Sporting a Kansas City Royals cap, with Braves Field at Curtis Walker Park as a backdrop, author, storyteller and Springfield, Missouri-native Ethan Bryan played catch with Braves co-founder and Conway optometrist Bill Patterson.
Bryan, who, inspired by his daughters, vowed to play catch every day in 2018, asked Patterson about the Braves and how the program started.
Patterson told Bryan of how his son, Ben, was diagnosed with neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation disease at the age of 8, which inspired Bill and his wife Kim to found the Braves in their backyard.
Bryan was getting information while playing catch with Patterson for his blog “For the (G)love of the Game,” where he has written stories about other people he has met on his journey.
Bryan’s journey has led him to being featured on Cut4, an MLB.com subsidiary.
Now that Bryan is about halfway through the year, and a upper Midwest tour under his belt, he has met a host of people and heard their stories, just like Patterson.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Bryan said. “We went from Springfield to the northern half of the U.S. and this guy reaches out to me and says he’s in Wallingford, Iowa. He said there are 180 people in the town. This guy moved to this city and was diagnosed with testicular cancer and his family moved into what used to be the town’s schoolhouse.
“He has a field next to that where the kids used to go outside. Well, he took it upon himself to control this overgrown field. He would weigh down a fence to drag the infield. Now, he has kids from all these surrounding cities to come play at his ball field. Stories like that, I would have never heard when I started in January. What’s weird is, people are saying yes to me. It’s great and I’m thankful my arm hasn’t gotten sore and it has been getting stronger. I am so inspired by the people that I meet.”
Bryan said he has been playing catch since he was young.
“I grew up and playing catch, and I love it,” he said. “When I travel, I take my glove with me just in case I go to a ballgame or in case an opportunity comes up. As a writer and as a person, whenever something strikes me and I tend to put all my heart in it. This past offseason was a historically slow offseason. Nothing was happening baseball-wise in January. I just happened to make the right comment at the right time and MLB asked to write a story about it.
“Our winter was horrid this year. I was trying to find people who would want to play catch in 10 degree weather. They would say ‘yes.’ For the last 10 years, almost all of my writings have been about baseball, and there are two mantras that have guided my writing: Baseball tells the best stories and baseball brings people together. This project has been the culmination of those two mantras. I’ve been meeting all kinds of people through baseball. It is just ridiculous and hilarious.”
Telling stories is exactly what Bryan is doing.
“When I started this, I didn’t know I wanted to tell people stories,” he said. “When I started, it was more flying by the seat of your pants and learn as you go. The very first day was one degree on Jan. 1. My youngest daughter said we needed to take a picture, so I said OK. She also told me I need to write a story. I put on the blog, ‘Thirty throws in one degree weather. Our hands were hurting, but we played catch.’ That afternoon, my older daughter said she’d play catch with me. It had warmed up to four degrees. We go outside and the wind was so strong. Your hands were stinging. I took a picture and wrote a story. The blog said, ‘It was cold, our fingers hurt, our glasses fogged up and we played catch.’ You just learn as you go and improvise. I’m about halfway through the year and I really do enjoy it. I am so inspired by the people that I am meeting.”
While Bryan is writing other’s stories daily, he says there’s a good chance he will compile the stories.
“My writing mentor, his name is Robert Benson,” he said. “He has been teaching me about writing for 10 years now. He says, ‘You know you’re living a book, don’t you?’ I can’t think like that. It’s way too much pressure. He says, ‘That’s fine, but next January, you know you lived a book.’ I thought about it one day, and I thought every day’s story into a book, it would be longer than anything J.K. Rowling wrote. He says, ‘keep at it one day at a time.’ I have no idea what it will look like, but yes, there will be something.”
When 2018 ends, Bryan said he will keep playing catch, and keep telling stories.
“I will continue to play catch until my arm falls off. I can’t imagine stopping, unless there’s a tear or something. I’m having too much fun. There’s so much serious, stressful and weighty news going on in the world, we forget to have those moments of joy and fun.”
Bryan’s journey can be followed at https://whisperedwriting.wordpress.com/.
Catch Bryan on the Catch 365 tour in a city near you.