Blog

From the Batter’s Box to Bookshelves

March 14th, 2018

By Jake Gronsky and Luke Melms

Jake Gronsky’s story “A Baseball Field and A Cornfield” published last summer struck a cord with all who read it.

This week is the sequel to his story.

He’s gone from his time ending in the batter’s box within the St. Louis Cardinals organization to bookshelves in less than two years.

After chatting recently we decided to do a collaboration to share the story of a writing project he began with a family he got to know while playing that turned into a published book.

Luke: Your original story that you wrote last summer “A Baseball Field and A Cornfield” is still one of the most viewed stories published on BaseballandBusiness.com.

Towards the end you wrote, “The greatest thing about a season is that it begins and it ends, or perhaps, it ends, and therefore it is allowed to begin again.  Life on a baseball diamond was the single greatest season my life was fortunate enough to hold, but now it’s time I make sure the fruit doesn’t ripen on the vine and wither away.”

Was this idea somehow foreshadowing this project?

Jake: Perhaps in some ways it was. Like we’ve spoken about, it was an honor and privilege to play professional baseball, and quite frankly, a dream come true. But then I was told I couldn’t play anymore. My dream ended.

Change never comes easy but if we face it head-on, change could be the greatest gift the world can give to us. For me, getting cut was just that. I felt like I had lost my dream, but didn’t see that I was given a clean-slate. As human beings our value is not found in a job title, a pay check, or a prospect ranking, and sometimes it takes losing that image we have of ourselves to actually see the one looking back at us in the mirror. I am eternally grateful for the gift baseball gave to me, because even though my first dream ended, I feel like I am just beginning.

LM: You’ve done anything but let your talents off the field go to waste. Since last summer you’ve co-written a book and received a publishing offer from Sunbury Press for your storyA Short Season: Faith, Family, and a Boy’s Love for Baseball. How did the book come about and what is it all about?

JG: I met Dave and Josiah when I was rehabbing with the State College Spikes in 2015. Josiah is an honorary bench coach for the St. Louis Cardinals and [You can listen to Jake and Dave speak at length about how they started writing this book on the BookSpeak Network here] the moment I met him, I knew there was something special in this little man. But when I met Dave [Josiah’s grandfather and co-author], I was blown away by their family’s courage.

Josiah has Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome which is a terminal childhood illness that ages the body 10 years for every 1 year of life. It’s a horrific disease, one that no child should have to experience.

But this story is more than a child with a disease. It’s more than baseball. This is a story of hope.

This book is told through Dave’s perspective and brings the reader the raw, unfiltered story of his life growing up in one of the worst child abuse cases I’ve ever heard, to his family breaking apart, to the miraculous life of Josiah that forced his family on a painful journey towards healing.

This is a story that shows us that no matter what you are going through, you can either let your circumstances define you, or you can choose to live with the joy and happiness this family was forced to find. This story brings you to that choice. The rest is up to you.

LM: We originally connected through LinkedIn in 2015 and had lunch after one of your Spring Training games in 2016. Meeting Josiah after your game and seeing the relationship you had with him was very telling to me upon us meeting in person for the first time of how genuine of a person I was going to get to know.

Between myself, Josiah and Dave, these are just a few examples of building genuine relationships that have continued beyond your playing days. You are a great example of maximizing the platform baseball provides while playing.

What advice would you share with current players on building relationships beyond teammates without compromising their focus on the field?

JG: Well, thank you, Luke. I think it’s quite simple: care about people and be genuine.

LM: Both as a current and former player you have lived out what it means to be more than an athlete.

Transitioning from playing to business full time is never an overnight success story. From your own experience, what advice would you share with fellow former players that may be trying to figure out life after the game especially in business?

JG: By no means am I a “success story” but I think I started moving in the right direction when I stopped trying to replace baseball. I will always want to play the game. Still to this day I want to lace my cleats again and I know that’s something I’m just going to have to live with.

But now I’ve dedicated myself to writing in the same way I dedicated myself to baseball. I guess my advice would be to simply apply the same mentality you had with your sport to something that’s interesting to you. And the word interesting is important. You don’t need to find a second love or second passion right away, just an industry or job that interests you and challenges you. AKA you don’t need to propose to a new industry on the first date.

