When Life Throws You a Curve
By Ethan D. Bryan
Editor’s note: Ethan Bryan embarked on an exciting quest to play catch every day for a year. During that year, he encountered many interesting people and walked away with valuable life lessons. This post covers day 130 in his quest.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” —Joshua 1:9
I love playing catch with southpaws. They can’t throw the ball straight. Not that people who throw the ball right-handed always throw it straight, but there is something about the way lefties throw the ball that imparts a nigh physics-defying spin and makes it do fun and unusual things.
There is a reason baseball created the term “crafty lefty”—a designation for someone who doesn’t necessarily throw hard but has incredible movement on their pitches and pinpoint control. There really isn’t an equivalent for righties. If there were, maybe I could have kept playing ball. And lefties who can hit 100 mph on the radar gun also catch the attention of scouts and teams, even if they are older than traditional ballplayers.
In the fall of 2017, just after the start of the MLB postseason, I was invited to write poems as part of Missouri State University’s creative writing club’s fundraiser for Ozarks Literacy Council, a nonprofit organization that provides free literacy tutoring. Inside Siceluff Hall, I quietly sat at the end of a white folding table while talkative, extroverted tablemates half my age tried to convince passersby of their need to donate a dollar in exchange for a poem. I had committed to writing for three hours, which included a changing of the tablemate guard. Once I tired of writing haiku, without any pressing poems to write for paying patrons, I engaged my new tablemate in conversation, asking ridiculous question after ridiculous question and answering her questions in return.
For some unexplainable reason, I asked her, “Have you ever seen the movie The Rookie?”
The expression on her face dramatically changed. At first, I assumed it was because she was so young she had never heard of the movie. And then I wondered if she’d misheard me, and I tried to think of other phrases that might sound like “the rookie” and could be construed as offensive. She reached for her backpack, unzipped it, and rummaged through it.
“It’s been a hard couple of weeks,” she said. “So I went to the library and checked this out.”
She pulled out a well-worn DVD of the movie.
“It’s my favorite movie, the one I always turn to whenever I need an encouraging word. I’ve watched it every day this week after class.”
In my backpack was a copy of a novel I’d written, Dreamfield, which was endorsed by Jim “The Rookie” Morris. “Ethan takes us on an incredible journey to his past. In the process, he learns the important life—and baseball—lessons of never giving up on a dream, being present in your life, and allowing God and your faith to carry you through. This is a must-read!”
I’d printed off the email with his endorsement and carried it around in my back pocket for weeks, until I accidentally left it there and washed the jeans and shredded his words. I handed the book to my tablemate and told her to look at the back cover.
“The Rookie endorsed your book?” she asked.
For the next hour, our conversation took on a different tone. Because we each connected to Jim Morris’s story, we were able to talk openly and honestly about all aspects of life. People find hope when they see someone who could be their coworker, their neighbor, or even their friend chase their dreams and accomplish the seemingly impossible.
At 35, an age when ballplayers start contemplating retirement, Jim broke into the major leagues and pitched for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. On September 18, 1999, he made his debut and struck out the first hitter he faced on four fastballs. (The third one was fouled off.) Disney made a movie of his story starring Dennis Quaid. Jim made his acting debut as “Orlando Umpire #2.” I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen the movie. It’s one of those movies that, when it’s on TV, I’ll stop channel surfing and watch until it’s over.
Day #130: Jim Morrison
In May 2018, on a day of baby-blue skies and pollen-coated cars, on day #130, I drove to Kansas City to visit Jim, who now travels the country as a motivational speaker, encouraging and empowering people as they strive to make their dreams a reality. I can’t imagine how many thousands of times he’s told his story, but as he told it to me, I could feel hope welling within. After visiting with him, I wanted to do something epic.
Just beyond the right-field fence, in a tree-lined grass patch, we played catch and I secretly hoped some of Jim’s dream-chasing baseball mojo might rub off on me. To this day, I continue to hold strong to my ridiculous baseball aspirations. My dream has been the same for the last 40 years of my life—to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals. If anyone could give me pointers about making that dream come true, Jim had to be the expert.
Jim is also a southpaw. He used his glove that, along with his jersey, was on display at Cooperstown for six months. I loved watching the tight spins on his breaking pitches and the life and movement he had on his four-seam fastball. He gave me a major league education on throwing a knuckle curveball and a split-finger change, and adjusted my slider grip and release point.
“Life is a grind, just like the baseball season,” Jim said. “If you think you’re beat, then you are. The key is to choose hope. As long as you still hold on to hope, almost anything is possible.”
Chasing dreams takes a little bit of crazy, a lot of courage, and every bit of never-give-up one can muster.
“Life is never going to stop throwing things at you,” he said. “How you choose to react determines whether you grow or give up. God took me, the person least likely to be a speaker, and turned me into a storyteller. For anyone who hears my story, I want to encourage them to find ways to give to those around them. You gain so much more when you learn to give. I hope that’s what people take away from my story.”
Southpaw stories, like life and chasing dreams, are rarely straight.
Adapted from A Year of Playing Catch: What a Simple Daily Experiment Taught Me about Life by Eathan D. Bryan. Click here to learn more about this book.
Journey with prolific author and avid baseball fan Ethan Bryan on an exciting quest to play catch every day for a year, and discover the lessons he learned about the sacredness of play, finding connections, and being fully present to the human experience.
Ethan Bryan played and wrote about baseball for years. Then his daughters challenged him to set out on a yearlong experiment: to play catch with someone every day. This experience led him across 10 states and 12,000 miles on a quest both quixotic and inspiring.
Taking you from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the home of the Daytona Tortugas in Florida, Bryan played ball and swapped stories with public school teachers, veterans, journalists, nurses, musicians, entertainers, entrepreneurs, athletes from every level—amateur to pro—and members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Plus, he visited famous destinations such as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Miracle League fields, and the original “Field of Dreams” in Iowa.
But throughout the book, Bryan reveals it’s about much more than who he played catch with: it’s what he learned from their vastly different stories. Lessons include:
- How play can reignite a fire within you and transform your life
- How to find joy in the simple things
- How one life can impact a whole community
- … and more.
For baseball fans and everyone who loves a good story, A Year of Playing Catch is an inspiring journey about finding joy in the simple things, and the power of play to transform our lives.
Ethan D. Bryan is convinced that good stories bring people together. His baseball stories have landed him an invitation to the White House, an invitation to speak at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and brief appearances in two documentaries.
Ethan lives in Springfield, Missouri, with his wife, Jamie, and daughters, Kaylea and Sophie. He still dreams of playing baseball for his beloved Kansas City Royals. His writing can be found at ethanbryan.com or on Twitter at @Ethan_Bryan.
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