“Dad, I Just Want to Play”

I have a 17 year old son that is a pretty good baseball player. He’s a pitcher specifically. Ever since he’s been 9 years old, all he wanted to do on a baseball field was get on the mound and do his thing. He is a do anything to win kind of player, so he’s always been a good baserunner and had quick twitch ability at the plate, but as his pitching progressed well beyond his hitting, he viewed the hitting part of his game as something that hurt the team. Therefore, when he was 15 he decided he didn’t care if he ever swung a bat again. Since then, he has fully commited to putting the time into the weightroom to maximize his ability as a pitcher.

I am lucky enough to coach his travel baseball team, which means I get to make all of the decisions when it comes to lineups and matchups. However, it also means I get long car rides with him to listen to him asking who he is going to pitch against and him telling me that despite throwing six innings a day or two before, he’s ready to go back on the mound to help the team if needed today. He’ll point blank tell me that he wants to face the best team we’re going to play that weekend. That’s just the kind of kid he is. Some kids would rather pad their stats against weaker opponents, but he always wants to know exactly how he stacks up against the best.

Last summer, all of his hard work was coming to a head. He was consistently throwing 84-83 MPH and doing really well against teams the toughest teams that we faced. By the end of the year, he was ranked as one of the Top 100 baseball prospects in the state of Indiana for his class. However, he wasn’t satisfied, he wanted more. He hit the weightroom even harder after the season, and he saw his fastball starting to hit 85 MPH. We were going to baseball prospect camps on Division 2 and small Division 1 campuses. As a father, it definitely stroked the ego a bit to know your son was getting attention from programs at the next level. Even more satisfying was seeing him go to the gym on a Friday and Saturday night by himself when other people his age were out with friends or doing the other self-destructive things that some high school kids tend to get caught up in. His drive and his passion seemed to really not have a limit to where he would end up in college. The kid who loved nothing more in the world than pitching was getting to do that in front of college coaches all across the midwest, and then suddenly something wasn’t right.

The last few times he went out to pitch in October, his velocity was topping out at 83 MPH. Nothing terrible, but not the 85 or 86 that coaches were looking for from a 2024 graduate in the fall. More importantly, he began to say his arm hurt or felt dead. He was enraged because he felt like he embarrassed himself in front of coaches and scouts. I just chalked it up to him being worn down by the long year of winter workouts, high school baseball, travel baseball in the summer, and showcases in the fall. He kept pointing to his biceps area when he was describing where it hurt, so I thought that he just needed rest from throwing and time to strengthen the arm.

He had a good two months off from throwing before playing light catch in December. It was at that point when he came home and said he was experiencing discomfort in the same area that I got concerned. We went to the the orthopedic doctor, and he didn’t seem overly concerned. In fact, we both walked out thinking that if he followed his regiment of exercises to strengthen the area of discomfort, and taking another 6 weeks off from throwing he would be fine. Unfortunately, when he played catch again in mid-January he felt discomfort in the same area. This sent us back to the orthopedic doctor, which led to an MRI, which led to the revealing of a tear in his labrum.

Tommy John surgery is synonymous with pitchers in baseball. It is so much so a fabric of the game and medicine that the recovery process continues to shorten, and basically every pitcher that has the surgery comes back quickly to their previous form. Labrum and shoulder surgery on the otherhand are often death sentences for pitchers. The shoulder is the most complex joint in the human body, and doctors will openly tell you that they never quite know what to expect until they actually get in there during surgery. The recovery process is lengthy, and the results are never gauranteed. When we got the news together that day, my son and I both reacted in our own separate ways.

As a father, I thought about how my son’s dream of playing high level college baseball was likely over. By the time he had surgery and was fully recovered, all of the D1 schools he might have had a chance to play at would have filled out their rosters. The good D2 schools would have likely wanted to see him actually throw 87-86 MPH before extended an offer to play for their program. And more importantly, I was going to miss out on a year of getting to watch my kid do what he loves. That window is closing for me and even if he played at the next level I certainly would no longer be able to watch him play every game like I have his entire life. I was also thinking about how I was going to spend a summer going all over the place coaching a team that my son was not going to be playing for. I was crushed, but I was thinking of myself.

Brady was crushed for different reasons. He wasn’t thinking about colleges, surgery, or velocity; he was thinking about not being able to play with his teammates. He went to a high school where he knew nobody as a freshman to avoid being treated like a number at a school just shy of 4,000 kids. He wanted to be given a fair opportunity to play and not be compared to his older brother or have a grudge held against him because of his parents. He struggled miserably that year to make friends and find any sense of belonging. Even though he was the one that made the choice, it crushed us as parents to see him so crushed mentally. We were truly worried about his health as a sophomore, and if baseball even mattered. However, because he’s such a tough kid, he chose to stick it out. In the process, he started to feel like he belonged and made great friends with his teammates. Those high school teammates were now who he was feeling for in his most difficult moment. He wasn’t thinking about himself, but he was thinking about how he worked so hard to have a special season with them and it wasn’t going to happen.

When we got home that night, we sat down and talked. We decided that since the damage was done he should just let it rip until his surgery. Find out what your arm can do and test it to see what’s in the tank. Initially it was a rollercoaster of feeling dead and not having much velocity, to the arm regaining strength as he also resumed heavier weight lifting. The damage was done, so screw it! Surgery had been scheduled, so any new damage they’re going to fix anyways.