Luke: How can we get our hands on A Short Season: Faith, Family, and a Boy’s Love for Baseball?

You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

Luke: Thanks Jake! You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Gronsky or connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking here. To learn more about what Jake is up to with writing, visit his website at www.jakegronsky.com.

To purchase your copy of A Short Season: Faith, Family, and a Boy’s Love for Baseball, click here. Proceeds from the book go to support Josiah’s medical costs and baseball travel expenses.


Courtesy of the authors, BaseballandBusiness.com is the only place you can read Chapter 1 for free. Enjoy it in its entirety below! 

Chapter 1: He’s My Treasure

We dropped our bags on the hotel floor. Josiah and I had finally escaped the blazing sun that made my eyes more wrinkled and weathered from squinting than the sixty years of life I had previously walked. It was March, and the sun in the eighty-five-degree piercing blue sky burned our pale skin raw after exiting a plane from the forty-degree, gray slush pile we called home.

We were in a new world—a world we thought was out of our grasp of reality. The flat, hot, sticky coastline of the sparkling Atlantic Ocean remained a sharp contrast to the bitter cold mountain air of central Pennsylvania. It was a contrast none of us could prepare for. But then again, all of this was a journey none of us could have prepared for.

“Dave Bohner,” I hesitantly said to the woman at the front desk, hoping we were in the right spot.

“Dave . . . Bohner,” she repeated, typing my name into the computer. She leaned in and squinted at the screen to double check she wasn’t mistaken. “With the St. Louis Cardinals?”

“Yes! That’s us!” I shouted as I looked down to my grandson, Josiah, who had the biggest smile on his face, and I couldn’t help but join him.

“I have you booked for six nights in our corner suite. You’ll be down the hall with the rest of the team.”

They must have made a mistake. Six nights?! With the team?! As the words came out of the receptionist’s lips, Josiah was giggling with excitement. I graciously thanked her, but I think Josiah’s laugh told her more than my words ever could. We were here; we were finally here.

I glanced around the lobby and my eyes were drawn to the waxed and buffed floors that gave the room a mirror sparkle that highlighted what seemed to be the white-gloves, black tie, reservation-only hotel restaurant. The chapel ceilings of the lobby suspended glass chandeliers and led to each room’s poolside string of cabanas just outside of the patio’s decadent French doors. We stood in awe of its beauty and elegance and imagined all the kings and queens that had walked on these sparkling floors.

OK . . . maybe a DoubleTree hotel isn’t actually as luxurious as it felt, but to us, it was the Ritz-Carlton. The whole experience felt like we were courted by the Queen: flying down for spring training, staying with the team, and three full-access passes to the St. Louis Cardinals just didn’t seem possible. But then again, to be standing here after the journey this little boy fought through, our line between possible and impossible has permanently blurred.

The hostess placed our keys alongside two walnut chocolate chip cookies. Before she could hand them to Josiah, we saw two figures walking down the hall. One was taking a sip of water through a protein shaker and the other was burying his head in his phone as the two walked toward the restaurant like robots. But as soon as one saw Josiah, his face lit up: “JV!!”

The name “JV” meant only one thing: They were St. Louis Cardinals baseball players from the 2015 State College Spikes, and as the words leapt out of the player’s mouth, the other’s head shot to attention and a big smile came to his face.

“Get over here, buddy!”

Josiah took off.

At age twelve, Josiah is twenty pounds and only thirty-six inches tall. He has a bright smile; cute, plump rosy cheeks; and a small voice that can bring the toughest men to their knees. But his fragility comes with a price. His knees bulge over his twig-like legs, exposing skeleton where muscle should be. His ankles wobble and buckle with each step, barely holding his frame. And his transparent pink skin reveals the dark veins running across his face. Just one look shows the harsh reality this little boy faces, but just one laugh shows the joy that remains untouchable.

In the past year, walking had become a challenge. Josiah’s strength had started to fade, and his body was deteriorating. His knees bulged more than years past, and the winter had made his hips tighten much faster than we hoped. It’s the harsh reality of a terminal illness that no child should have to face, but to Josiah, it’s just another day.

Josiah pumped his arms and scooted his legs as fast as he could to see his friends but only gained about six inches with every step. The players covered the rest of the distance and greeted him with a big hug. They said their hellos and initiated the handshakes they had created last season. What was going to be just a mundane dinner routine for the two players had become a cheerful reunion of laughter and hugs.

