
Veronica and I went off to dinner, where we toasted what had just occurred — dropping Ryan off, with no panic about being late, at a baseball game that was still two hours away, at the end of a highly successful week at camp. A camp where Ryan was one of the youngest attendees. Where he knew only one other camper, who was in a different part of the program. Where he had jumped into a completely new experience without many of the supports that are typically built-in to his school experience. And he was thriving.
We ate a pleasant meal before returning to the park about 6:30. The camp arranged for a block of tickets one section over from where the campers sat in a large group, all calling the game into their recorders.
He told me about his interviews and said he was ready for the game. Veronica and I settled into our seats for date night at the ballpark.
The game was slow. Like, really slow, as the Lancaster pitcher struggled to get anyone out. The first two innings took an hour. We worried that Ryan was getting bored. But every time I looked over to his section, I saw him animatedly chatting away into the recorder. I could tell he was still engaged.
We checked in with him once or twice more, but mostly left him alone and tried to enjoy the game.
The assignment was to call five innings of play-by-play. As soon as the last out was recorded in the bottom of the fifth, we went over to collect him and found him already packing up his bags. The assignment was complete. He was ready to go.
As he packed up, I found Mr. Eagle. I thanked him for having Ryan at the camp and said that he’d had a wonderful week. He indicated that he thought Ryan had enjoyed it. As we shook hands, he pointed back at the pack of kids, some still calling the game and said, “This part? He was really good. I mean, really good.”
I could tell he meant it. I thanked him again, gathered Ryan, and we were off.
I had an idea to play Ryan’s recording through the car speakers on the drive home. Ryan shrugged and put his iPod back on.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, Ryan’s voice came on, strong and confident.
Somerset Patriots, just about to enter the field. Now, with the best first half, the Somerset Patriots have already clinched, but for the Barnstomers, they need to win this game. …
The best player on Somerset has been Corey Smith, has it? Well, you bet it’s been Corey Smith. He’s had 10 home runs, 51 RBIs, third in batting average. And he’s been one of the best players, been up at bat 296 times, he’s only struck out 37 times. He’s had 88 hits, 22 second bases [doubles]. Another player, big, it’s going to be Johnny Tucker, and he’s batting first for Somerset. Tucker only a .247 batting average. He’s played 78 of the 98 games now. He has 27 home runs and 37 runs batted in. And quick feet, actually, 13 stolen bases for Somerset, so he’s a huge reason as well.
He was, in a word, fantastic.
Veronica and I kept exchanging glances. The unspoken exchanges, of which we’ve had many, said “do you believe this?”
He was engaging, and engaged. He was funny. He displayed a deft knowledge of baseball, all learned in the past couple of weeks. He correctly called a sacrifice fly. He used what he had been taught about repeating the score and recapping the game periodically. He did his own commercials. At times, he had a conversation with himself, playing the role of both play-by-play and color announcers. At this I had to laugh. Ryan seeks realism in everything he does. He studied by listening to MLB games, where there are always two announcers. He didn’t have a partner for this broadcast, so he was his own partner. He’s nothing if not resourceful.
We kept turning to the back seat to tell him how proud we were. Proud of him for trying something new. Proud of him for embracing the assignment and doing his best. Proud of his effort to study and learn the subject.
It took us almost an hour to get home. On the recording, Ryan was still going strong. I looked down at the recorder. The track was TWO HOURS long.
My son, the one with attention and focus issues.
The one who rarely embraced anything new.
The one who once couldn’t find room to follow any sport besides hockey, because he’s a hockey guy and to follow another sport would be like cheating on his first love.
Had just called a baseball game.
For two hours.
Without a break.
I spent the next day figuring out how to transfer the recording to my computer. When I can figure out how to scrub it of a few personal details, I will share it here.
We have learned, during this parenting journey, to celebrate little things (which of course aren’t little at all). But that comes with a small price. I never want to short my son of his full potential by only celebrating his mere participation. Yes, just making it through the door of this camp was a sign of progress, and a cause for celebration.
But Ryan did so much more than that. He embraced the opportunity. He worked at it. He enjoyed himself. And he was GOOD AT IT. It’s OK to celebrate making it in the front door. But I never want to do so at the cost of recognizing how much more was achieved.
Ryan is making a habit of turning the surprising into the routine. Yes, there are still plenty of bumps in the road, and those aren’t going away. But I am so proud of the person he is becoming and of the way he embraces life, pursuing the things he’s interested in with an intensity that leaves me jealous.
“Hockey talker” is one of the few occupations Ryan has ever expressed interest in. Maybe I once thought it was far-fetched.
I don’t think so anymore.