OMAHA, Nebraska – It was Father’s Day weekend at the College World Series. How to celebrate? With three men who remind us there is more to all this than baseball.
With the dad from Mississippi State, who nearly lost his son at birth, prayed for his life in a hospital parking lot, and now watches him a healthy young man playing second base in Omaha.
And the father from Oregon State, who shared his son’s graduation ceremony Sunday morning, in a hotel meeting room.
And the father from Florida, who always saw the game as a way for his family to be together. The fact that his son was named national player of the year on the eve of Father’s Day – well, a big glob of icing on the cake.
Say hello to Eric Stovall.
He watched son Hunter get three hits for Mississippi State Saturday night in its 1-0 win over Washington, savoring the present while thinking of the past. September 5, 1996 to be exact.
That was the day his wife Selina, battling toxemia, delivered a four-pound baby boy nearly six weeks prematurely. Eric can remember how the baby “was crying, but it was a real faint cry.”
He left the room to get his mother-in-law, returned to find doctors frantically working on his newborn son, whose under-developed lungs had caused his heart to stop.
“They were doing the thumb thing on his chest, trying to get his little heart going again, bubbles coming out of his mouth. It was awful. I just left and went out in front of the hospital and hit my knees and I asked God to take my life and let him live. And He did. It changed my life completely.”
Nearly 22 years later, Hunter Stovall is hitting over .300 for Mississippi State and was drafted in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies.
“He came out a fighter,” Eric said. “He’s been a fighter his entire life. He’s always had to fight that stigma of being too small. He’s 5-8 on a good day. He’s used it as motivation his entire life.”Eric sat in section 116 at TD Ameritrade Park Saturday night living a fantasy weekend – his daughter Ansley was named All-American cheerleader Friday – and thinking of the long road to there.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s been such an emotional ride. As a father, it is the ultimate thing to see him out there on that field. That’s what he’s dreamed of his whole life, to be drafted, to be a DI baseball player, to play in the College World Series, and within a week’s time frame all that’s happened.
“I think about that whole process all the time. Especially in big moments like this. I’ve thrown millions of baseballs to him, I’ve caught millions that he’s hit to me. I think I’ve spent every Father’s Day since he was three years old playing baseball somewhere.”
And what about those terrifying moments, and his fervent prayers, in Birmingham two decades ago?
“I think about them every day.”
Say hello to Trent Anderson.
He was in the third row Sunday for what the speaker called “the Omaha edition of the 149th commencement of Oregon State.” Since regular commencement had been Saturday in Corvallis 1300 miles way, the university put on a special ceremony Sunday morning at the team hotel for six players and a former player. It’s a big deal for the program with the highest GPA in the College World Series field.
There was an orange and white cake in the back of the room, and the graduates had traded their baseball caps for black graduation caps and white stoles over their t-shirts. That included Jack Anderson, the outfielder who went to Oregon State as a walk-on, ended up a starter, and was three-time Pac-12 all-academic along the way. He never thought one moment about the major league baseball draft. He announced a long time ago he was headed for graduate school in physical therapy.
“We’ve been fortunate that Jack’s always enjoyed school since he was first introduced to it,” Trent Anderson said. “He learned early on that was the No. 1 priority and athletics came after. He’s kept that straight. It’s been really fun to watch him not just figure out to make it through the demands of being a DI athlete but also a DI student.”
Not that there wasn’t a lot of play sprinkled among the books. His parents encouraged all five of their kids to sample any sport that appealed, and Jack tried everything from football to skiing. On Father’s Day, with a new diploma in his son’s hands, Trent recalled the Wiffle Ball diamond he carved out of the backyard.
“Just before we left, I was doing some work in my backyard and thinking, `Wow, I used to actually cut bases out of this.’ That was kind of emotional.
“We keep telling Jack, `You couldn’t have scripted this any better. You’re a walk-on, you’re a good student, and you get to end your baseball career in Omaha.’ Think of the millions of kids who play baseball and the hundreds of thousands who play in college, and he gets to say, `this is my swan song.’
“You breathe it in and let it resonate and you create a memory every single second.”
His son’s baseball accomplishments mean a lot to Trent Anderson. The academic feats mean more. “By far,” he said. “Not everybody goes to college and has a plan. He figured out that OK, this is what I want to go do. (Baseball) is a passion. So that locked in. Then what locked in is, ‘I’m not going to go in the draft.’ He had scouts tell him, `You’re the first kid who’s ever told us that you don’t want to be drafted.’
“To have that maturity and to have the ability to execute his plan, I’m pretty proud of that.”
And that backyard back in Oregon?
“It’s in good shape. If you came out, we could play a little Whiffle Ball.”
Say hello to Brett Singer.
When Florida pitcher Brady Singer was named the Dick Howser Trophy winner Saturday as the nation’s top player, he thanked his parents for all they had done. Twenty-four hours later on Father’s Day, his dad still had a hard time talking about that with a steady voice.
“When he was thanking us during the press conference it just reels back 15 years of memories,” Brett said. “It’s really heartfelt. I watched what our family’s done. We haven’t done it for anything except it’s always kept us close and brought us together. We traveled for years as a family. To see him to accelerate it to the pinnacle of college sports and received awards, I can’t even describe. It. I would like to. I wish every father could feel this today. And I’m sure they do in their own way.”
BREAKING NEWS #Gators Brady Singer is the 2018 Dick Howser Trophy recipient!!!— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 15, 2018
He becomes the second UF player to win the award, following Mike Zunino in 2012.
Story coming shortly. pic.twitter.com/G7GJuhkyjr
Like so many other families, the Singers spent eons of hours on the road from their home north of Orlando, traveling to youth baseball events. Who knew it would lead to this high place; a second consecutive CWS, a gaggle of top individual awards and then the Kansas City Royals as the 18th overall pick in the draft? Brett Singer didn’t. But he knew one thing.
“There’s no way I would change it. I know I would make 3 ½-hour runs to Fort Myers like they were driving across town. But it didn’t matter. Because those were 3 ½ hours that we spent just talking, studying the game, talking about schoolwork, talking about girls and life and everything.
“We weren’t going to go with the norm in today’s society. We were going to be together as a family, we were going to support each other, we were going to love each other, we were going be happy with each other, mad with each other, everything that goes along with it.”
Turns out, they were also going to watch Brady win a ton of baseball games. But it was always more than the sport. “Way more than baseball,” Brett said on this day, outside a ballpark with his family, gathered here to see Brady Singer continue a dream.
“This is the best Father’s Day in the world,” he said. “Right here.”
All three men felt that, on a weekend that mixed the glorious combination of sons and baseball and memories. Father’s Day at the College World Series.