I looked over to the receptionist, and she tilted her head and frowned. She put her hands over her chest and said, “That is the cutest little boy I have ever seen.”

***

Our excitement was no longer concealable as we headed toward our room. Josiah giggled all the way through the lobby after seeing his old friends, and his old friends laughed the entire way to their dinner. I pushed our luggage cart over the polished lobby floor and saw a memory of central Pennsylvania: a waterfall. It wasn’t much, just a modern accent piece, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

The thin layer of water running down the face of marble made me smile every time we walked past the lobby during those six days. It drew me back home, reminding me of the beautiful falls hidden within the mountains that defined our family’s lives. Not just the Appalachian Mountains, but also the mountains that stood between our family. My fight through a childhood spent in abuse, my daughter’s struggle for her family, and Josiah’s fight for survival seemed like boulders put in our way that we could never overcome.

Whether we wanted to or not, we were forced to climb them, and with each attempt, and each failure, we grew stronger. We prayed through the difficult days and rejoiced for the good ones; but in the moments of our greatest pain, we found love. Our journey has shown us that salvation is not perfection. Salvation is knowing that tests and trials only strengthen our faith, and through our greatest challenge, we found our greatest hope.

Now when I see the beautiful waterfalls our Appalachian Mountains hold, I no longer see just falling water. I see grace. I see forgiveness. I see a family. And to find the love that we now share as a family, to me, the journey over each mountain was worth every step.

I smiled as we passed the waterfall, but Josiah’s excitement quickly turned into a dragging labor of pain. He had almost reached the elevator when his knees began to give.

“Wanna ride on my shoulders?” I said, seeing his legs weakening.

“No.”

Usually it would be about halfway down a hallway before his legs fully gave out, but the excitement carried him almost to the first turn. He stopped and tried to take another step, but his knees kept wobbling. He tried to push through, but the more he attempted to move, the more his knees kept buckling. He lowered his head, knowing he couldn’t walk any farther. As his frustration led to the realities of a diagnosis a child should never face, Josiah fought back tears.

“It’s OK, Bubby. Why don’t you just hop on my shoulders until we get to the room, OK?” I delicately said, trying to comfort him using the nickname his older sister, Daisha, coined.

He looked up at me and took a small breath, “OK.”

“OK” was the only way he would ask for help. He wanted to be a twelve-year-old boy, but no matter how hard he fought, he was trapped in a body well beyond his nineties. “OK” was his way of screaming in pain. “OK” was his call for help. “OK” was his disappointment at a small defeat.

I lifted Josiah onto my shoulders, and we walked over the sparkling mirror tiles to our room. My key swiped open the door to a room fit for a king, with a fridge, couch, TV, and every other amenity we could wish for. I opened the blinds and shielded my eyes as the harsh Florida sun came rushing in. After my eyes had adjusted, I looked around the complex and smiled as I found the palm trees and cabanas we first spotted through the French doors of the lobby. I turned around, and Josiah was already climbing on the bed, wrestling with the abundance of pillows. We both laughed. It seemed as though paradise was prepped and ready for our arrival, and in some ways, I guess it was.

***

The next morning we jumped out of bed and our hearts thumped. Today was the day. Today was the first time we got to experience Major League Spring Training! As usual, we prepared Josiah’s bag of medicine and emergency kit: medication for the day, supplies in case of yet another seizure, towels to keep him cool, and water for us both. Josiah was so excited he even slept with his Cardinal uniform on to be ready the moment our morning alarm buzzed. As soon as our feet hit the floor, we grabbed our hats, I tied his sneakers, and we were out the door.

We walked down to the pearly lobby floor and were greeted by the man who paid for all of our expenses to be here, our sponsor, Andy Long. Even today, these trips are only possible with a sponsor because I just can’t afford them. The money I made wasn’t a lot, but it was enough. Some months are tough, but so is our family. We hit a stretch during my wife’s sickness where money just wasn’t coming in. I was at home more than I was at work. So I took my retirement from the welding plant early to help take care of my wife. She is a strong-willed woman and insisted she could take care of herself, but my family needed me more than the welding torch did, so I put in my two-weeks’ notice. I received a small monthly retirement benefit, but we made it work—it’s what we do. We live a simple life, and extravagant vacations just aren’t possible.