He would come home and keep me updated on how things were going. How hard he was throwing, if he could command his pitches, how many pitches he could throw before the pain got to be too much. I just kept trying to stay positive, but I knew the right thing to do would be to just go ahead with the surgery scheduled for March 9th. He would discover on his own that his shoulder wasn’t capable of letting him do what he needed in order to be successful. As a dad I thought, if he gets surgery on March 9th, he would have the opportunity to throw for some schools by November. He even kept telling me that he was going to get surgery. Yet, that didn’t stop him from going to every practice, coming home, and then going to the gym by himself every night to get his weights and cardio in. It only started to depress me more to see him working so hard for a season that wasn’t going to happen.

Then, about a week before his surgery, he came home and walked up to me and said, “Dad, I want to play.”

I sat there in the moment as a father thinking about what was best for my son. I told him that I appreciated that he wanted to play, but the best think for him to do was to have the surgery. It was his best chance to get healthy and extend his career to the next level. He understood that, because we had talked about it before. He had messaged college coaches that were reaching out to him with fake excuses why he couldn’t come to one of their practices and throw for them, but none of that mattered now.

“Dad, I just want to play with my teammates. We have a chance to be really good this year, and I don’t want to miss out on it. I don’t want to let them down. They voted me as a team captain, and if I don’t get out on the field none of that means anything. I don’t care if PBR or college coaches come and see my pitch and I’m only hitting 84-83. I don’t care where I go to college, I just want to play baseball. I want to play with the guys in the summer too.”

He had me with the first sentence, everything else was just icing on the cake. How could I deny that to my son? As parents, we’re supposed to be the ones making the wise decisions for them, but at the same time we’re supposed to be the ones supporting their dreams as well. He wasn’t making this decision for himself. He made this decision because he truly loves the guys he’s playing with and playing the game of baseball. Nothing is gauranteed at the next level or in life, so take advantage of it while you can!

The next day I called up the surgeon and told them we were postponing his surgery. When they asked until when, I told them we don’t know. Every day I fear that today will be the day that his arm says I cannot do this anymore. As a dad, I just hope he can get through the high season he so desparately wanted to be a part of. On top of that, I hope he can go out and perform to the lofty standards that he sets for himself. Others will look at him and not have any clue what he is putting himself through just to be out there. Others will question whether he even has an injury. I think I’ll always question what could have been had he not gotten hurt. However, I’m just glad he’s going to play.

As fathers, we too often lose perspective on what is really important. If your son is a talented athlete, it can sometimes turn into a *&%$ measuring contest with other parents about how good your kid is and where they’ll end up after high school. But that should never be what your focus is as a father. I go back to the days when my boys were 3-4 years old, and you just hoped they would like to play a game you loved. You hoped that they would want to go out and practice in the backyard. You hoped that they would have enough ability to make it onto good teams and contribute. You just hoped that they wanted to play.

That’s why when Brady said those words to me, it resonated so deeply. As an adult, we rarely get to play anything. It’s what makes it so painful when you see it taken away from your kids. My oldest son got told he wasn’t good enough to play in high school. As a father, that really hurt. However, I want ever dad/parent to know that it shouldn’t define you. It hurts in the moment, but you loved that kid long before they picked up a baseball, and you’ll love them much much longer after they stop. It’s hard to see a time when your son’s status as an athlete isn’t wrapped around your identity, especially when talking to other dads, but it really doesn’t matter.

If there are parents of younger kids reading this, especially 13-15 year old kids, my biggest piece of advice is to just enjoy watching your kids play the game they love. The talent, recruiting, and rostering of kids will take care of itself, for better or for worse. If you’re constantly caught up in what is coming up next, you’ll never enjoy what is happening now. This injury to Brady has really helped me refocus my thinking as a parent. I am just going to sit back and enjoy every opportunity I get to watch him pitch, because I don’t know how many more I’ll get in my life. All of those times we went and hit baseballs together or played catch together, the times you dreamed of your son playing baseball, the times you picked out a new bat or glove with them, the times you dreamed about them being a star and going on to the next level, they all hit you at once when your son says, “Dad, I just want to play.”

Don’t ever forget why we wanted them to play this game. Don’t ever forget how happy it made you feel to see them have some success with it. And most importantly, don’t EVER forget how much fun playing a game was and always should be for your kid.

Published by mikegallo314

I have been in education for over 20 years, and it has been an amazing and rewarding career. I grew up on the east side of St. Louis, and I'm an avid sports fan. My three biggest addictions in life are the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, and University of Illinois athletics. I love listening to rock blues, and americana styled music. Throughout the years I have coached boys and girls basketball from the youth levels to the varsity level, and the last 10 years I have coached travel baseball. I have a passion for writing, and a long list of experiences and topics that I like to share my thoughts on. The best part about writing, are the conversations and thoughts that are shared as a result.

2 thoughts on ““Dad, I Just Want to Play”

  1. Great read. Will’s injury (congenital condition) and waiting for different doctors to weigh in on if he can play contact sports really makes me look at sports with a different perspective.


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