The Cardinals made sure there were rooms secured for us, but Andy took care of the rest. From transportation to meals, Andy has truly been a blessing to our family, but also a great friend. We were first introduced to Andy through the Children’s Miracle Network, or CMN, the fundraising organization for their network of children’s hospitals throughout the country. Andy owns a Subaru dealership in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, and is always looking for ways to help his community. From fundraisers at his dealership, donations to charity, or community service, Andy truly has a heart for helping people.

In early 2014, I got a call from CMN about a fundraising event they wanted Josiah to attend. Their goal is to raise enough money each year to provide advanced surgical equipment, educational materials, special pediatric care necessities, and toys for the children in the hospitals they support. They are a great organization, and without them, I don’t know where our family would be right now. We try to help them as much as we can, but we’re always a bit weary. We try to do our best to help the organizations that help us, but with all public relations events, we make sure Josiah won’t be exploited. He’s not a prop and will not be used for donations. I told the CMN rep, Bonnie Tharp, we would think about it and get back to her, but before I could hang up the phone, she quickly replied, “No, you want to be there.”

I once again told her I would talk to Josiah and get back to her, but she cut me off, “Trust me, Dave. You really, really want to be there.”

Of course she was hinting at something, but I didn’t know what. My curiosity got the best of me. I agreed.

We drove to the dealership in our family car, an old short-cab Ford pick-up with the bench seat stretching door to door, and were met by local news reporters, the CMN directors, and the owner of the dealership, Andy Long. We went through the standard media gauntlet—explaining the disease, the challenges Josiah faces, and how the CMN helps. It was an excellent promotion for CMN, and Andy is a big donor to the charity, so it was a great way to give him some well-deserved publicity. Josiah got to ride in their most expensive cars from the showroom and met some great people. It was a nice little gathering. The camera crews left, and as we were inside talking with Andy, he looked out onto the car lot and saw my little truck.

“Is that your work truck?”

“It’s all I got. Seats two, but we cram three with the middle console,” I said with a small laugh.

“You can’t bring your family around in this!” he yelled. “Well I told the CMN I wanted to give your family a gift, but I have a new idea.” I curiously leaned over my arm on the table, and he continued: “Pretty soon the kids will be too big to cram into that truck. I have a client, owns an Outback—one owner, in great condition, and he’s trading it in. And I’m giving it to you.”

My jaw must have hit the table. “You’re . . . what?”

“Now, it’s going to be used, but it’s a great family car, and you guys can grow into it.”

“Andy. I don’t know what to say. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.”

“It’s my pleasure. The only problem is, he’s not going to trade in until later this year, so I’m gonna give you one of our new loaners. But whenever it gets close to fifteen thousand miles, bring it back and I’ll give you another one.”

It was the most gracious gift anyone had ever given us. We joked that since I had to take my retirement that year, this was my golden watch. And Andy couldn’t have been any more humble: no cameras, no media. I was scrambling to find my phone to call the CMN and get the news reporters back because this was a man who deserved recognition. This was the most sincere act of kindness, and Andy deserved the credit. People needed to see this genuine kindness from a car salesman, of all people—a car salesman! But Andy asked me not to say anything. The CMN knew he was going to give us a gift, but they were not sure what. He told me if it was on the news, people would be lining up for a free car, and with a small laugh and smile he said, “And I’m awful at saying no.”

So it became our secret.

Once he gave us the trade-in, he covered all the maintenance, all the oil changes, and anything the car needed. We drove it for two straight years, well over 130 thousand miles. As the transmission faded, Andy told us to bring it in for a check. He looked at the car and said, “Pick any one on the lot.”

With a snap of the finger, he gave us yet another car.

“What color does Josiah want?” he said. “I’ll give you three guesses!”

Andy knew right away, and we started walking through the lot of Cardinal-red vehicles.

“How about this Forester?” he said, tapping his hands on the hood. “Brand new, seventeen miles, and is a nice little SUV.”

I opened the front door, and like a kid looking at the Christmas gifts under the tree, I couldn’t stop smiling as I ran my fingers along the new interior with black trim. I wrapped my hands around the steering wheel and began exploring every gadget on the console. I looked back and saw a seat for everyone in our family—Josiah’s car seat on the right, Daisha on the left. This was a life of luxury that I could hardly accept.

“This is perfect.”

But we both knew this was a car I could never afford and a gesture I could never repay. Andy then said, “Don’t worry, we can work this all out for you. Don’t worry, it’s taken care of.”

“Andy, God bless you.”

***

Andy flew down to Florida with us to experience this special week. We loaded up his rental car and headed toward the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals. We were only ever used to minor league baseball. There’s a certain feeling driving to our usual home at Medlar Field for the State College Spikes games—anticipation, excitement, a smoldering anxiousness to see the team—but driving to the major league complex of the St. Louis Cardinals felt a little different. We had traded in the scenic mountaintops and evergreens for blue skies and palm trees, and through the orchestra of emotions swirling around the car, the pre-game butterflies in our stomachs strummed the loudest.

We saw the first sign for “The Florida Home to the St. Louis Cardinals,” and our hearts jumped. We turned off the highway and down the promenade and drove toward the farm of stadium lights peeking out over the building. Restaurants lined the streets with Cardinal jerseys draped in every window. Cardinal Nation was alive and well in Florida, and we were headed straight for it.

We pulled up to the stadium entrance, and between the arches of what looked to be a baseball coliseum, we saw “Major League Personnel Only,” with the Roger Dean Stadium logo underneath. Like the poolside string of cabanas, palm trees lined the brick walkway and workers hustled in and out of the gates in preparation for the one o’clock p.m. first pitch versus the in-stadium-rival, the Miami Marlins. We were starstruck; we were in heaven.

Seeing Josiah’s face light up as we pulled into the “Major League Personnel Only” parking was a moment I’ll always remember. Maybe it was from everything our family went through—or maybe it was everything Josiah went through—but we learned the hard way that all we have are little moments. Our jobs, our successes, our failures do not define our lives but are only connecting pieces of who we are.

It’s not what we do but who we are that matters.

Glory fades, and sorrow ends, and all we are left with are the moments between.

Josiah has been forced to accept so many unforgiving realities—this was his triumph. This was where Josiah belonged: on a field, in a uniform, surrounded by some of the most gifted people in the world. This was his moment in the sun, and it was our moment to cherish.

***

SPRING TRAINING

Josiah, Andy, and Dave walked through the parking lot and entered Roger Dean Stadium. This was not just a place to house the team for a month of spring training—Roger Dean Stadium is “The Motherland.” The Spring Training Home of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins, the stadium houses their short season Rookie-ball and Advanced-A affiliates; front-office executives; the international headquarters for Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, and Dominican Republican baseball academies; the performance center for strength and conditioning staffs; and the major league/minor league rehab center for both organizations. Not to mention the kitchens, cafeterias, operations management, and all the departments needed to run such a big complex. Left-field clubhouse is headquarters for the Marlins operations while the right-field side is the Cardinals. It’s a dual-headed octopus with tentacles of baseball fields spanning for miles behind it. The complex is big, confusing, and to three new fans, it was as intimidating as it gets.

The culture of spring training breeds competition. The sandstone plaster walls and wavy red roof tiles give spring training the tropical vacation fans assume. The beach chairs, the Hawaiian shirts, and the constant babble by patronizing broadcasters explaining how players are “just getting their work in today” show the vacation perception we are led to believe.

For the big contract players, this could hold some truth. The three-time All-Stars and the Gold Glove winners do have the luxury of using a month to get back into playing shape, but for the other ninety-nine percent, or two hundred-plus players, spring training is a platform to earn a job. Your teammates are your opponents, and to keep the jersey on your back, you must outplay them. Everyone knows their jobs are at stake, and for a game built on a team’s effort, players become quite individualistic.

For each guy that earns a job, another is cut. Every year over fifty players are given an unconditional release in the final two weeks of spring training, ending their career with that team. So when this trial of competition and uncertainty is described as a “tropical vacation,” players cringe.

Uncertainty can also bring excitement, especially for the fringe big leaguers. A good spring can lead to a promotion over a player that underperformed, bumping you closer to the dangling golden carrot of the MLB twenty-five-man rosters. It’s a test, and spring training is the gauge to measure off-season training, initiate competitiveness, and have player versus player comparisons. Rosters are made, players are cut, and the season begins. Spring training is swift and potent and is the motivating push during a player’s offseason.

But high-strung competition forges an attitude. Players are focused and ready to compete against a dozen other players just as skilled and just as talented as they are for a season. The ongoing joke in the minor leagues is that there is more competition within your dugout than the one across the diamond. This motivation can drive players to the big leagues, but it can also drive players crazy. People laugh when psychologists and mental health professionals leave their business cards in each locker room for services “free of charge,” but it’s real, and a brutal wake-up call to the stress and pressure a player deals with throughout the season.

Upon entering the clubhouse at 6:30 a.m., the players are greeted by two front-office members standing at the front door. As players leave the bus, casual conversation fades as players notice the personnel in front of the gates. Best-case scenario, you hear nothing. No greeting, no hello, no name. Means you are safe. Worst-case scenario, they say your name. This means you are about to be cut (well, actually, you have been released the night before, and they have already voided your contract, ended your insurance plan, cleared you off the payroll, and your flight home has already been confirmed and boards within the hour). Pack your locker; you leave for the airport in fifteen minutes. Players refer to them as the “Reaper Crew,” and if you pass “good morning,” it’s time to eat breakfast and start your day.

It becomes a routine: wake up at 6:00 a.m., dodge the Reaper Crew, workout until noon, eat lunch, play a game at 1:00 p.m., eat dinner, then go back to the hotel. It’s monotonous, it’s continuous, and it’s the same drills every morning followed by the same anxiety at night. Guessing what moves are happening—who’s going where coupled with what so-and-so is doing while trying to find the pulse of the organization’s interstellar ideas—makes it tempting to put that mental health professional’s business card to good use.

When the team announced a new honorary bench coach named Josiah would be joining the spring training rosters, no one batted an eye. It was business as usual. Rosters still needed to be made, and the Reaper Crew would still be outside the front gate. The line in the sand had been drawn, and no one could break the players’ focus; no one could ease their tension.

But when the players met Josiah, the culture began to shift. Players felt a release and freedom they were never searching for. It was more than an inspiration; it was the start of a relationship. The fact that a little boy and his grandfather could stroll into camp and change the perspective of a group of the most elite athletes on the planet no longer made Josiah a charity case; he had become a valuable asset to the St. Louis Cardinals. But frankly, no one knew the magnitude of Josiah’s impact until they met him.

***

We walked to the clubhouse entrance and were greeted by the Cardinals Player Development and Baseball Operations Coordinator, Tony Ferreira. He got us acquainted with the huge complex and told Josiah the team was waiting for him. We were just in time for Josiah’s favorite part of the day: batting practice. Glove in hand, he walked right through the major league doors of the complex and made a beeline for the locker room, leaving Andy and me behind. We were busy making small talk with Tony just waiting for a security guard to come over and inevitably tell us we could not enter. But as we approached another uninviting sign that read in all caps, “MAJOR LEAGUE PERSONNEL ONLY,” we walked right through.

I have to admit, I was a bit sheepish walking into a Major League Baseball clubhouse, but my excitement overruled my anxiety, so Andy and I followed Tony inside.

With one look we saw the significance this room held. Wooden lockers of players we spent hours watching on ESPN each night lined the perimeter of a room full of couches, TVs, video games, and a ping-pong table. Imagine that: two fans from Hegins, Pennsylvania, getting to walk past their favorite players from Sunday Night Baseball playing ping-pong in sliding shorts and flip-flops. It was very surreal because now we were introduced to our heroes, no longer as players we imitate, but as human beings. As nurturing as it was, we still couldn’t help but feel a little bit out of place.

We finally found Josiah talking with his buddies and hanging out with his good friend, Mitch Harris. Now, Mitch wasn’t an ordinary Cardinal. He was a standout pitcher for the Naval Academy in 2008 and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the thirteenth round. He signed, but was unable to play until fulfilling his military commitment. So, after completing four years in the Navy, Mitch Harris was now a twenty-seven-year-old member of the Class A Short Season affiliate, the State College Spikes, and almost a full year older than his manager and now current big-league first base coach, Oliver Marmol. Mitch saw what was extraordinary in Josiah. He didn’t see a disease or a charity; like his career with the Cardinals, he saw a second chance.

Andy and I walked over to the kitchen where Mitch and Josiah lounged, grabbing a pregame snack. I still wasn’t sure if we were allowed to be in the kitchen, let alone eat the food, but we decided to walk over anyway and just wait until we were kicked out. My heart started pounding when I heard a voice call for me from the clubhouse. This was it; I knew we were going to be asked to leave, so I started looking for the exit.

“Dave,” he said, reaching for my hand. “Hey, Dave, how are you?” It was former St. Louis Cardinal and All-Star left fielder, Matt Holliday.

I shook his hand and we reconnected like old friends. We met Matt on our first trip to St. Louis in 2014, and he quickly became one of Josiah’s favorites. He’s a real gentleman on and off the field, and after shaking hands with him, we couldn’t have felt more welcomed.

Once we finished our snack, we headed toward the clubhouse and players started hooting: “Joey V!” “Jooo!” “JV!” Everyone flocked to greet him. It was a warm welcome that brought the biggest smile to his face. We talked with most of the guys, and I was overwhelmed by the reception they gave us. We spend so much time looking up to the players in this very clubhouse on television that we can sometimes forget they are human beings. The connection they have with Josiah stretches far beyond the ball field, and it’s a privilege to have them in our lives.

I wasn’t the only one to take notice. A reporter from NBC with a temporary clubhouse pass walked up to me and asked, “What’s going on?”  He came a little late to the party and missed the welcoming, so I pointed to Josiah and responded, “That’s my grandson, Josiah.”

“That’s him?! I’ve heard people talk about him, but I never had to chance to meet him,” he told me. “Would it be OK if I did a story about Josiah for our St. Louis NBC affiliate?”

And just like that, Josiah and I had cameras following us the next day. Most of the guys headed back to the kitchen for a pregame snack, so we followed. Mitch led us to a table with All-Stars Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and fellow central PA boy, Matt Adams. Matt Carpenter was finishing his morning meal when he gestured toward their personal chef: “Dave, get something to eat.” He’s the first one in the cages every morning and breaks a sweat before the sun rises, but above his work ethic and All-Star-caliber game, he’s a true man of God.

“Well, I don’t think—”

“Dave. Go get something to eat and come back,” he said in a friendly demand.

So I went to the buffet and ate like a king. Fresh eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits, and any breakfast food you could imagine filled my plate. I sat back down with the guys, who were already laughing with Josiah, and realized how blessed we truly are.

By the time we got back from breakfast, Mitch was nudging us with a childish grin to head back to the clubhouse. We were in no rush to get back out into the Florida sun, but his giddy laugh of determination for us to walk directly to the clubhouse raised our curiosity. We took one step into the clubhouse and Mitch pointed to a once open and abandoned locker, which now had a white tag with “Josiah” written above it and a small jersey hanging directly under it. Josiah ran to hug Mitch, and my throat tightened as Andy put his arm around my shoulder. It was a subtle touch to an extravagant experience, and it was only the beginning.

***

We traveled with the team to Field 1 for batting practice, and after a short round of hitting, Josiah was swarmed with Cardinal fans asking for his picture and autograph. Most had heard his story, and now they got to meet him for the first time. It was very humbling—and quite honestly, thrilling—to see my little man be adorned by fans.

After his batting practice, I took out a few of Josiah’s baseball cards when we got to the clubhouse and like a shark that smells blood, we couldn’t hand them out fast enough. Ten-year veterans, MLB All-Stars, and even players we just met swarmed the table just to get Josiah’s baseball card. Our idols became our friends, and for a time, a little boy became their idol. Like the thousands of children they give autographs to every day, every time a player received a card they rushed over to Josiah to be the next one to have it officially autographed. The roles were reversed, and the players were now the fans.

In the midst of passing out dozens of cards, I saw Jaime Garcia in the corner of my eye climbing on his locker. I left the card business to my little man and rushed over to see what he was doing. I got to his locker, and there it was. Josiah’s autographed baseball card hanging on his top shelf right next to his baseball glove.

With a smile, he looked at me, pointing to the newest addition to his locker. “Now every time I pitch, I’m gonna get a little more inspiration from my little man.”

I couldn’t help but gaze at the card, realizing that it no longer was just a thin cardboard photo of Josiah, but a message to push forward. I thanked Jaime for being such a good role model and looked around the clubhouse. Players began putting Josiah’s card in their lockers, and now we saw that like every other trip Josiah had been on, this was no longer a charity event. The message that was now resonating through the hearts of the St. Louis Cardinals was not a feeling of happiness, but an invitation to live beyond a situation and find the joy in their lives they’ve been missing. Everyone here had seen the pain Josiah goes through. They saw him struggling to walk, they saw his scars, they saw his fragile body, and through all his hurt, they saw his strength. They saw inspiration. This was no charity case; this was a gift.

***

As the players headed to the field for their matchup against the Marlins, we decided to give Josiah’s mother, my daughter Jen, a call to tell her about our trip. We told her about the flight, hotel, players, food, and spilled all the details to her like two elementary school kids on a field trip.

She couldn’t be happier.

I could hear it in her voice that she was genuinely floored by the love and appreciation her son continued to receive and was thankful for the story of triumph he had been able to share. She was in a good place and had finally found the love in her life she had been searching for.

That was the Jen I know.

Her affection and desire to bring the world to her family’s doorstep were the missing pieces of my daughter I thought I had previously lost. Jen’s a tall, country-strong woman born in central Pennsylvania and is my beautiful girl. Undoubtedly she got her good looks from her mother’s side and only inherited a hardheaded stubbornness and hairpin fuse from mine. But the strength and courage you see today is not how it has always been. The more I yelled during her teenage years, the more she wanted to run, and after the miserable eighteen years of life I gave to her, I didn’t blame her.

I wish I had been there for her; I wish I understood her, but I only pushed her away. At times I thought I had lost her, and after receiving the death sentence of her only son, I worried she was too far gone. But the pain we faced was the pain we shared, and although things may not have ever been perfect, during our weakest moments we found a way to love each other. Through a little boy’s fight toward health, we found a way to forgive.

On that phone call, I had heard the voice of my daughter—a mother, a loving partner, and the person I’ve always wanted to know. She was in a good place, and so were we.

***

Seeing “Birds on the Bat” draped across my little boy’s chest was a sight that will never blur and a memory that will never fade. It’s hard to describe the excitement, the joy, the humility, the love of seeing your own grandson sit in a major league clubhouse, in his own locker, wearing his own jersey.

We had just finished getting him ready for the upcoming exhibition game, and as soon as I tied the last loop on his shoes, he ran off with the team and headed for pregame stretch. I took a seat in his locker and kept a minute to myself. Maybe I was a little hesitant to head back out into the pounding Florida heat, or maybe I needed to stop and see the glory in that moment. Sitting there, I felt some of my own life was wrapped up in that little man God sent us. He has more spunk and tenacity than most people I know, including myself, and was finally where he belonged: among the greats.

I sat in Josiah’s locker, absorbing all that a major league locker room had to offer, and looked at Josiah’s bat bag hanging in the clubhouse of legends. Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright, and all the guys we spent hours each night watching on TV were within an arm’s length away, and I couldn’t help but think that God made Josiah with the same purpose and mission as the rest of the big-leaguers in this room.

While I sat and took in everything Josiah had fought through to make it to this point, a clubhouse worker walked in. He was starting his daily routine of tidying the room and restocking each locker with towels before the players returned, and he saw me sitting alone. He had a casual smile resting on his face below a pair of thick meaty-framed glasses, and as he neared Josiah’s locker, his smile grew. He looked in my direction, and we shared a mutual welcome. Continuing down the row of lockers with a big shopping cart full of towels he nodded his head looking around the clubhouse and joked, “Man, you can make a lot of money selling the treasures in here.”

We both giggled, and before he could return to his crate of towels, I leaned over the chair with a big smile and said, “No, sir. There is nothing here worth more than my family and that little man. He’s my treasure.”

One Response to “From the Batter’s Box to Bookshelves”

  1. Jane Konyar says:

    I am the hearing person at Geisinger and tested Josiah’s hearing many times. This story made me laugh, cry , smile and frown. I can hardly wait to get the book. I hope to meet up with Josiah again and have him autograph it for me. So proud of you Josiah and meeting you has made me a better person.

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